When moved to write a blog post there has usually been a “right time and a right text.” Somehow we are led to books that resonate in the moment. Legacy by James Kerr is a highly-popular, accessible text that synthesises leadership principles from the culture of arguably the most successful team ever – The All Blacks.
Legacy as a concept is mired in pitfalls. It’s often used pejoratively when a leader is leaving. Is it not just an expression of ego – a sense of wanting to be remembered, feted, lauded? Even writing a blog post about legacy may be seen as an act of hubris?
What do you leave behind you after you’re gone? What will be your legacy?”
Despite this potential danger, I’m going to give it a crack!
Inevitably there are fifteen lessons in Legacy (see below for the full shirt list*). I suspect a great deal of thought went into the sequencing of these principles but I’m going to focus on the five I think resonate most with the progress we’ve made at The BSN:
1: Purpose – Play with Purpose – Ask ‘Why?’
This is The BSN’s purpose below and we’re a lot clearer about it. Every employee, whatever their role, is paid to serve the children, young people and their families. That’s it.
2: Responsibility – Pass the Ball – Leaders create leaders
I began my time at The BSN using The Matrix as metaphor. I promised to develop leaders – not in the Agent Smith mode of replication – but in the many varied ways colleagues have shown. Consistently retaining, appointing and training great people has moved us forward.
Timing is the greatest element of a good pass. When I arrived there wasn’t a strong One School identity. Now there is. It’s time to pass the ball.
3: Learn – Create a Learning Environment – Leaders are teachers
The International Leadership Academy is perhaps the beacon of our “One School” identity. Colleagues are now working and learning together, across the school, often cross-phase and often with a rich external client expertise to add alternative perspectives and experience. We didn’t do induction well four years ago. Now we do.
Crucially the ILA is helping us “Win the war for talent”. Time and again new colleagues tell us how this embedded commitment to professional development differentiates us in the international school market.
4: Whanau – No D***heads – Follow the spearhead
There has been no place for egotistical leadership in my time at The BSN. We have created a flatter, more consultative culture. Great ideas can come from anywhere.
The flying geese metaphor has become a bit of a cliche – but it still works!
Collective enterprise is key – not the individual ego or brilliance of one. No single player is bigger than the team. Everyone needs to take a turn to lead. Even if there are disputes about the way forward – we stay in formation knowing we’ve been heard.
Anyone seen to be disturbing the collective sense of purpose by drawing too much attention to themselves in the All Blacks is regarded as a bit of a d***head and swiftly ushered out.
5: Language – Invent a Language – Sing your world into existence
We are telling our story much more effectively. Going digital and social brought us into the modern world. Our vision demands this. Leaving a clear story behind is an emblem of a self perpetuating culture.
The BSN has a stronger sense of self and while I recognise that not everyone gets it yet, or can always subscribe to it, colleagues are constantly being recruited and inducted into this identity and it will stick over time.
This extract from an email from a colleague warmed my heart:
“People are now talking to each other, starting to align, believing in something bigger than their own domain and feeling collectively proud of the organisation they work for. I witness this at the campus where I work and around the BSN. Most importantly, I hear it in the way people talk to each other, about their work and the BSN as a whole. That must mean something is starting to stick and embed. “
The BSN Conference has become an element of this lingua franca – we spend time and resource in supporting the professional learning that improves our students’ outcomes. This year’s was purposeful and strategic and attracted a stellar list of external and internal speakers including Natasha Devon, Vivienne Porrit, Tom Sherrington, Jill Berry and Mark Anderson.
The #BSNconf19 was a benchmark day for the school
The book Legacy is an insightful, alluring recipe for success. Many leadership texts use sport as a learning metaphor. No wonder – they are compelling and visible. They suggest our leadership intentions can be as sexy as a triumphant final whistle. They can also slip very easily into cliche.
The book has to appeal to a mass market and some of the All Black hagiography is a little wearing, perhaps? Or maybe that’s just an England fan’s perspective… But the integration of acknowledged expertise and wider reading from an esteemed leadership library means that one can overlook editorial market flourishes.
More thought-provoking links between sport and life can be found in Simon Mundie’s podcasts here. Seriously, these are really good!
“We looked to create a CEO in every position.” – James Kerr in the episode on “Legacy”
However, sport doesn’t always relate easily to other disciplines.
The feedback loop in sport is quick and easy. You win or you lose (no-one really likes a draw…). In schools the feedback loop is more subtle and can take years to manifest.
Perhaps the clearest expression of any legacy in education is leaving the executive knowing what it needs to do next. Excellence and strategy take time to develop, they mustn’t be reliant on one person. That is a recipe for failure.
When anyone leaves it always means something new can happen and, if executed within a strong sense of culture and purpose, something even better. There’s a creative opportunity to be grasped.
Being the CEO / Principal of The BSN for the last four years has been rewarding and challenging. I’ve enjoyed the international dimension, the 3-18 continuity of student learning and the inspirational attitudes of the many outstanding colleagues with whom I’ve worked.
Leaders are only as good as the people they manage; I’m acutely aware that none of the above would have been possible without the support of an exceptional senior team and staff body. Thank you all for your hard work and commitment in my time here.
Executive leadership skills are different from those of a Headteacher. I’ve missed leading a campus directly and the “knockabout” daily contact with students and staff.
I’ll soon be passing the ball and starting a new chapter and a new headship at Churston Ferrers Grammar School in Devon in September but I’ll be watching as The BSN grows confidently into an even brighter future.
*The 15 Chapters and lessons in Legacy are:
- Character – Sweep the Sheds – Never be too big to do the small things that need to be done
- Adapt – Go for the Gap – When you’re on top of your game, change your game
- Purpose – Play with Purpose – Ask ‘Why?’
- Responsibility – Pass the Ball – Leaders create leaders
- Learn – Create a Learning Environment – Leaders are teachers
- Whanau – No D***heads – Follow the spearhead
- Expectations – Embrace Expectations – Aim for the highest cloud
- Preparation – Train to Win – Practice under pressure
- Pressure – Keep a Blue Head – Control your attention
- Authenticity – Know Thyself – Keep it real
- Sacrifice – Find something you would die for and give your life to it
- Language – Invent a Language – Sing your world into existence
- Ritual – Ritualize to Actualize – Create a culture
- Whakapapa – Be a Good Ancestor – Plant trees you’ll never see
- Legacy – Write Your Legacy – This is your time