Lifecoaching London Ltd (LCL) is a young company specialising in the ethical restructuring of organisations. A question our team often ask is “How can you sell the concept of ethical leadership?”
Recently we were lucky to be invited to All Saints Catholic College, Dukinfield in Tameside. This is a secondary mixed academy with 670 pupils on role, many of whom are living with significant levels of deprivation. Headteacher Linda Emmett has led the school out of special measures and the senior leaders, staff, students and the local community have led themselves into ‘Good.’
Both Linda and Deputy Headteacher Gus Diamond say the solution comes from being generous with time given over to deeper listening to others. They also believe in the power of truth. For example, the message Linda gave to teachers when she arrived in 2015 was “You’ve been let down.” And they are rebuilding the school ethically, no mean feat in these challenging times. To turn vision into reality Linda says she had to work enormous hours in the first couple of years. The school was riddled with poor behaviour and she had the tough task of supporting those managers who could not share her view of change.
When you talk to Linda and Gus there is no ‘party line’. She wanted us to see the school without any spin put on it, so took us on an impromptu tour. Everywhere we went the school motto of ‘Be Inspired, Be Excellent and Succeed’ was evident as signage and posters but also in the sight and sounds of engaged and animated learning. Older pupils and staff spoke about the welcome change in the place.
The synchronicity between Catholic and secular mission of the school can be seen though references to moral purpose. We saw Gus lead an assembly about resilience. He exemplified his message with references to people who were both religious and secular. The atmosphere at prayer was reflective; purposeful but gentle.
A common feature throughout the school community was humility, a trait shown from the top down. Linda and Gus described a parent meeting after the school was put into special measures. The local community expressed heated views but there was no attempt to deflect from senior leadership or shut the discussion down. Another example of their non-hierarchal approach is the use of staff surveys, which are distributed at pinch points throughout the year. If staff do not know about important calendar dates, the fault is seen their communication not staff competency. “If they’ve not heard it, we’ve not said it,” is the motto.
All Saints have no access to substantive funding streams in their task of rebuilding the school as a place of learning and earning the trust of staff. Nobody was giving out grants to help them with provision of high-quality education and the nurturing of a community. Much of their achievement boils down to ridiculous amounts of hard work, sizable good will and amazing generosity from tallies. After being on site for the best part of a day, I found my own bitterness with the secondary education system melting back into a desire to help organisations such as theirs.
When I returned to the LCL office and reflected back on the question “How can you sell the concept of ethical leadership?” I found our memorable day with Linda, Gus, staff and students at All Saints had not given any straightforward answers. But I do now know that creating an ethos and employing values such as those demonstrated in Dukinfield show an ethical organisation in practice.
And one very important lesson.
It starts with meaningful working relationships.