Appointing Leaders – Easy, or like swimming with crocodiles?

Appointing a leader appears to be a simple process, so why do some schools use a consultant to assist with the recruitment of a new head or bursar? Good question! Aren’t they expensive? Some are, but it doesn’t have to be that way and, as with most things in life, things that look deceptively easy can end up being the most time consuming or tricky.

Governors and school owners rarely appoint staff outside the school environment, let alone leaders and chief executives. These leadership roles are critical for the health and survival of a school and the search and appointment of a leader is fraught with difficulty and risk.

I am reminded of a story of a wealthy man who built a palatial house in acres of land. He took the time to build it, used only the best materials and when he had finished invited his friends to come and visit for a house warming party. He showed them around the vast grounds, they saw the house in all its glory and when they had finished, he showed them the swimming pool. To their horror he had filled the swimming pool with crocodiles, so many it was teeming with them. He turned to his guests and said that above all characteristics he admired courage; there’s nothing better. “I have built my empire on it,” he boasted. If any one of you is willing to dive in that pool and swim to the other side, I will give you anything you ask for. The guests laughed and turned to go into the house when, suddenly, they heard a splash. They saw a young man swimming as fast as he could, making good speed. The others stood in silence, not believing their eyes as the young man reached the other side and clambered out, crocodiles snapping eagerly at his heels. Everyone gathered around him and the owner of the house smiled and said, “As promised, you can have anything you ask for, anything”. The young man turned to him and said, “All I want… is to know who pushed me in!”

Appointing a school leader is a risky business; if mistakes are made it can be time consuming and costly as a result. Selecting someone who has passion and who is up to the job is crucial – they must be willing to dive in with conviction and swim without worry of all the difficulties that will come snapping at them. Too many leaderships fail, 10% of all first-time headships fail in the first two years; a disaster for the school and for the individual.

The recruitment of the right candidate requires a tremendous amount of planning, paperwork and communication, even before the job is advertised. If Governors decide to perform the process ‘in house’, the workload falls to the school staff who are often working at capacity anyway. A consultant should lead, advise and carry out the bulk of the workload, so the Governors and staff don’t have to. This process is made easier if the consultant has invested time to get to know the school well and to understand its needs,which we make sure we do thoroughly with every appointment. The Governors can utilise our wealth of experience to ensure that all the important details are covered and that nothing is left to chance, giving everyone involved confidence in the process, and therefore in the final appointment made.

At Headspace Academics; as the name suggests, we aim to free up thinking time. We don’t stop working with you when the appointment is made, we continue our involvement by mentoring and training the chosen leader for at least two years post appointment. This further reduces unnecessary aggravation. It provides the leader, school and Governors with much needed support to allow the leader to settle quickly and the school to continue to function with the minimum amount of disruption. This is all included in our project investment fee.

Costs can vary vastly across different consultancies and often for an identical service. I cannot comment on the costs of other providers; however, I can say that we have worked hard to provide more service for as keen a project fee as possible, so that schools, who are seeing budgets tightening, can use their resources wisely. At the same time, Governors can receive the support required so that when it comes to making the final appointment decision, risk is minimised and the professional, efficient and competent process can be deemed successful by all those involved.

Richard Stevenson

Richard Stevenson