06 June 2022

The Monday Briefing: I'll be There

The Monday Briefing: Ill be There

Over the half term, I read a rare interview with the successful owner of Brentford FC. Coming on the back of a tremendous debut season in the Premier League, Matthew Benham was asked about his methods in bringing a series of impressive achievements to a club which had been in the lower reaches of English football, and in financial peril, before his investment. 

The temptation is to look at Brentford as something of a ‘Moneyball’ experiment within the English game, where all decisions are based on data, and relationships and personal ‘feel’ for deciding strategy are relegated to lower importance. Benham asserted, however, that this is never the case: “Basically, I’ve always been of the opinion that decisions are best made not by [an] all powerful leader, but by consensus. Not by ‘groupthink’ where everyone just agrees but where you have a group in which everyone is allowed to have their own independent thoughts, there's vigorous debate and decisions aren't weighted by the seniority of the person giving their opinions.”

This statement during the interview, in particular, made me reflect on my leadership style as Principal at the College. 

It resonated a great deal with my beliefs about how a leadership team should work in any industry.

Thinking back over every big decision I’ve taken, I’ve always taken advice over whether colleagues whose opinions I respected felt that I was making appropriate choices. I’m very fortunate to be able to call on several experienced figures at the College who have a range of approaches, and I call upon them regularly to help scrutinise my thought process. 

Without naming names, I can depend on one particular member of staff who approaches matters with a more sympathetic mind: someone who enables something of a smoothing of rough edges which can, on occasion, emerge in the immediate aftermath of a crisis. They can help to cool the temperature when emotions run high, and can assist in helping to introduce the student perspective where an issue arises. There can be no doubt at all about their resilience and toughness, and they are always the first person I go to when something arises.

Then I have another member of staff who often pops into my office, somewhat of a stickler for the rules and guidelines put in place to ensure the College runs as it should. Whilst less flexible, this voice in the conversation is vital. Our environment at Ealing thrives because it strikes the right balance between allowing student independence and responsibility to thrive - but it has to be done in a framework where essential guidelines remain in order to keep everything moving towards our intended destination - enabling the fulfilment of the potential of students through their own empowerment.

Another dependable source of reassurance for me works close at hand. They adopt a rigorous approach, and are steadfast in ensuring that problems are dealt with in the right way: effectively; efficiently; with minimum fuss. They are an excellent yardstick in affirming for me ‘the state of the nation’ and establish priorities for how we can move forward, collectively, in the best way possible, and how to get there.

Finally, I have another colleague who I usually hold a final dialogue with. In a sense, this tends to be a discussion which I hope leads to a ratification of my judgement towards any particular problem. They have an abundance of ingenuity, and what I would term as ‘a balanced approach’ to any issue. They are solution based, as I am, and another individual who has a finger firmly on the pulse of the College, with an extensive knowledge of who we are, how we are doing, and what we need to do to improve things.

I also have an obliging Education Director within the Bellevue group who is always on hand to give advice, or who can offer an experienced ear whenever I feel that I need it. As a former Headteacher who has been ‘in my shoes’ so to speak, having such a reassuring presence helps me to approach arising issues with confidence, very much in the knowledge that I'll be supported through them with a reasoned approach.

I’m keenly aware of how difficult a role that leadership is - how one can feel like they are on their own, cut off from others. I strive to ensure that doesn’t happen, largely by ensuring that I communicate with those around me: empowering a team which I trust fully as part of a decision making process which keeps us moving in the right direction.

Coincidentally, I read a superbly composed thread a few days ago on Twitter by Nick Hart ‘on trust in schools’. I enthusiastically agree with him that trust has to reside at the heart of everything in education. In building teams which lead schools, in developing an environment where students and staff feel valued and empowered to grow, in encouraging long lasting relationships which allows confidence to flourish for everyone, and momentum to build. Without trust, the first steps towards such successes can never be taken, as doubt will always reside in every decision - or the decision making process will always be susceptible to the human error of one individual - and no one is infallible.

I know that I won’t always make the right decisions on my own. 

But I would never take such a reckless path, knowing the extensive quality of expertise which I have around me. 

I am convinced that the team I have around me minimises the opportunities for mistakes to transpire - to as close to absolute zero as I can be comfortable with - given the importance of the role, and the ability I have with which to improve the lives of young people.

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