Leadership Matters – Highly Recommended
Although Leadership Matters offers little to the field of leadership studies, it works superbly well as a handbook for school leadership. The chapters are short, focused and rooted in the writer’s experience of a broad range of schools, much of which can be attributed to the writer’s time leading the London challenge Good to Great programme. Buck offers sound advice on operational and tactical leadership which may be of greater benefit to middle and aspiring senior leaders than experienced and current senior leaders.
Missing from the book are a range of contemporary leadership theories and new directions for leadership in education but Buck is clear at the outset that it is his not his goal to “over-complicate the issue.” Instead, the writer has for the most part re-packaged well established and widely accepted approaches to leadership, simply and to good effect.
Preference has been given to a limited range of leadership theories. Buck elevates transformational leadership, team leadership, leadership styles and trait theory whilst at the same time marginalising servant leadership, authentic leadership, leadership ethics, and women in leadership (see Northouse 2013).
Great stock is placed in Radcliffe’s (2012) future-engage-deliver model which, to me, simply mirrors a strategic-tactical-operational model and adds little of value to it. However, as far as path-goal leadership theories go, both models would serve the leader well and should, intuitively, lead to stronger institutional outcomes. The six key areas for leadership action are developed impressively using contemporary evidence and literature. What makes good CPD (Teacher Development Trust, 2015) and Leverage Leadership (Bambrick-Sontoyo, 2012) are cited in Chapter 11, for example.
Chapter 10 on enabling and managing teams provides the reader with excellent resources for effective delegation and leading 1:1 meetings. The section on leading successful meetings could have explored a wider range of meeting structures, perhaps citing some examples from The Adaptive School (Garmston and Wellman, 1999), otherwise, the reader is left to discover what the precise protocols for successful meetings are, for themselves.
Buck scatters some engaging animal metaphors across the piste, illustrating his thinking. The giraffe concept helps the reader to understand issues of school context whilst the hedgehog principal describes the importance of maintaining a focus on the things that work: rolling up in a ball if you are being attacked by a fox (if you are a hedgehog). The metaphors reach a crescendo with the well known “Weighing the pig” analogy in relation to assessment and data analysis; it’s a point well made.
That the writer has prioritised situational leadership and context in his leadership model is to be admired. Perhaps a more developed discussion of school types, associated challenges and phases of school development (Carter, 2016) would have added value to this chapter. The National Schools Commissioner is well attuned to the extent of the leadership challenges ahead for schools, particularly those in coastal towns and rural areas. Perhaps Buck would do well to recognise these situational factors in his commentary on educational leadership moving forward?
Given the title of this book, one might have expected a broader range of evidence into the extent to which school leadership affects pupil outcomes and follower satisfaction. That both are absent is disappointing but no great surprise; very little of this type of evidence currently exists. Buck offers Robinson (2009) as proof of leadership impact but this analysis of best evidence is both methodologically flawed and limited in scope. The writers’ use of forward and backward mapping to arrive at “inferences drawn about the role played by leadership in creating the conditions that produced those outcomes” is hardly satisfactory in research terms.
From the outset, Buck compels the reader to “know thyself,’ referring them to a range of personality tools and the Johari Window. Wisely, he cautions the reader against using this knowledge as justification for the way they behave. Instead, he insists that they use it to identify strengths and areas for development. The latter section of Part 1 is biased in its selection of preferred virtues (courage and humility). Exploring virtues and leadership is probably best left to philosophers and those interested in leadership ethics. Regrettably, this section is a weakness in an otherwise useful opening to the book, although the writer’s call for leaders to understand that “What sets the leaders in the best schools apart is that the ambition is for the school itself, not for them as an individual” is worthy of attention.
Of particular note is the space devoted in these pages to challenging conversations and capability procedures. Buck tackles these difficult subjects head on, providing the reader with useful strategies for managing both situations effectively.
Andy Buck has achieved most of what he set out to achieve in his introduction. He has presented the reader with a range of research informed models of Leadership practice for the reader to apply in their own contexts. The extent to which each model is effective may yet to be fully researched but readers should be assured by the writer’s own extensive experiences of what works and what doesn’t in educational leadership.
I highly recommend Leadership Matters to education leaders operating in a range of contexts.
Bambrick-Santoyo, P (2012) Leverage Leadership: a practical guide to building exceptional schools. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Carter, D., (2016) https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=s2kpg-ZEzuY (accessed:22/07/2016)
Northouse, P. G. (2013). Leadership: Theory and practice (6th ed.). Thousand Oaks: SAGE.
GARMSTON, R. J., & WELLMAN, B. M. (1999). The adaptive school: a sourcebook for developing collaborative groups. Norwood, Mass, Christopher-Gordon Publishers.
Radcliffe, S (2012) (2nd ed). Leadership: plain and simple. Edinburgh: Pearson