I’ll admit. I’m not easy to please. In this fast-paced world (and in my line of work) my time is precious and if you are a book, game, blog or TV programme wanting my attention you are going to have to grab it with something clever and different. Try to shock me and I’ll reach straight for the off button. Hope I’ll stick with unnecessary preamble and you’ll be disappointed. So it was a surprise for me to be grabbed by a book this week and prompted to think about my own leadership skills and practice.
Not a book review
At risk of preamble myself, I should say this isn’t a book review. I certainly don’t feel qualified or well-read enough to pass a judgement on a book that is squarely aimed at school leaders, obviously most of whom are educationalists. Rather it’s a “Hey School Business Leaders…take a look at this.” Because I think it is making some important points.
Leaders with Substance: An Antidote to Leadership Genericism in Schools by Matthew Evans starts by asking if “leadership is even a ‘thing’?” What is it exactly? What is it to be a leader? Could I just copy the traits of a successful leader and become a great leader myself? What do school leaders need to know? Do we have unsustainable expectations of our school leaders?
Don’t for a minute think that this book is going to give you all the answers, or take you down a predictable path. Instead, it turns what we think of leadership in schools on its head and asks “what if we took a different approach”? To be honest, that different approach initially looks sort of scary…but, at the same time, somehow more realistic and sustainable into the next decade.
My exit strategy
I’ve spent my career with an exit strategy. That’s not to say I’m not committed to the role I play. I believe it demonstrates I’m here because I want to be, not because I have to be. I’ve always viewed my skills as transferable and tried to maintain a generic training path through business management. A “get out of jail (education) free card” if you will, that I could use to hop out into the real world should the challenge of holding it all together on a shoestring become too much.
But this book has bought me down to earth with a bump. It has forced me to accept that my training and qualifications, however generic, have all just contributed towards my being a School Business Leader. It asks me to start exploring what that actually means in itself. Why is that important? What is my contribution? How can my expertise be more effectively used to navigate the current challenges in Education relevant to my role (such as funding, well-being and bureaucracy). Put aside all the well-known cliches and theories of what it is to be a School Business Leader and start again.
Am I looking good or being good?
The book then goes on to open up a minefield in my head and ask if what I’m doing as a School Business Leader is because I want to ‘look good’ or ‘be good’? Why am I sitting here on a Sunday morning in my pyjamas writing a work related blog? (Certainly not looking good!) What is the point of falling over myself to meet arbitrary deadlines? Why do take on the responsibility of staff well-being and worry about whether everyone is happy in their work? Am I putting in too much time to go to evening meetings? Why do I lie awake at night thinking about MAT growth strategies?
For a lot of us, School Business Leadership has become all-consuming and while I enjoy it immensely, is it healthy? Is it sustainable? Is it actually contributing towards the success of my Trust? Am I actually helping other School Business Leaders and the profession itself?
As I said, I haven’t got any answers (yet). I’m still reading. But my attention has, well and truly, been grabbed by this book. (So much that I’m moved to share it with you.) Without using shock tactics or gratuitous controversy. Just a confident, quiet and sensible “Why not have a think about this…”
I am and may I recommend you do too?