Football manager’s have more to teach me about school leadership than the NCSL

Writing a piece for my MA – a critique of Pat Collarbone’s (NCSL) keynote at a recent conference – I thought about teamwork. School leadership is about teams. Collarbone failed to inspire me to lead. Football managers inspire me to do better.

source crative commons

source crative commons

Following football as I do, I am compelled by the plight of top-flight managers. They lead. The successful teams, as measured by a league table, are deemed to have great managers. What do these managers do? They get the best out of their players through support and challenge and relationships. Each player is different and demands a different balance of father-fuhrer. The leader must judge this to perfection. The manager is hit by injuries – key players unavailable. Variables outside their control that they must address. The more money they have the better resources they can provide to care for their players, and provide better working conditions for those employees looking after the team. And buy more players, better players. A manager must determine the amount of research required before kick-off to pitch your team against theirs. Tactics, the application of expert knowledge. The youth academy needs to be well managed to make sure there is a seam of talent for the future and that success is sustainable. The fans are demanding and often passionate and irrate.

I’m not going to spend a long time likening this to school leadership. It seemed obvious to me so maybe it will to you. Here is part of the conclusion of my MA piece:

… what is implied is the momentum to establish a framework by which failing schools might improve and this is surely the holy grail of school leadership. I very much respect this mission and would have been inspired if Collarbone had presented her insight into examples of successful school leadership. I suspect, however, it isn’t that easy. To extend my analogy, a football manager may go into one job and be very successful but in the next may fail. What determines success or failure? A league – results, the same as schools. But what is really underneath that measure? Teamwork? A culture of success? A place where people want to work? Is there an evasive ingredient harnessing the energy and enthusiasm of all people working in an organisation that a successful school leader is responsible for providing? All the research we are reading as part of this course, some referred to by Collarbone, is striving to identify what makes a good leader, or good leadership. Maybe it would be better to focus on what makes a team work. It would surely be helpful to explore details like the one-to-one interactions and the meetings, the school calendar and positions of responsibility awarded.

Without wanting to entirely kill the already overworked analogy, I want to say one final thought. There are football managers who have the backing of their entire staff and players and fans but still get relegated.  The variables were beyond their control. Is it all about winning?