There is a Place for Winning and Competition in Education by @fulbridge_acad

“However good you are, you can always be better – perfection does not exist”

“Everything needs to change so that everything stays the same”

“The price of life as a leader is eternal vigilance”

“The chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken.”

A few years ago the idea of ‘competition and winning’ were totally alien concepts in education, possibly created by the devil himself. Alastair Campbell’s book, ‘Winners and how they Succeed’ in my view rightly challenges that view and by drawing on examples of highly successful individuals, promotes the winning mentality as an essential component of any successful individual or team.

A competitive ‘change mindset’ is a critically important approach that any successful leader and their team must have if they are to succeed and be the best at what they do. Leaders must create an environment in which change just happens without the need to shout about it or make grand announcements.

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This approach must be set in the context that leadership is about setting the conditions for excellence rather than exclusively providing the expertise yourself. Leaders must, Campbell says, create a bottom up rather than top down leadership approach that is based upon three main things:

  1. Boldness of ambition

  2. Brilliance in innovation

  3. The gathering and use of data.

School leaders need to believe in what they are doing, they need to care and they need to be passionate about their school, the staff, the children, the whole community. They love what they are doing and are determined to do it as well as they possibly can. For a school leader, being successful at making a difference to children’s lives, in whatever way, has to be the single most important thing that is happening anywhere in the world at any given moment in their working lives.

Your job, as a leader, is essentially to have and coordinate ideas and make them work. Leaders work hard as they know that their work ethic is fundamental as to how successful they and their team will be. Leaders, more than anyone in the team, must stay focussed on the big picture, on the strategy and tactics that fulfil the objective and a leader must ensure nobody wanders off this agreed path.

Leaders support the team, set goals and prepare meticulously, focusing on the ‘big moments’ whilst looking and planning for the next challenge or objective, not dwelling on past successes but moving ever forward. You do this because you know that ‘satisfaction and standing still’ are so often the enemies of success.

I have put into an educational context the qualities that Alastair Campbell outlines are needed to be such an effective leader:

1. Experience – proven ability in a high performance environment

2. Knowledge – sound understanding of what makes effective leadership, how to create a high performing ethos and the conditions for excellence, how to support staff effectively and an up do date knowledge based on the latest sound educational research.

3. Competence in –

> interpersonal skills, communication, ability to build partnerships and to influence others

> leading change and developing others

> building talent

> establishing a strategic direction

> effective operational decision making

4. An elite disposition

5. As a person a leader needs a passion for results, self-belief, a competitive/driven approach, strong ambition, clarity of thinking, to be a team player, have commitment/ persistence, passion/enthusiasm, honesty and integrity, be disciplined, to listen, be curious and endlessly adaptable.

The Australian, Ric Charlesworth, said that, ‘the price of life as a leader is eternal vigilance’. When you become a leader you must accept that there are times that you will be the one who will have to lead people to do things they will either not want to do or more often that they don’t know they want to do. In leadership you will always disappoint as well as please – there will always be pain as well as delight.

One of the most important things that leaders must do is get the right people on the team, in the right positions, motivate them in the right way and then maximise their potential to the benefit of the individual themselves and to the benefit of the team, whatever form that team may take.

In this context succession planning is an essential prerequisite of any organisation and schools are no exception. The best advice I have read on this issue, in this thought provoking and enlightening Alastair Campbell book is when he quotes Samuel Johnson’s brilliantly perceptive words:

“The chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken.”

Campbell then follows up, quoting from something the American billionaire, Warren Buffett said when he describes people who are set in their ways and can find it almost impossible to change their habits/behaviours because they have never had the change mindset. (I have adapted his words to suit an educational setting).

“The key to avoiding being like this is most successfully found whilst you are young or early in your career. Look for the behaviours that you admire in others and make those your habits. Look at what you find reprehensible in others and decide that those are the things you are not going to do. If you do that you will discover that you will convert all your energies into the effective output that will enable you to be a great leader and make a difference for the better.”

Such a simple approach; but so often ignored by leaders who see their way as the only way and who are unwilling to listen to others or engage in researching into what are the ingredients that have made successful leaders, worldwide, effective; something Alastair Campbell’s book does brilliantly. For me this book is an essential read for any leader or ‘would be’ leader, simply because as Alastair Campbell writes;

‘Exceptional leaders not only have their own ideas but they take ideas from others and learn from the successes of others as well as their own.’


Featured image source: By amanda tipton on Flickr under (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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The Editorial Account of UKEdChat, managed by editor-in-chief Colin Hill, with support from Martin Burrett from the UKEd Magazine. Pedagogy, Resources, Community.

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