You must have been on holiday in outer space this summer not to get whacked about the eyes and ears by ‘teams’. Not literally - no heavies at your door. But much media proclamation that ‘The Team’ is definitely now the thing.
That makes a change from ‘Leadership’, which has been The Thing for so long, it’s probably past its sell-by date. The evolution may go back to the last Olympics, when many of us thought there were some great cyclists, but all the talk was of ‘the team’, including, ultimately, every athlete in the mothership, ‘Team GB’. Actually, the sacrificial nature of the peloton, where group action ensures individual success for someone else, is a good example of team-ism, when the leader really can’t sustain his position unless someone else takes the force of the wind. And let’s not even consider F1 racing, because if ever individualism was an uneasy bed-fellow with team-ism, it’s in a car racing against a team member.
Schools are not such ruthless places – maybe. And they will – usually – have a Head, who is, obviously enough, the Leader. But which school today does not have a senior leadership team? And what Head could stand at Speech Day, taking credit for all the great things a school and its pupils achieved in the year? If you are the Leader, social etiquette demands not just competence, but also humility and gratitude. Mother Theresa, not Superman. Leaders thank and applaud the team, with a grammatical version of the football expression, ‘The lads done brilliant!’ - itself a wonderful indication of solidarity with the team even if spoken by the – er – Leader.
Given that all Heads will now have an SLT, wouldn’t it be nice to see Heads arrive with one of their own, already established and long trusted, as football managers often do
In the European football competition this summer, where a team had an obvious stand-out ‘star’ such as Ronaldo or Bale, there seemed to be a concerted effort, in public at least, to downplay their importance. The mantra of the times seemed to be, ‘It’s all about the team.’ To worship at the golden-booted feet of any one player was to appear to denigrate the talents and efforts of the rest of the team. To be avoided, if only because you really can’t put a footballer on the pitch on his own. Visibly a team game. And this year, the anti-individual, pro-team mood was neatly demonstrated by a Times headline, ‘Ronaldo revels in his new image as ultimate team man.’ Bless.
This year the team spirit emphasis reached tennis. Andy Murray won the Wimbledon Men’s Singles Championship. The clue is in the name. But apparently not. Andy, like other winners at Wimbledon this year, stood with the trophy and a huge ‘Look what I did!’ grin on his face, and made a very big point of thanking his team. Indeed, this year there has been gentle comedy on social media about Andy bringing back into the fold his former coach, Ivan Lendl. Much talk of attributing his success to ‘The Lendl Effect’, which is quite sad for his previous coach, and dangerously close to the dreaded individualism.
But I suspect that Andy’s team is slightly bigger than himself and a great coach, whichever one it may be. What are we guessing? Possibly two coaches: one for clay, one for grass; possibly one for serving, one for volleying, one for forehand, one for backhand? Then surely a physio, a nutritionist and a sports psychologist? Do they not say that winning or losing is all in the mind?
The same kind of ‘hidden asset’, the team, is probably lurking in golf, and maybe darts. Certainly boxing – most of the team being visible in a boxer’s corner after every round. And of course F1 drivers – post-race broadcasts are thick with thanks to the teams. Given the tiny time margins for a win, those guys who change four tyres in under two seconds - now that’s a team worth thanking.
So what may all of this have to do with us, in the world of education, leaders with teams whom we nurture and value and thank now (I believe) more than ever. Homework: compare and contrast the number of thank you cards you wrote this year with those sent five years ago. Extension task: compare the number you now send with the number you received when you were a whipper snapper and your Head thought teams belonged on hockey pitches.
We may talk about senior leadership teams, but we all know the truth of the solitary nature of headship, how lonely it is at the top
Solo deputies (I was one for seven years, in addition to teaching half a timetable) giving way to SLTs was definitely progress. Distributing identifiable items - compliance, pastoral care, curriculum, assessment, outdoor education, marketing - spreads the load and provides valuable experience for small armies of deputies and the new guys, assistant heads.
Given that all Heads will now have an SLT, wouldn’t it be nice to see Heads arrive with one of their own, already established and long trusted, as football managers often do – ‘Hire me, hire my men...’ Surely if they did, they would achieve more, and faster? How many new Heads are sabotaged by a disgruntled deputy, or an SLT cabal reluctant to adapt or implement change? Arriving with your own small army of familiar enforcers sounds very attractive.
But the revolution I would really like to see is Heads, like tennis players, with personal teams, employed not take responsibility for bits of the job, but to make sure that the player is fit to do the job wonderfully well, to keep the main player in totally good nick, fit for purpose, effective on all counts. Who would you need? A personal trainer, nutritionist, physio, psychologist for the health of the Head, yes. But also the mentor, strategist and management guru to help the Head put into practice the theory from the MBA.
We may talk about senior leadership teams, but we all know the truth of the solitary nature of headship, how lonely it is at the top. The sporting world is ahead of the game in demonstrating that the solo player – the driver, the tennis player, the boxer, the golfer – reaches excellence with the support, specific and personal, of his or her own team. If you’re lucky, you might get a Lendl.
We should be looking for this kind of support to be included in the Head’s package on entry, not informally – a pairing up with a rival Head down the road, or in my case 200 miles away. I called her twice: once she could not come to the phone, the second time she came to the phone only to say she had no idea how to advise. So much for mentoring in olden times, when it was charitable, not official. What you don’t need is alarm about your mental health: ‘She said she needs a counsellor, is she ok?’ But support in the top job is just as necessary as pay and pension, and more immediately useful, to the school as well as the Head.
Because at the end of the day there is only one of you, in the ring, on the court, in the driving seat. Even The Times acknowledged it: next to a whole page trophy picture of Andy Murray, the headline: ‘He’s done it again!’
Note the pronoun. I rest my case.
Hilary Moriarty is an independent advisor for schools, a former Head and former National Director of the Boarding Schools’ Association.
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