Narrowing Education? Bring back the broad general education.

Article for Herald, 4 February 2019.  Thankfully, there has been some progress with music in Midlothian since then.

Narrowing Education? Bring back the broad general education.

The narrowing of Scottish education has been long noted in the senior phase, most recently by Professor Scott’s sharing of evidence with the Education Committee.  In the early years of education Upstart have also raised concerns about curriculum narrowing.  Senior phase narrowing was a perverse outcomes of qualification reform.  Meanwhile, concerns in the early years are around the national assessments potentially hollowing out teaching and learning focussing only on literacy and numeracy.

Last week two events signalled the continued retraction of Scotland’s once proud broad general education.  Innovative approaches also withered on the vine.

Firstly, Midlothian became the first authority in the country to signal an potential end to music tuition.  There has been a long campaign, trumpeted by #changethetune amongst others, to protect music tuition and promote music education.  Sadly, it seems to have fallen on deaf ears.

The second sad story was the demise of entrepreneurial attempts to enhance education through a new type of schooling, Newlands College.  Established with the backing of Scottish businessman Jim McColl, Newlands College provided senior schooling for students who had disengaged from traditional education.  It reported a 100% success in getting its students into employment:- no mean feat and a tremendous achievement given the individual and societal risk of lost human talent if something different was not done with these young people.  The school was led by innovative headteacher Iain White.  He previously led Govan High on a model which focussed the curriculum and learning on a consulted set of skills for learning, life and work.

Many had much hope for Newlands.  Having led an alternative education programme in West Lothian many years before I welcomed the move. The DEANS (Developing Enterprise Attitude and New Skills) Programme saw students maintain key curriculum area of literacy and numeracy, whilst actively learning entrepreneurial skills, social skills and vocational craft and technical skills in a partnership between the council, schools and local training providers.

Such schemes are still however ‘bolt-on’ rather than the norm in Scottish education and the demise of Newlands marks the end of an era of potential in Scottish education.

Our system is regressing to narrow measures to please promised political policy priorities.  The focus on closing the attainment gap is hard aligned to ‘qualification’ statistical outcomes.  The policy misses the bits in the middle, those which are the root cause of poverty and depravation.  As well as not giving enough attention to the middle part, it has also seen the education system morph from the original broad aims of CfE to narrow outcomes to achieve set goals.  Unintended outcomes are aplenty.  So far, success is being acknowledged in the new policy landscape is the increased number of low socio-economic decile students attending university.  This continues as school results fail to demonstrate the significant progress heralded and hoped for.  However, even the university results require scrutiny. For one, simply by widening and opening access to more students from lower SIMD deciles, we can alter statistics.  However, the more worrying trend is as follows.  Whilst more students might be accessing HE, especially in some new universities, the numbers who are completing courses is not always as positive.  We might ask where positive outcomes for people feature in this policy pursuit.

Whilst universities should be open and accessible to all, they should not always be seen as the ultimate goal.  A rich tapestry of “education” exists in Scotland if we continue to protect it.  In his introduction to a recent ‘Learner Journey’ document the education minister set out his aims for education.  He noted three of the four aims of the UNESCO schooling purposes (knowledge gain, skill development, and self-actualisation & protection) (community cohesion was not explicitly noted).

We need all purposes promoted to thrive individually, locally, nationally and as global citizens.  Scotland is a diverse and rich country, with a rich and diverse past.  Its future prosperity relies upon rich and diverse thinking.  All need inclusion in ‘education’: English and maths; music and arts; STEM and humanities; central and community inputs; schools, colleges, training providers and universities; work and play.  The day we start hollowing out education, is the day we step back from strong pillars of our past and future foundations.  We need a broad education and enlightened educational thinking.

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More with less- Teachers pay and school improvement

I was asked to contribute a thought piece for the Sunday Post a good few weeks ago.  During the week, the news change and the focus of publication altered.  However, here was my thoughts on teacher pay, the philosophy of what education is about and improving education.

In Summer 2017 I attended a leadership residential course with senior level leaders from across UK public and private services.  Major issues were discussed from nationalism, isolationism, Russia, China and …. Education.  Education was threaded through all the areas we discussed.  It remains an issue of utmost importance.

“Pay teachers more and that will improve education,” one course delegate said.  If only it were that simple.  He was ‘educated’ in the complexity of school improvement.  Furthermore, one delegate told him “my sister teaches, and she certainly does not do it for the money.”  Monetary value and public value are of course two very different things.

In last week’s Sunday Times Magnus Linklater showed his value for teachers.  “Value education- value teachers,” Linklater started with, quoting the teachers’ union slogan in their campaign for a 10% pay rise. However, it seems Linklater does not value our teachers or their current contribution to educational improvement.

Values, in the philosophical rather than economic sense, might be worth further exploration. For what do we value in education? The truth is, in Scotland we don’t know.  Teachers have been led a merry dance in a world of uncertainty and lack of clarity.  Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) started as a halcyon experiment in educational progressivism. Since its inception it has morphed and most recently we have returned to national assessments.

Scottish education needs a conversation on what schooling is for in modern Scotland. CfE gave a chance for a breath of fresh air with a modern enlightened education system supporting many aims. However, it Has been hollowed out by renewed emphasis on exam results and statistical measures with inbuilt potential perverse incentives including narrowing of the curriculum and decreases in the attractiveness of the job of teaching.

Political leaders have acted quickly but not always thoughtfully in attempts to reverse apparent trends showing a decrease in education standards.  There have been multiple policy publications, but no one has sat back to look at the purpose of schools and how we achieve those broad aims.  We can all point to the areas of Scottish education that need improving, however how to change them is another thing.  The truth is, the best people to secure improvement in education are teachers.  To do this we need to support them with clarity on purpose and the training, development, resources and time in the classroom to provide the very highest standards of education.

There has been much focus on leadership lately in education but has this been at all levels, including the most senior at systems level?  Have teachers been provided with effective leadership at the most senior levels of the education system?   In that ‘leadership world’ we have seen passing responsibility and accountability from the most senior positions of Scottish education to headteachers in schools and teachers.  Teachers posts have been difficult to recruit to but then so to has headteacher posts, particularly primary headteacher posts.  Like teachers work, there has been much ‘busy work’ to change things.  However not all change leads to improvement.  On the issues of difficulties in finding primary headteachers, we cannot avoid the fact that the pay differential between a primary depute head and the headteacher is not enough of an incentive to attract many people into this challenging, but rewarding, position.

And so, pay is an issue.  However, it is only one issue which is going to help recruit more into the profession, and moreover, improve it.  Do teachers deserve more pay? The simple answer is, no more than any other public service worker. Teachers also require clarity on purpose and an informed broad perspective on their profession in order to contribute to an informed, educated modern Scotland. At present the perception is that schools are failing. More with less may be the war cry. However I would argue education provides a whole lot more than the narrow exam results show. We just need to value that wider contribution of teachers and education.  Then we may claim to be ‘better educated.’

Increases of 10% in pay is a very real possibility for teachers.  It will be the latest in a long line of policy pragmatism without a long-term plan or philosophical underpinning.

Neil McLennan is Director of Leadership Programmes and Senior Lecturer, School of Education, University of Aberdeen

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Reviewing thinking on reviewing CfE

Today has brought two news stories about CfE reform which piqued my interest. The first in TESS magazine builds on my earlier calls for a whoelscale review and reform  of CfE in Scotland (Rod Grant, TESS, February 2014: https://www.tes.com/news/scottish-education-system-needs-fundamental-reboot).  The second from much respected academic, author and commentator Professor Walter Humes http://sceptical.scot/2019/02/the-parochialism-of-the-present/ suggests that we are now looking back enough in order to guide our future thinking on education in Scotland.

The two articles prompted me to review my own thinking and where I am going next.  The undernoted is just a skirting over the surface of some of my writing and thinking on education over recent years.  My initial review thoughts are that I have tried to champion two things:- a broad education system that promotes knowledge, skills, self-actualisation & humanism; and community cohesion (at all levels- group, local community and society wide).   I have also tried to guide History education away from the risky waters and narrow lense of nationalism towards an understanding of locality, regions, nations (Scotland and UK), Europe and the wider world.   Some of my articles below were explicitly on this topic. In recent months have been asking government officials for a copy of the last update that was made on the action plan which was instigated after my report , as SATH President, into History teaching.  I will share this as soon as I get a hold of it. The action plan was many years ago, however I wish to see how it finished off. Or, like many other things in Scottish education was it started and then never completed.  It seems that within Scottish education we know the issues that need changing, alas our ability to instigate change and achieve improvement is the issue of the present.  Some of this does however come back to a need to re-philosophise, what are we about?  What is education for in Scotland?

Reforming CfE-

April 2012 https://www.scotsman.com/news/opinion/neil-mclennan-we-need-enterprise-education-more-than-ever-1-2239453

May 2012:- https://neilsgleeeclub.wordpress.com/2012/05/13/battle-still-to-be-won-over-history/

May 2012 a review of that above article https://www.tes.com/news/back-future-past

September 2012 https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-19673111

February 2013:- https://neilsgleeeclub.wordpress.com/2013/02/27/history-in-the-making/

2013 Chapter in Scottish Education:- https://www.worldcat.org/title/scottish-education-referendum/oclc/876005401

November 2013:- https://researchtheheadlines.org/2013/11/06/battle-over-homework-is-false-dichotomy/

In 2013 I also led work to make numeracy skills relevantly linked to workplace experiences:- https://www.youngacademyofscotland.org.uk/numeracy.html

https://www.youngacademyofscotland.org.uk/news/as-ssln-2013-report-released-astrophysicist-and-heart-doctor-show-that-numeracy-counts-1.html

https://www.youngacademyofscotland.org.uk/news/astrophysicist-and-heart-doctor-show-that-numeracy-counts.html

January 2014:- http://www.historyworkshop.org.uk/educating-the-nations-history-identity-and-citizenship-after-devolution/

Audio files of lecturing at University of Huddersfield on the development of history curriculum over 4the four UK nations.

PP of lecture:- https://www.slideserve.com/sef/holding-a-mirror-to-english-curriculum

More info on this can be found here alongside 2 articles I had written relating to issues of history curriculum reform.

https://neilsgleeeclub.wordpress.com/2013/07/06/educating-the-nations/

June 2014:- https://researchtheheadlines.org/2014/05/06/literacy-skills-would-enhance-knowledge-of-numeracy-skills/

October 2014:- I led the RSE YAS Excellence in Education Working Group enquiry into Inter-Disciplinary Learning https://www.youngacademyofscotland.org.uk/images/Makgin20Strong20Links20Report.compressed.pdf

The enquiry led to this academic publication:- http://www.scotedreview.org.uk/media/microsites/scottish-educational-review/documents/358.pdf

December 2014:- https://researchtheheadlines.org/2014/12/03/what-makes-great-teaching/

January 2015:- https://researchtheheadlines.org/2015/01/13/what-makes-a-great-teacher/

November 2015:- https://www.heraldscotland.com/opinion/columnists/13929357.Vital_lessons_from_the_past_for_the_youth_of_today/

Having published books (with Kevin Murphy) on Skills (Determined to Succeed, 2013, and Art of Achievement, 2014) the next focus was on values, perhaps promoted by this review of our work:- http://www.sec-ed.co.uk/blog/how-should-we-measure-success

Speaking of Values was published in 2016 with Emma Fossay and Gary Walsh.  www.bit.ly/SpeakingOfValues or access here:-  https://speakingofvaluesblog.edublogs.org/

The undernoted four blogs had been brewing for a while although I never got them out until towards the end of 2016

August 2016:- https://neilsgleeeclub.wordpress.com/2016/08/31/the-education-revolution-is-coming/

September 2016:- https://neilsgleeeclub.wordpress.com/2016/09/05/the-strange-death-of-cfe/

September 2016:- https://neilsgleeeclub.wordpress.com/2016/09/08/the-panacea-of-school-improvement-and-raising-attainment-looking-for-solutions-and-finding-answers/

September 2016:- https://neilsgleeeclub.wordpress.com/2016/10/26/resetting-the-dial-5as-for-scottish-education-the-answer-to-all-our-problems/

December 2016:- https://www.heraldscotland.com/opinion/14950018.neil-mclennan-how-the-mace-can-spice-up-values/

April 2017:- https://researchtheheadlines.org/2017/04/26/mind-the-gap/

October 2017:- https://curriculumforequity.org/2017/10/18/school-values-in-scotland/

March 2018:- Full access to my transcript from the undernoted conference at the RSE can be accessed from Scotland Policy Conferences.

https://www.scotlandpolicyconferences.co.uk/sample/Curriculum_Scotland_Mar18_example_pages.pdf

https://www.scotlandpolicyconferences.co.uk/agenda/curriculum-SPC-18-agenda.pdf

The front page of The Herald ran with my part of my speech; “CfE is dead”; more of the story can be found here:-

https://www.heraldscotland.com/news/education/16084301.Parents____paying_for_counselling____to_help_pupils_cope_with_stress/

This blogger shared one of the issues I flagged up, that Scottish education is trying to achieve an egalitarian meritocracy.  http://www.kathleenleslie.co.uk/2018/03/next-steps-for-curriculum-for-excellence.html This is at school level.  At system level we speak of social justice but then adopt neoliberalist GERM type management, passing autonomy and high accountability down the system and only focussed on school without clear links with the other levers of social justice within public services.

The undernoted article was a follow up to the conference above:-

April 2018 https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/the-curriculum-for-excellence-is-dead-now-we-need-to-clarify-our-aims-v3bm8l28d

September 2018:- https://researched.org.uk/event/researched-scotland-2018/ Lectured in a) Values and CfE architecture and also how we can learn lessons of past to support adverse experiences; looking through lense of Geddes, Brock and ergotherapy thinking.

More on the latter can be found via this BERA blog.

October 2018:- https://www.bera.ac.uk/blog/regeneration-re-education-and-an-anthem-for-peace

December 2018:- https://www.tes.com/news/scotlands-curriculum-needs-change-fast

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#iPlay4Peace

A copy of the 12th November Thunderer article I wrote for The Times which has now sparked #iPlay4Peace moving from a concept to a reality across the world

https://www.napier.ac.uk/about-us/events/play-for-peace-a-concert-for-cooperation

http://www.churchofscotland.org.uk/news_and_events/news/2018/musicians_invited_to_play_for_peace_this_november

In May 1919 Australian soldier journalist Edward George Honey wrote to the London Evening News.  As the first anniversary of the ending of the ‘Great’ War approached, all that was planned were veterans’ celebratory dinners.   ‘Foster’ (Honey’s pseudonym) appealed for five minutes silence. This led eventually to King George V calling for two minutes silence, arranged only days before 11/11/1919.

One hundred years of silences are soon to pass.  We might ask, ‘what have we learned from it all and how have we progressed?’  Commemoration activity has taken place, yet conflict continues.  Commemorations have been sombre, respectful and reverent. Planners have navigated political milestones of the Scottish independence referendum and Brexit.  These may have tapered activity, indeed made some events almost anonymous.  Some events have not extend beyond those who would normally don a poppy and attend remembrance parades or lectures about military history.  There had been discussion on whether there should have been a number of events or a few larger scale events?  Community interest events extended activities beyond ‘Red Tab’ committees’ proposals.  The powerful embryonic growth of creative, commemorative activity is a symbolic marker of how strongly communities feel about paying their respect to ‘The Fallen.’ One example was the “We Are Here” voluntary re-enactors leaving a subtle, emotive mark on some British towns.

‘Passchendaele’ events were perhaps the most ambitious commemorative event.  However, perhaps ‘Passchendaele’ missed an opportunity, historically and literally, then and now.  The youth choir sung truly wonderfully.  However, where were young voices presenting readings?  Their views more powerful now, and for the future, than the well-known celebrities featured. And what about German voices? All suffer in war.

After 100 years of silence we might ask “what is the legacy of it all?”  And, “what is humanity’s mark of respect?”  Whilst not wanting to in any way interfere with the reverend and respectful activity of Armistice morning, might one respectfully request an activity to pay our respects a century on and to promote the key message that should come from the lesson of war:- cooperation over conflict.

On the afternoon/evening of future Armistice Sundays, might musicians across the globe strike up in unison, playing the international language, recognised and revered by all? Music to the ears – a symbol of our ability to work together.  The respectful silence must remain but then united voices need heard if we really want to end war and live in peaceful coexistence.

Neil McLennan is a former history teacher and has chaired Wilfred Owen’s Edinburgh commemorative events committee in 2017.

 

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Charlottesville Chaos needs multi-perspective historical reasoning

Events in Charlottesville expose some of the clashes of ideas, values and beliefs which not only are the root of tensions, historically and now, but also expose the multi-faceted make up of some of those at the centre of the tensions.  A fuller understanding of history, as ever, can help to understand the issues and could also prevent them.

The Charlottesville protests started first and foremost with attempts to remove statues to Confederate Civil War generals. In particular the removal of Confederate Commander Robert E. Lee and the renaming of parkland around the site as Emancipation Park (formerly Lee Park) has sparked controversy.  Both ante bellum and post Civil War America are complex at best.  Whether Lee was a racist, by modern standards, as much of standards of the day, is ripe for debate, just as the racism or otherwise of ‘The Great Emancipator’ Lincoln in equally not clear cut.  (I know that for sure having undertaken my CSYS Dissertation on Lee and then studied and Edinburgh University Course on the American Civil War).

What is clear cut is that protesters were clearly carrying and waving Nazi and neo Nazis flags and symbols. The irony of this extends to many levels.  First and foremost the fact that these protesters can reconcile being American and neo Nazi is one strange conundrum.  America along with almost the rest of the world (eventually) fought against the Nazis.  Moreover the conundrum extends to pre 1939 activity.  For swastika waving things to protest at the removal of statues and history is ironic given the Nazi’s attempts to re-write history and destroy our knowledge of many areas.  Perhaps that part of the Nazi’s eradicating history has been blindly forgotten by the protestors.

If we are looking at America in distain and pointing the finger at Trump we would do well to take a multi-perspective approach, both looking back to history but also looking for trends in other settings in the current day. For in Scotland too we have altered what is taught in history classrooms, we have seen freedom of speech attacked on twitter and elsewhere and we have seen flag waving protests and animosity.  Thankfully we have not seen deaths as a result of nationalist outpourings.  However, as Edmund Burke warned “The Rise of Evil happens because a few good men do nothing.”  We must keep in our guard to curb the ever present potential excesses.  Everyone has a role to play in this.

Reconciling our history will always prove challenging, not least as all of our history is never clear cut. With many layers it is often complex, changing and sometimes even enigmatic.  And so to solutions to the Charlottesville sad saga:-  Like entrenched work issues such as Israel and the Middle East, these will not come about quickly or simply. However they will also not come about without suggestion, though leadership and influence.  A start for ten would be to leave the Lee statue where it is.  Removing it is akin to the burning of books carried out by the Nazi’s in the 1930s.  Secondly, proceed to rename the park Emancipation Park goes some way to recognise progress.  The change of name reflects the prevalent culture and trends and our greater understanding and acknowledgment of period in history and shifts in how we have shed light on it.  Leaving the statue shows some conciliation to commemorating the past whilst renaming the park shows progress and potential for change. Many many places across the world have had multiple uses, names and influences. Charlottesville would be no different in this regards.

Meantime, the biggest challenge now is how to protect freedom of speech and freedom to protest and marching alongside charging those responsible for crimes during the bloody events. Diplomatic but firm and consistent leadership at ground level will be required.  At a more senior level political leadership sets the tone and the ‘thought leadership’ as we move forward. In America and elsewhere we need to be careful not to trust those whose conflicting messages promise “all things to all men.”  They are likely to be the source of ongoing tensions.  Closely interpreting their messages and greater understanding of history will be vital if we are to progress as society, as civilization, as humanity.  Hopefully many places in the world can return to the latter sometime soon.  It is humans after all that make history –for better or for worse!  If we are to agree with philosopher Hume on passion rather than reason informing human behaviour and experience cementing our knowledge base, then it is time for the “good guys and girls” to step forward- whoever they are?

Neil McLennan is a former Institute of Contemporary Scotland, Young Scot of the Year and also a former President of the Scottish Association of Teachers of History.

 

 

 

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Championing Aspiration

the-sunday-times

 

“Aspiration is the educational fashion” according to Lindsay Patterson (Sunday Times 15 January 2016). However might it be used to effectively reconceptualise education at this time of turmoil, bad news and ongoing reform?

At present government ministers and civil servants as well as leaders in school education are scrambling about trying to steer the education system as international league tables show a sinking position in the education standards against international comparators. Pressure is mounting throughout the good ship Vital Spark, not least around closing the attainment related poverty gap, where edu-neers are being instructed, “full steam ahead” despite some well publicised reservations around the policy potential.  I have written before on the need for a multi-faceted approach to alleviating or, moreover ending, poverty which includes education inputs.  This area will require many more inputs across public services before reduced poverty gap outcomes are achieved.   Leaving this only to schools is irresponsible, although schools have a vital role to play.

During this debate ‘aspiration’ has entered the policy narrative although only around the edges. Some might cast aspiration into, at worst, a neoliberalist campaign aligned with grit and resilience, and, at best, American psychological approaches creeping into every day UK and Scottish education.  However there are some things worth considering.  As with everything in education:- do not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

A campaign run by the Royal Society of Edinburgh Young Academy of Scotland over the past two years revealed a showed a wide range of aspirational advice being shared with young people across Scotland and indeed across the world. The campaign also revealed a broad range of views on advice for young people but also some indications on what education is really all about and might look like.  Whilst UNESCO offered four purposes for school education (to know, to do, to be and to be together) not all of these have been taken up with gusto by Scottish education.  Then again its own four capacities have never been reviewed so the chances of UNESCO aims being looked at are perhaps limited.

The #aspirationaladvice campaign gathered a range of views from creativity to motivation to being true to oneself. Moreover, it showed that having a dream, having goals, having role models and having purpose meant something.

Education is for many more things than government hard statistics. We should be finding out what the aspirations are of our young people.  Moreover we should be learning from them. Furthermore, are we meeting the aspirations of our children?  That study might reveal that the education system is achieving much.  At an individual level self-actualisation and at a national level something defined from within rather than international comparators or even a middle class view of what the world should be like layered onto communities.

Naysayers and would-be soothsayers will say that not everyone is going to become a rocket scientist. This is true however one might recall the story of the janitor sweeping the floor at NASA.  “What do you do?” he was asked by the President.  “I help send people to the moon” was his famous reply.

On the other hand some might suggest that aspirations to “a trade” or vocational work are not enough. One might look at the economy for some answers to the questions emanating from that one.

Many similar stories of aspiration and self-actualisation and aspiration can be told. What is more gratifying when progress made as a result of that dream.  I know of one doctor who did not get the Higher grades to get into Medicine during her pretty unsuccessful time at school. However her keenness to serve others as a doctor saw her achieve the grades there through alternative means.  An alternative but still a robust root.  Today she is one of the key servants on the NHS supporting us all.  What about her aspiration? Was it just fashionable?  God help us and all the patients who benefit from her expertise if she did not have aspirations.

As a teacher I recall taking over a new a class in a new school. I was going through the class list with the previous teacher.  He told me one student was a “7/foundation” (the lowest grade you could get at Standard Grade).  I made it my mission to make sure she got a higher grade than Foundation Standard Grade.  With my aspiration for her and her aspiration we achieved a “1/Credit” (the top grade you could achieve in Standard Grade).  Was aspiration just fashionable there?

More needs to be investigated about aspiration before we write it off as trendy and fashionable. If it were the case then those Lindsay Paterson notes ‘without talent’ and born into ‘the wrong families’ would fail completely.  Is that the aspiration we have for Scottish education?

 

 

Neil McLennan is the co-author of Determined to Succeed, The Art of Achievement and Speaking of Values. He was the founder and curator of the RSE Young Academy of Scotland #aspirationaladvice campaign, and organisation where he was also Co-Chair.

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Leadership Values- the who and the how

This is my second leadership article for SBNN.  It was written last night before the result became clear. The first one can be accessed here:- http://www.sbnn.co.uk/2016/09/14/neil-mclennan-leadership-everywhere-really/

 

 

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Leadership Values- the who and the how
In the first article in this series exploring wider issues around leadership, we looked at “what is leadership?” The definition is clear but we explored whether it matched our modern perceptions of what leadership is about or should be about.
In this article we will look at the ‘who’ and the ‘how’ of leadership in broad terms. The current events of the US Presidential election, to some, show that anyone can be President. History perhaps tells us, if the man born in a log cabin can make it to the top, then anyone can.
But is it really true that anyone can make it to the top? I have recently returned from America and the people I spoke to only used one word to describe the current campaign– “embarrassing”. American people I spoke within the traditional Republican areas in the south and traditional Democratic voters in the north east suggested that they might not vote at all. For those who were voting, their vote was more about who they did not want elected in, rather than any strong affiliation to one candidate.
However, both candidates got into these positions. Trump though success in business and Clinton through connections but also her own record in public office. Getting into the top job is another matter and succeeding there is another matter. Drawing from the last article we should remind ourselves that in the first instance, they have put themselves forward. In so many walks of life a vacuum exists and the leader is the one who steps into that domain (either willingly of coerced). It was refreshing to see a secondary school engender that spirit of “anything is possible” with its students and encouraging them that “if you are not at the start line, then you cannot win the race.” Only last week the Scottish Conservative Leader, and Scottish Politician of the Year, Ruth Davidson had one message for anyone considering a career in politics, “get involved.” Maybe there needs to be more of this spirit in modern society – the leader figures steps forward in the first instance. Remember Theodore Roosevelt’s Paris speech in 1910:-
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
However, as the American elections come to a close, the issue for Americans is perhaps less so who the candidates are as to what they stand for. And so a central component of leadership comes to the fore. The character assassinations, the analysis of how they act and have behaved all focussed back on one core issue – values.
Having recently published a new eBook on values, it has been fascinating to speak with so many people across the business community in Scotland about their value base and how they developed a core set of values . Those interviewed in the book gave willingly of their time, experience and story. What has emerged is a useful mapping of value considerations across modern Scotland. The truth is, there is no right or wrong with values. However, they are clear indicators for another person of the value and worth they place in you. This is all the more so in leadership positions.
Whilst the winner of the American election will assume power, their ability to progress successfully as a leader will be largely dictated by how they behave and the values they hold to amongst other variables. However, if values accord then there is more chance of success. For the top leadership position perhaps does not carry as much power as we might assume. Barack Obama’s inability to progress with legislative changes is evidence of this point. Whilst the political process can hold a leader back, so too can the other agencies of power who might even hold ultimate power. The CIA for one and the FBI another within the American system, the latter of which has been heavily involved in the finishing stages of this election process.
And whilst other institutions hold power, the truth is (and should be in a democratic system), real and sustained power comes from the people and is held within the people (at least in the modern democratic context). Many examples of this can be seen in American politics – the Vietnam War policy for one where students, African Americans, the media, the unions and women were all key influencers on changing leader’s direction. This links back to our assumption in the first article that leaders need a followership. In actual fact, many of the best leaders simply lead in the direction the momentum is moving towards. Churchill is an example of the leader being the bobbing cork in the waves of the backbenches thrown ashore by the crisis tide of war and political vacuum. His services welcome during the storm of troubles and then slowly slipped away again by the calmer tides of the post-war era when the need for his particular style of leadership was no longer needed nor wanted.
And so, returning to Britain, at this time of Remembrance we see many examples of leadership being shared. Medal winners, heroes and leaders from various conflicts have emerged from villages and towns across our country. Many of the revered never in leadership positions before. They took on leadership roles and performed heroic deeds in the heat of battle. If we continue on the theme that leaders need followers, I ask two questions for reflection:-
• Would you follow Trump or Clinton “over the top” into battle?
• Would you follow the leadership example you are setting for yourself?

Other questions coming to the surface from this through piece include:-
• How important is social capital in the success of leadership?
• What values do others see in you and your leadership style?

As a final question:-
• Is the definition of leadership that we explored in the first article a suitable one in the modern era and does it reflect the reality of what we would want from our leadership figures?
In the modern era the position and title is not enough, the values by which you lead are all important if anything is to be achieved.

Neil McLennan is Director of Leadership Programmes at the University of Aberdeen. The MSc Leadership in Profession Contexts programme caters for middle level leaders through to Headteachers and senior officers.

More details on University of Aberdeen leadership courses can be found at:-

https://www.abdn.ac.uk/study/postgraduate-taught/degree-programmes/Leadership-in-Professional-Contexts
More details of Neil’s latest publication, on values based leadership, can be found at:-
http://speakingofvaluesblog.edublogs.org/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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