In part 5 of our interview series on leadership, The Right Honourable Charles Clarke, former UK Home Secretary, and Dr. Carol Geffner, Director of USC's Executive Master of Leadership program discuss the impact of change leadership in the education system and qualities of good leaders.
Dr. Carol Geffner: Leaders, political and organizational, often believe or fear that they can't make change. I want to read an excerpt from your recent book. British Labour Leaders and get your comments on it.
"To ignore how a skilled leader can reshape their times is to misunderstand history, politics and society."
And you were referencing Britain. But is there anything else that you can say about that?
The basic assumption is that one of the primary responsibilities of a leader is to drive change, to ensure change continues, to lead change.
Change Leadership Examples
The Right Honorable Charles Clarke: I think my central point here is leadership makes a difference.
I'll give you an example.
When I was Home Secretary in England, there were 43 chief constables who were the chief officers of police in the different parts of the country. They were a very different quality of police leadership. Different levels from outstanding to pretty hopeless. And whether they were outstanding or pretty hopeless, determined how their police force would perform, cut crime clear up rates, all kinds of things.
Examples of Change Leadership in Education
The Right Honorable Charles Clarke: Or to give a different example, if you take university presidents or in our case vice chancellors.
In the U.K. there's about 140 universities, 140 vice chancellors. Whether the university succeeds or not depends on the quality of the leadership in terms of the way he or she motivates the university, drives it forward, and so on.
And my contention is that certainly in political parties, that quote was about political parties, but also in a whole series of other organizations in life, leadership makes a difference. And it is underrated that quality. And it needs to be far better.
It's obvious when you talk about a baseball team or a football team, people think of the coach and are they good or are they bad.
People go through that process and they get sacked or not according to the circumstances. But for every organization, every business, every approach, leadership makes a difference. And so if you accept that, it raises the questions:
- Dow do you lead better?
- What do you do to lead better?
- What are the qualities you need?
There's a relaxed nature to leadership.
I’ll give you the saddest thing. There are 25,000 schools in England and Wales. The head teacher is a key role in determining whether the school does well. There were many examples of a head teacher being not terrible, but not good enough and the governor saying, “well they have another four years before retirement we'll just let them go on and that's fine.” But that's four years of a kid’s life which they've lost of the school not performing at the level it could.
That puts a sharp question, how do you get a good leader in schools?
So I'd apply that. I'm mentioning schools, I should say high schools in that context, but it matters and that's what that quote is about.
Why Change Leadership is Important
Dr. Carol Geffner: So that same dynamic, which is in fact tragic, is experienced widely in the United States not only in the school systems but in many other industries. There are people who don't understand the value of leadership.
The dynamic that you're talking is also global. The United States in particular, the dynamic of people not understanding the importance of people, not understanding the importance of leadership, not understanding how to train and teach leadership.
Also, the tragic set of assumptions that organizational leaders make too frequently; “Oh, this person has X number of years to retirement, so we'll just keep them in that post,” which sub-optimizes everybody in the path.
I'm glad you mentioned that, because it is a phenomenon we deal with regularly.
What does quality leadership look like?
The Right Honorable Charles Clarke: I completely agree with you, and in fact the whole thrust of what you've been asking me in this interview illustrates very clearly your approach, which is to look at these two properly: what is a leader, and how do they behave
But let me just add one other point to that, which is that the people, the public, the employees, the stakeholders, have a wrong view of leadership too.
They think leadership is about how you appear on television, or a PR thing, or whether you look good. That's part of it, of course. But it's only a part of it. And they think leaders are self-important, narcissistic, looking after themselves, and of course some are.
Whereas in fact good leaders are not like that.
Good leaders talk about working with their teams, with their people, with their stakeholders towards certain common goals. But that's not how leadership is understood by lots of people.
So I think one of the other things which you do, it's obvious in the way you're talking about the way you run your course, has to be to widen understanding of what good, quality leadership is so that people want it and expect it. That way if they think the organization's underperforming they say, “Actually we've gotta make a change because it is important that we perform.”
ICYMI: Change Leadership Interview SeriesCheck out the other topics that The Right Honorable Charles Clarke and Dr. Carol Geffner covered during their interview:
- Part 1: Change Leadership: How Great Leaders & Politicians Manage Change
- Part 2: How to Stay True to Yourself: Characteristics of Authentic Leadership
- Part 3: Discovering your Values to Cultivate Integrity in Leadership
- Part 4: The 2 Most Important Political Leadership Skills for Aspiring Leaders