School Business Leadership

You must flex your opposition muscle.

Flex your opposition muscle

There is absolutely nothing wrong with healthy debate on a Senior Leadership Team. I believe that School Business Managers… you must flex your opposition muscle occasionally.

I led a trip an amazing once-in-a-lifetime trip to New York City in March 2019.

The main purpose of the trip was for 6th Form age students from around the world to get together to debate current political topics, Terrorism, Education, Climate Change and Sustainable Development.

Each school had been assigned a country to represent (ours was Côte d’Ivoire) and students were supposed to debate from the viewpoint of their assigned nation.

Saying the right thing

On one of the debating days, over lunch (some delicious deli pizza slices), my students were voicing frustration that everyone was agreeing with each other and clearly endeavouring to say the ‘right’ thing. They felt it was making the debate rather dull.

I can’t help thinking that this was a missed opportunity because in my experience, general consensus isn’t how effective solutions are found.

I’d never say that it’s good to be deliberately confrontational or resort to personal attacks (as seems to be the current trend) but rather that a bit of healthy opposition or ‘playing devil’s advocate’ can get those in the room to really think about the purpose, the realities (and the cost) of their views.

Sorry, but I’m inspired by my current location to mount a soapbox for a moment…

The good old days…

We used to have an ‘opposition’ in the UK. It played a massively important role in putting forward the other side of the argument. We might not have agreed with them but at least they made us think about the whole picture.

Unfortunately, we seem to have lost this necessary function of government and forgotten that politics has got to be based on a discussion around all angles of a topic, with a vote then taken. The side with the strongest argument (or the most friends) wins.

What happened to that process? Have we forgotten its value?

We have, instead, travelled into a blinkered world of attacking those who don’t share our views.

If my views are right (and I know they are)…ergo…yours must be wrong…ergo…you must be stupid…ergo…I’m going to make you shut up.

This isn’t the way to find solutions to the issues of the day

We must move back to that age old skill of listening to each other, thinking about opposing views, asking ‘why?’, and talking about it until we reach compromise.

It doesn’t sound that difficult and you might be thinking in your SBM world, “That doesn’t apply to me. My leadership team and I get on really well, we always agree on our schools direction”

“Lovely.” I reply. “So what will happen when you don’t?”

The fact is that many SBMs rarely provide serious challenge to their Heads and Leadership Teams to the point that when they do need to, they won’t know how.

In my view, SBMs have got to start training their opposition muscles so that they can use them effectively when they really need to. By voicing an opposing view, you will be forcing the rest of the team to think about their decision-making as they work to persuade you round to their opinions. (None of this “agree to disagree” nonsense). Think of it as an important training exercise for everyone involved because, in the current funding climate, you can rest assured that you will all be needing those skills!

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