The difference Leadership with a purpose makes

The first in a series of stories about those who change the world through the way they lead.

Many people have written about the need to have a purpose in what you do. In my research on what makes a leader with humanity, I was privileged to speak with Professor Dame Alison Peacock who is currently leading the Chartered College of Teaching in England, whose purpose is clear … and personal.

When I asked Alison, as she asked me to call her, how she would define leadership, she said it was all about enabling others. Her passion for people is aligned to her philosophy that no one should have their life limited in any way because of a lack of access to education.

Having a purpose, as Alison does, that is about others, is central to leading with humanity; it brings passion and determination to one’s leadership and inspires others to work with you.

Alison’s purpose was evident when in 2003 she was appointed head teacher of a school in special measures. Within ten months the school was out of special measures and within two-and-a-half years was rated as outstanding. Alison says the turn-around came from deliberately creating a school with a philosophy of listening and not imposing limiting beliefs on children or staff. Sitting behind this drive and energy to challenge the status quo is her father’s story.

Alison’s father was a child when he was evacuated during World War II. While safe in the countryside, he sat and passed his 11+ exams. But on returning, he did not take his Grammar school place because his family could not afford the uniform. Instead he attended a local comprehensive school and trained as a carpenter. It was only after he was married with small children, that his determination to become a teacher won out. Alison’s mother supported her husband to return to school to gain his O levels, then to train to teach.

Alison says that the whole notion of breaking through barriers, whether because of economic circumstances, what you look like, what you sound like, or other people’s expectations of you, are all elements that she now works against. ‘It takes an approach that we won’t set limits on people, we won’t predetermine what you’re able to do or what you’re able to achieve. We won’t judge you before you’ve even tried something.’

Alison describes herself as a risk taker and someone open to new possibilities, which led her to establish the Chartered College for Teaching. Its mission is to ‘Celebrate, support and connect teachers to provide world-class education benefiting pupils and society.’ She has brought to the Chartered College the same leadership style that worked so well for her when turning around a school. ‘The notion of collaboration, supporting each other, only being as strong as the weakest link, all these ways of working don’t probably fit the current political narrative, because the current political narrative is very much about doing the best you can for you, for number one.’ Whereas her leadership style is about being open to new conversations and listening to others.

She’s wary of the current climate that is all about looking out for yourself and instead promotes a more inclusive attitude of enabling others.

‘I don’t think that’s the lesser path. I don’t think that’s about being weak. I think that’s about being stronger than just pushing yourself forward the whole time.’

That doesn’t mean that she is a pushover. ‘I think, a much more powerful way to achieve reform is to essentially appeal to everybody’s best instincts rather than allowing their worst instincts to come to the fore. Collectively we’re stronger.’

Alison has also established the Education Exchange to collaborate with other countries (Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the USA) to look at education internationally and be less arrogant. The education exchange is about taking a global view of what we might do differently, what can we learn from others and how can we listen. ‘We say we’re doing the best there is in the world. Why would we need to look at anybody else? Because others are probably doing things that mean their children don’t suffer from huge mental health issues. They’re probably doing things which mean children are far more satisfied with their experience at school and that teachers aren’t leaving in droves.’

Alison doesn’t consider that she will ever be finished challenging the status quo and says, ‘I think the more that I do, the more I worry about the things I can’t do. I wish I could do more.’

Alison is one example of many people who is displaying one of the six characteristics of leading with humanity, that are clear from my research – see the previous blog post. If you’re interested in learning how you can develop these skills and attitudes in yourself, then please book a call to find out more about the Leading with Humanity development programmes.

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