Leadership in schools need not be about bullying

If we lead schools in a culture of fear, that culture will be passed on to the pupils

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The Independent Online

The winners of this week’s “most deserving of cup of tea and a cuddle” award are the teachers at Abbotsholme School in Staffordshire. Their boss, headmaster Steve Fairclough, stated this week that performance management should introduce “a culture of fear” amongst poor teachers that “dominates their personal and professional lives”. For teachers not meeting the Fairclough regime’s standards, it’s not enough that their working day should be filled with misery; they need to be stressed out and scared at home too.

Fairclough must have graduated from the Kim Jong-un School of Management. Yet the lack of people queuing up to emigrate to North Korea indicates that most of us don’t want our lives ruled by a fearmongerer. I can’t imagine that Abbotsholme will have many teachers applying to work there now. For most sane people, the prospect of working somewhere so terrifying that it wrecks your entire life is as appealing as dressing up as Freddie Mercury for the Sochi Olympics.

Old-fashioned leadership culture operated on the idiotic notion that scaring employees silly would make them perform better. This is outdated and stupid at best. It’s just so obvious that terror is not an effective or humane way to get the best out of people. I know this first-hand because I’ve worked in places run on an endemic culture of fear instilled by managers who can’t have known any better, because if they had, they would have known that having their staff in tears is a very bad thing.

Treat people well, respect them, play to their strengths, reward their achievements – basically behave like a human – and you’ll likely get great work out of them. Shout at them and behave like Pol Pot on a bad day and your staff will get stressed out and sick and eventually leave. Which scenario sounds better to you?

If we lead schools in a culture of fear, that culture will be passed on to the pupils. They’ll get the impression that to work is to be scared all day, so we’ll end up with yet another generation of bad bosses and scared staff. Schools should lead the way, leading a culture of positivity and nurturing talent. The rest of the business world should follow suit. Long hours spent working in fear is not what life’s about.

Louise Scodie is a presenter for London Live