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High Performance Leadership programme 2017 gets off to a flying start

New academic lead explains the next steps in this programme to help schools develop the leaders they need…

Nic Read, chairman of EdX, is taking over as academic lead on SSAT’s High Performance Leadership programme (HPL); the current academic lead, Ben Laker of the Centre for High Performance, is having a sabbatical due to extended paternity leave.

But there will be strong continuity after the changeover, as the two have worked closely together having taught MBA programmes at The Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Kingston, co-written research articles for the World Financial Review and other journals, and presented seminal findings to the prestigious British Academy of Management annual conference.

In fact, Read will be taking forward the initial research on ‘Architect Leaders’ to test and validate it after it made headlines in HBR, Forbes and on BBC’s Newsnight. It is through his education organisation EdX that further research and practical application (eg. coaching programmes) will be developed, and that the HPL will be run.

A researcher and bestselling author in his own right, Read is impressed by the rigour of the original research. It fits his own approach to pioneering research projects that challenge the status quo in relation to Management, which has led to “material gains in a short time,” he notes.

Nic Read
Nic Read is visiting professor at The Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration in Moscow, MBA lecturer at Kingston Business School in London, and executive chairman of sales consultancy SalesLabs and education advisory firm EdX. Former Executive Director in Ernst & Young, Read is a sought-after consultant whose views on economic stimulus, sales and management have been featured in magazines, conferences, television and radio programmes around the world. His books and business workshops have been taught in 40 countries, which garnered him the honour of being awarded a global business award. He is an executive mentor on start-ups; operations management; sales coaching and management; business transformation; research; education; and the design, delivery and evaluation of training.

Read feels the last five years have seen long-established practices in business be challenged, and this is permeating into education. Leaders in a wide variety of organisations are now using “the best in psychology and the best in analytics” to develop and implement new approaches to leadership and management.

This new focus is now sweeping the education sector, as many school leaders and researchers become convinced that there are better ways of doing things. Accordingly, he notes the HBR paper about the impact of different leadership styles is “sector independent”. It applies equally to schools, the public sector and commercial businesses. He believes: “it’s about gaining new knowledge, then applying it to make a difference.”

This is what impressed Read about SSAT’s HPL. “It’s taking the best practices from around the world and applying them to education. It’s challenging people to think outside existing norms, borrow proven ideas from other sectors, and push forward.” The programme has major contributions from senior executives in such diverse organisations that include HSBC, London Fire Brigade and electronics giant Philips.

Speaking from experience

“Your speakers are talking about their own experience, not something they’ve read in a book. And with the high calibre of candidates taking part in the programme, working on this is a privilege.”

He notes some leadership lessons stemming from this own work: there are many roads to success; it requires belief, but also humility; no-one is perfect, even the best leaders have weaknesses – but they surround themselves with good people who offset those gaps. He cites Apple, Disney and HP as examples.

The leader must decide what are the qualities of the people needed for their team (a reference to the work of Meredith Belbin). “A good leader will allow others to succeed, rather than being the glory hound.” He contrasts this with the type of ‘spreadsheet jockey’ leader who simply issues KPI (key performance indicators) checklists as an end in themselves, with little attempt to use those insights to tune results.

Even the best leaders have weaknesses – but they surround themselves with good people who can offset those gaps

Turning to the much-discussed and somewhat controversial recent articles in the Harvard Business Review, with their focus on the ‘Architect Leader’ in schools, Read notes wryly: “it’s rare to see education get so much attention”. The study categorised school leaders into surgeons, soldiers, accountants, philosophers and architects, based on their approaches to leadership (and to some extent, their original study subjects).

He maintains it provides a degree of transparency on leadership in schools, which is a step in the right direction. But he found bloggers’ comments on the research even more interesting. “We see parents asking ‘what kind of leaders are in the schools my kids attend, and are they driving the best opportunities for our rising generation?’ These are salient questions, because it’s no good having research that paints clear inputs and outputs if it is not then used. I believe there’s an appetite in education to improve. Certainly there’s a moral responsibility,” he comments.

How will they take this research forward? “I believe a lot of good can come out of the original research. But there is a risk. If people interpret it as saying the only leaders who have value in schools are ’Architects’, they’re ignoring how others also have strengths.”

Widening the research focus

“We have to widen this research to answer the question: how do you best develop teamwork in your school or MAT executive team? What does an effective team look like? It’s likely that you need a balance of all these types on the leadership team with different emphasis areas, rather than trying to clone everyone into the architect type. But it’s worth leaders and teachers being assessed to learn which type they naturally gravitate to, then find ways to help their strengths shine through. I think that’s something most school leaders will relate to, and is what we’ll deliver.”

Read believes, “what we need to do now is turn these findings into practical guidance. I’ve pulled the trigger on new research in this area, and from that we will develop a new school leadership assessment, coaching programme and teamwork model. It’s very exciting.”

Schools are very welcome to get involved in this. Read is inviting leaders and teachers to participate in the new research. “The study on which the HBR articles are based came from a deeply disciplined academic team who have now moved on to their next research project. Their methods were proprietary, and the published findings didn’t offer an approach for people to benchmark themselves and then enrol in a development programme to be the best type of school leader they could be. But providing this is the thrust of our new work: making this field of research more transparent, and then offering an onramp for people who want to do something with it.”

Identifying the qualities of good leadership

“We should be helping schools to profile the new leaders they are recruiting, so each school can see whether someone is on track to becoming an architect – or, more likely, how a good leader can tease the best performance out of their team’s exisiting behavioural profiles. Not every school or MAT will have an architect leader in place today. Not every one will have people capable of developing the architect mindset. That’s okay. It’s not a failure. You can work around it by bringing out the best in each person’s current style. But what’s not okay is not knowing, flying blind and kidding yourself that your school is the best it can possibly be. Ostriches rarely make good leaders.”

Read concludes, “If you want to learn how high-performing organisations have weathered storms, taken calculated risks and created opportunities, we have leaders with proven track records from around the world, sharing their secrets at SSAT’s High Performance Leadership programme. It’s great to see how quickly these sessions are filling, and I hope every leader reading this will bring their trusted lieutenants to one of these sessions soon.”

Comments from delegates after HPL’s first event this year:

Really enjoyed the analytical thought and approach to leadership. High level, high expectations. Very stimulating.

It was great to get a totally different view from a professional outside of school leadership.

Excellent – someone who has moved from the [commercial] sector to schools, challenging traditional views.

Thought-provoking, fresh approach, and evidence based.

We’re currently recruiting for the next cohort of the programme, starting on 21 June 2017.

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