Here is a link to the talk I gave at the International House DoS Conference in January. Leadership tips from Muhammad ALi, Abraham Lincoln and Sir Alex Ferguson.


What great fun we had last week in Greenwich at the International House DOS (Directors of Studies) conference! Thanks to everyone at IHWO for being so wonderful.

As promised, here are the resources I mentioned during my presentation  – Sorry for the delay in getting them posted –

Tip 1 – Set up a Tickler File!

Tip 2 – Write Everything Down – Decide on your three Most Important Tasks – Do a Weekly Review
Tip 3 – Learn to Say NO!
Tip 4 – Learn to Apologise
Tip 5 – Make respecting the school’s values as important as classroom performance
Tip 6  – It’s Your Ship!
  • Be Positive – Give Positive Feedback – Create a Recognition list and check it every week
  • Fight for your Team – Remove obstacles – Keep Things Simple – Keep them focused
  • Show them you care – Set up a blog – Give them Cake! – one-to-ones
  • Watch what you say
  • Enoy it!


The video might be posted on the IHWO web soon…

As a boy, whenever I was asked the perennial question –‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ – The answer for me was obvious – “The Incredible Hulk” – What else could a young lad growing up in the seventies say?

It’s still the answer I give now.

I spent hours watching the TV show – the great Bill Bixby played David Banner – the forlorn alter ego of Lou Ferrigno’s eponymous green giant. It was a show full of excitement and mystery too. For example, how come Bill Bixby’s purple cords didn’t split round the waist? Why didn’t the Hulk have David Banner’s hairstyle? The biggest mystery of all was, of course, Bill Bixby’s reluctance to take full advantage of his powers. “Don’t make me angry,” he repeated, “You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.” Ever the drifter,  David Banner’s sole life mission – in which he failed to a staggering degree – was to avoid situations that might lead him to lose his temper – (my favourite was when David found himself at the controls of a pilot-less plane – as you do – he spends three excruciating minutes in mid-change fighting the demon raging within whilst also trying to land the plane. TV gold!)

But why the reluctance? Can you imagine if every time you got angry you turned into a six-foot eight raging green monster? Why would you ever want to remain calm? I’d wind myself up for fun! The next time a teacher came to my door with the intention of upsetting me, I’d look up (possibly throw in a wink) and say “Come on – make me angry! I dare you!” – I’d probably make that high-pitched sound effect they used during the TV show and flash the lights – “Come on…look I feel my blood pressure rising already. Oh, is that a ripping sound?” I mean that’s power for you! The teachers would quickly become self-policing – “Don’t make him angry,” they’d whisper. Brilliant!

So this month’s tip – Let’s get angry!

Well, actually, no. It’s not.

I’ve had my hulk-like moments –I’ve shouted, thrown books off shelves, even kicked my own office door. It’s understandable – management is a high-pressure job – lots of stress, problem solving, people constantly demanding your attention. But getting angry never solves anything and usually makes you look a complete…idiot.

Your responsibility is to help people do their jobs effectively. The only way to do this is to have effective communication with all your team.  You can’t have effective communication if you lose your temper – it produces days, weeks, months of rebuilding the relationship.

So my real tip is this – It’s Ok to feel angry. But it’s not OK to express your anger. So no matter how great the temptation – Don’t throw things at teachers. Don’t lose your temper.

Somebody once declared that all great management decisions come from love. Turning green, ripping your purple cords and smashing up the staffroom doesn’t say ‘I love you.’

Next time you feel angry go outside, take a walk, count to ten and come back and show the teachers that you love them…because you do, don’t you?

It’s a well-known fact that Julius Caesar was a bit of a dab hand with the pithy quip  -‘I came, I saw, I conquered’ just one of a range of classics. In 49BC he stood with his army on the banks of the Rubicon river which served as the boundary between Gaul and Italy. Roman law forbade Roman generals from popping across the river with their armies. Such behaviour was viewed as an act of open war against the Republic. Not good form for any self-respecting republican general – unless, of course, your objective was to take over the joint.  Ambitious Caesar was not to be humbled by the fear of sparking a civil war – he took his chaps across and  – presumably for the tabloid journalists in tow – he shrugged his shoulders and declared ‘the die is cast’ as his horse drip-dried on the other side of the river. Pretty cool.

It’s not a well-known fact, however, that in a past life I was a Roman centurion. Now, I’ve learnt to keep this to myself. When I bring it up in the pub people tend to smile and then quietly slip away. Anyway, I happened to be with Caesar the night he reached the Rubicon and set up camp. Quite frankly the lads were a bit nervous – we mostly fancied heading back to the South of France. As I couldn’t sleep I had gone for a walk and heard some muttering coming from a tent. I popped my head in and there was Caesar himself – sitting on the floor sipping some cocoa.

‘Where did you get that?” I asked.


“The Cocoa. We don’t get that in Europe for another 1500 years.”

“Whoops,” he replied, hiding the cup behind his toga and giving me a sheepish look. Then his eyes misted over and he started talking to himself – “Mmm, the river. The river. To cross or not to cross, that is the question, Mike…’  He paused for a second and looked at me suspiciously. ‘Funny name that?…Are you sure you’re a Roman?”

“Oh, yes, yes, yes,” I replied trying not to look sheepish myself.

He carried on – “What if it goes wrong? What if we cross the river and we all DIE!?! Oh, my. This is tough. Really tough! It’s nice on this side of the river. Lovely polenta. And Rome? Who wants to take over Rome? I mean – what’s so special about Rome? Let’s go back. But then again, the lads…oh the lads’ll be disappointed to have come all this way for nothing. Oh my. Where’s Brutus when you need him? Is it bath time? Nice bathie. With my little plastic …err wooden…duckie.”

I walked over and slapped Julius Caesar hard across the face. “Pull yourself together, man.”

That did the trick and the whole history of the planet was changed the very next day as we crossed the Rubicon with a nonchalent shrug and pithy remark.

Nobody wants an indecisive leader. And that’s as true for managers as it is for Roman generals and despots. We all have our late night cocoa moments – those moments of decision. But you’ve got to get over it. You’ve got to take your pick – make your choice –  and convince everyone else you know what you’re doing (even if you don’t).

Caesar could easily have ducked his moment of history – he would be nothing but a footnote now.

So the tip is simple – Managers, be decisive! Don’t keep toying with the die – roll it and cross the Rubicon – preferably with a smile and a bit of pith to gee up the troops. It’s your job to make decisions. You may as well do it in style.

Any comments?

In a previous incarnation I worked in a sales office. We were a venue that hosted staff parties, etc. (commonly know as a bowling alley). My finest moment came with a booking for over 200 people – That’s 200 people! Show me the money! I was flavour of the month – for days people high-fived me as I walked into work and strangers hugged me and said things like “way to go, Tiger!”

I deserved no less.

We drafted in extra staff for the big event – stocked the bar so that the fridges were bulging – turned away groups of potential customers, kids and their distraught families sent crying from our door. We didn’t need them – we had my 200 people coming in! Ten minutes before their arrival, Mike – my general manager – put on his best tie and brushed his hair. We headed for the main entrance trying to hide the pound signs in our eyes and we waited.

And we waited.

And waited.

It soon became apparent that I had written the booking down on the wrong day. The 200 weren’t coming.  Mike – my long-suffering boss – looked around at the venue that was devoid of customers but full of staff. Lots of staff. All on overtime. As his shoulders dropped I took the opportunity to leg it through the front doors.

I bought myself a can of beer on the way home. I sat on my bed- a lonely figure (where were the high-fives? where were the hugs?) – and there was only one thing I could do.

I slapped my hand to my forehead and shouted “Doh!”

What else could I do?

Proof – as if any were needed – that Homer Simpson is indeed the world’s greatest teacher.

On Monday morning my boss was waiting for me at the door. His hair was a little messy. There was no sign of his best tie. He sat me down in his office and watched me whimper for a while.

“Not your greatest moment ever, eh, Mike?” he said to me.

And then he added – “Don’t worry. Nobody’s perfect.”

And that was it.

What a great lesson he (and Homer) taught me – Everyone makes mistakes. EVERYONE.

As managers – I believe – not only do we NOT need to be perfect but that it’s unrealistic to always aim to be so. We just don’t have the time. If we haven’t made a few mistakes by lunchtime it probably means we’re not working hard enough.

So if you do make a mistake you should welcome it. I love this quotation from boxing legend Muhammad Ali –

“It’s just a job. Grass grows. Birds fly. Waves pound the sand. I beat people up.”

If we don’t reach perfection, so what? If you make a mistake, slap your head and shout ‘Doh!’ and get on with your life. It’s just a job. Be kind to yourself…

…And let others make mistakes too – What a great lesson Mike taught me – Thanks, Mr Crane!

Do you agree? Please leave a comment.

The last time I cried in public I was sitting on a bus in Leicester. It was 19th May 1997. My tears dripped onto the pages of my newspaper that was open on the sports pages. My hero – Eric Cantona – had quit football. It was difficult to contemplate life without Eric, and indeed there have been many dark Cantona-free days since his departure.

Ken Loach recently made a great film about Manchester United’s maverick French genius – Looking for Eric. Cantona plays himself. During the film he gives the main character – a Mancunian postman going through a mid-life crisis – some advice. It’s a piece of wisdom that all us DoSes and education managers should take to heart. The secret of Eric’s phenomenal success? Simple –

  • You must trust your team mates. Always.

Just as Eric would not have been able to fill his personal trophy cabinet if he had stood on the pitch as a lone individual, so we too have to rely on others to bring success to our schools.

The advice is so simple yet it’s really hard. It means taking risks. It means giving up some control. Yes, people might let you down. Yes, you might have to deal with problems when teachers abuse that trust. However, if you don’t give your teachers that trust then they will never feel autonomous and never reach great heights.

So what does this mean? This trusting people?

Well, it’s simple –

  • Don’t micromanage – Do you really have to get teachers to sign for everything?
  • Don’t limit them – Does this teacher really need another year’s experience before she can take on that Advanced class?
  • Don’t overwhelm them – Do you really have to send them three email reminders for every task they have to do?
  • Don’t beat them when they slip up – let them make mistakes.
  • Treat them like adults – even when they are unable to find the copy of the book they need despite the fact that it’s right in front of their faces.

Sometimes they will let you down. Sometimes you may be left with egg on your face. But your best teachers will repay that trust ten times over. At the very least you’ll sleep better.

Do you have any specific examples of the importance of trusting your team mates?

Here are some links –

No sniggering at the back now, but I think being a DoS is quite a difficult job…

Ok, you can stop laughing now. It’s true.

One major problem is that you only see your team when they’re not working. Teachers may tolerate the odd DoS incursion into their territory – they’ll let us play the observation game once or twice a year. But for 99% of their lessons, teachers usher their students in and slam the door behind them with a loud ‘DoS-Keep out!’ bang. So when we see them they may be doing lots of interesting and exciting things – but we rarely see them actually teaching.

So how do we find out what’s going on behind those closed doors?

Anguished cries, muffled sobs and rivulets of blood trickling under the classroom door may help us spot particularly poor teaching methods. But things are not usually quite so obvious.

The key – as ever – is communication. It’s vital to maintain regular contact with your teachers. The Manager Tools podcast have a very simple tip that – if applied – can help you do that and give you a much greater sense of what’s going on in the classrooms –

Have regular one-to-one meetings with all members of your team.

When I first heard this idea I recoiled – Where was I going to find the time to do that? However I was feeling frustrated  – I had teachers who did most of their lessons off-site – it was very difficult keeping up to date with their performance and needs.

I bit the bullet and set up monthly meetings with each teacher. Those thirty minutes slots are now the most precious moments on my calendar.

During the meeting the teachers give me feedback on their students. I can give them advice or feedback. Over time you build up a real understanding of the courses and the teachers.

A few tips if you want to introduce them –

  • Keep the meetings as positive as possible
  • Take notes – it’s invaluable when it comes to planning the next meeting
  • Respond to what you hear – if a teacher has a problem and you can help – do so. It will encourage the teacher to come to you with more issues in later meetings.

Teachers seem to appreciate the chance to talk about their courses and teachers. The meetings are a great way to build rapport. It also makes you a more effective manager. Give it a try for the next academic year!

Here’s a link to the Manager Tools podcast –

Does anyone have any tips on how to make these meetings more effective? is a great resource for inspiration and practical tips.

Their Leading Blog is well worth checking out – LeadingBlog

It’s a great way of keeping yourself up-to-date with latest management and leaderships theories. There are also regular book reviews.

The LeadershipMinute section is a great collection of thoughts on leadership.

Let me know of any other leadership sites you regularly visit.