Facilitative Leadership and Climate

I watched the first episode of the new Jamie Oliver programme on Channel 4 (9pm) last night – Dream School (http://bit.ly/ewWFyi). His mission is to turn around the lives of a bunch of young people who, like him, dropped out of education with less than 5 GCSEs. To do this, he has brought together some of Britain’s most inspirational individuals including David Starkey, Rolf Harris, Simon Callow, Ellen MacArthur and Robert Winston.

Last night’s episode made me think about what I’ve been learning on the MICL. David Starkey seemed to embody all that is wrong with bad leadership. He is clearly hugely knowledgeable in his field and has a passion for his subject (so common of many organisational leaders), but his inability to create a positive, supportive climate in which the students felt able to participate and learn was cringe-making. At one point, he verbally abused a student (a pity he chose the one who had just had a very positive experience in a session with Simon Callow during which he felt the relationship between tutor and student was less hierarchical than he had experienced at school). He certainly didn’t encourage the heart, inspire a shared vision, model the way or enable others. No space for engagement, creativity and reflection there.

He isn’t a trained teacher (at least I don’t think so!) and this makes great television, but his old-fashioned methods made me wonder how much of his kind of approach to leadership, learning and development is still in our academic system.

Throughout our teaching so far on the MICL, we have been encouraged to reflect. Many opportunities and channels have been made available to us to digest and interpret what we are being taught. There have been plenty of opportunities for us to learn by doing and to share our experiences. As a group of students we are open and honest with each other and with our tutors. I know we are at Masters level and there may not be such a requirement to cover a strict lesson format that schools have to, but I would like to think that Starkey’s approach, which has already horrified the head teacher at Dream School (the only ‘real’ post) is dying out in schools.

Did you see it?


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Currently studying on the new Masters in Innovation, Creativity and Leadership (MICL) at City University London. Co-Founder and Operating Partner at Per Diem innovation and creativity consultancy. BA Hons Drama and English; Dipl Arts Administration. Trained Synectics facilitator of creativity. 20 plus years in marketing communications, performance improvement and business coaching and arts and corporate sector.

4 thoughts on “Facilitative Leadership and Climate”

  1. I think respect and discipline have a whole different context in compulsory school education than an elective masters course.

    No Starkey is not a teacher, but there do need to be basic rules about dress, attitude, use of mobile phones etc to let the teacher get on with being creative.

    No amount of teaching resources can compensate for schools not providing that basic environment to teach in, and the right response of the head at the Dream School would be to help Starkey out.

    1. I quite agree, Edward, that compulsory school education is different from an elective masters course, and I use my own setting simply as an illustration.

      I also agree with you about setting some groundrules which is something Starkey tried to do but on his own terms. If some groundrules had been set out and agreed between the class and the teacher, then I think he would have started from a much better foundation. A mutual contract would have been drawn up making the climate much less confrontational.

      On the subject of helping Starkey out, I would hope that we will see this in the next episode. You may remember that Callow created a very different climate in his session. Simple things like sitting rather than standing, tone of voice and choice of language all help and maybe there will be some shared, reflective learning and cross-fertilisation amongst the teachers? Not sure how Callow fares in episode two though!

      I’m sure you will agree with the notion that there are no leaders without followers and in this case, no teacher without students. The secret is to get people to follow you willingly…

  2. Interesting post Alison. But why do schools have to follow a strict schedule of content? Can anyone show the evidence that this is better for most let alone all? Why can’t we have open, self managed learning at all levels? I hope Jamie looks over the video and realises that this kind of kitchen behaviour is not good for learning. Of course the chef’s kitchen does require tight team work, but this comes from recognition of the need not from response to shouting and swearing, as seen by a few notables!

  3. Hmm, leadership styles in restaurant kitchens…there’s an interesting topic!

    As far as schools go, from what I remember the emphasis was on knowledge transfer and not the process of learning and the resultant skills that develops, which might be more valuable after school than the facts we are expected to remember? I’d like to see a new core subject from primary level upwards – creative problem solving. So useful to every aspect of our lives – academic, business, domestic, relationships…

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