Of course the best thing about being a Director of Studies is that you get to sit – mostly undisturbed – at the top of a majestic tower (mine is made of ivory). Occasionally a faceless teacher will scratch pathetically at the heavy wooden door- Ha! The fools! My manservant quickly escorts them away and I am left alone to contemplate ideas worthy of the loftiness of my office. Yes, indeed. It’s tough at the top.

Anyway… back to the real world. When I became DoS I realised one thing about teachers – there’s just no escaping them. I’ve tried many a cunning ruse to avoid them. For example, coming in before dawn and sitting in my office with the lights out  – but there’s always someone who pops their head round the door – “Morning, Mike! have you got a minute?” One week I dressed up as Batman and any time anyone came into my office asking me where I’d hidden the workbook for Headway Intermediate, I’d reply ‘I’m not Mike. I’m Batman.” –  “Yes, Mike. And I’m Robin. Now – where’s the workbook?” – Tunnels; secret passageways; time machines. I’ve tried them all – but the teachers still manage to find me.

Of course that’s the point, isn’t it? For even as I want to yell out ‘I don’t have time!’ whenever a teacher asks me something, the key thing I’ve forgotten is –

It’s all about them.

At the moment I’m reading The Little Big Things by Tom Peters. I can’t help picturing Tom frothing at the mouth and waving his hammer round in the wilderness of management (in a good way, Tom!). The thing is he has an uncanny knack of hitting the nail on the head. Not far into the book’s introduction he underlines the importance of spending time with your team…and the importance of listening attentively to what they say.

Oh My God, Tom! Do you really want me to listen attentively to my team? Isn’t that a bit nutty? I have forms to file and reports to write, dammit!

But – of course -he’s right. And he’s not being soft. Think about it. I might speak to a new student for 10 minutes. The teacher, however, is going to spend 60 hours with that student – that client. That’s 360 times the amount of time I will spend with the client. All that time to make an impact. Who do you think is more important to the student?

The teachers are the talent. It’s vital that we listen to them. Attentively. It makes good business sense if nothing else.

‘I don’t have time’ is a thought we often have – but remember that figure – 360! – We’d better find the time to listen to that teacher. We can’t afford not too.

So now I leave the Batman costume to the weekends.

For more on Tom Peters check out tompeters! website


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?

Do you want to get organised? Do you want to be successful? Do you want to be both those things whilst actually working less? Do you want to do all those things with the help of zombies and Oreo ice-cream cake? Well Stever Robbins is at hand with a great new book – Get-it-Done Guy’s 9 steps to Work Less and Do More

You might know Stever Robbins as the Get-it-Done guy from the Quick and Dirty tips Podcast. His book, Get-It-Done Guy’s 9 Steps to Work Less and Do More,  is a playful, yet serious guide to working less and doing more. In other words, creating a more productive life. It lays out nine skills that apply anywhere you want to get greater results with less work.

Stever was kind enough to agree to do an interview for this blog – Hope you enjoy it – Don’t forget to subscribe to Stever’s great podcast at http://getitdone.quickanddirtytips.com/

…and why not buy all of your friends a copy of Stever’s book for Christmas? Why not buy each of your friends 10 copies?…Stever asked me to say that. I’m not on commission…honest.


Welcome to the blog, Stever – Just in case there’s anyone out there who hasn’t come across you yet, could you give us a brief description of who you are and what you’re passionate about?

I’m a serial entrepreneur and self-professed personal organization geek who helps people get things done with humor and fun. At the moment, I help people streamline their lives and increase their personal productivity. What I really do is help them become better at creating the whole life they want, not just at work.
I’m currently working on my 10th startup, which is oriented around helping people create a life that works for them.
My fantasy career involves more communications work. I’m quite good at making complex things simple to understand and communicating them well. My favorite side project is a one-man musical based on my book, which I’m co-writing for me to perform. It will have all the information, tips, and excitement of a normal business keynote, but with singing, drama, zombies, and Oreo ice cream cake.

Book me tickets for the Milan show! Your Get-It-Done-Guy podcast has really helped me work less and do more – which of the many episodes are you most proud of?

For some reason, I’m extremely fond of one of my first episodes, “How to Say No.”It’s a skill I’m not very good at, and I had a woman who’s a master at the skill do a demo. I still listen to that episode so I can practice the skill myself.

Now, as well as the podcast you have a new book out – The Get-It-Done Guy’s 9 Steps To Work Less and Do More. What’s in there to help make life easier for people – like me – working in educational management?

The nine steps are designed to cover the major areas I’ve seen people work without getting results. Working on Purpose is good for keeping your work oriented towards what’s most important. Step 5: Staying Organized is probably especially helpful in education management since you have events that repeat and are coordinating programs that may involve hundreds of students, instructors, and classes all having similar issues. It covers how to organize your thinking and keep straight lots of little details. I wrote it when working at Babson College and several of the tips in it came from systems I developed to help manage student teams. Step 7: Optimize is also especially well-suited for educational management, since it details how to create systems that learn as you use them.

That sounds great. Stever, I know how much you love meetings… – any tips for anyone out there struggling to run effective meetings?

Think long and hard about what a given meeting is trying to accomplish: share information, make decisions, build morale, etc. Then brainstorm for any other way to accomplish the same goal. If you must have a meeting, have a clear goal, an agenda, a time keeper, and a “parking lot” for issues that come up that are tangential but should be addressed later. Then stick to the agenda as if your life depended on it. End promptly at the stated finishing time.

Just one last question – This blog is for people working in education – Who have you learnt most from in your life?

My book is dedicated to seven people who have taught me life-changing lessons, whether through lifelong relationships or through one-time comments that were exactly what I needed to hear at pivotal moments in my life. Three have been ongoing influences in my life. First and foremost is my college professor, field study advisor, boss, friend, and now President of Babson College, Len Schlesinger. He’s one of the sharpest business minds I’ve ever met, as well as one of the most approachable. He also dreams big. Very, very big. I like that. Other big influences include Richard Bandler, who taught me ways of understanding interpersonal behavior, and my friend Tamin Pechet, who is one of the best brainstorming partners I’ve had; I can barely keep up with his good ideas and insights.

I’d like to thank Stever for taking the time to do the interview – I’m sure you’ll all buy the book – http://www.steverrobbins.com/the-book/ I’d love to know which tips you find most useful – please leave a comment!

Podcasts are a great resource for management development.

For ‘quick and dirty tips on how to work less and do more’ look no further than Stever Robbins’s Get-It-Done Guy



The podcasts are short, funny and full of good advice. Recent topics include –

  • How to be assertive
  • How to write better emails
  • How to start a project

You can download the podcasts from iTunes

Let me know what you think

In preparation for the launch of his new book Little Big Things, management guru Tom Peters has released a series of short videos on You Tube.


Tom’s opinions on management are always colourful and provocative. He covers various topics in these short clips –

  • Reacting to problems
  • The importance of goals
  • The role of thoughtfulness in values statements
  • The curse of standardized forms

I think it’s great to see what managers outside the ELT world are thinking and doing.

I would love to know what you think of Tom’s forthright views! Can his ideas be adapted by us DoSes?


There are many things that I am absolutely no good at.

French, for example, is like a foreign language to me. Any kind of DIY task fills me (and anyone in my vicinity) with dread. Kicking a football in a straight line is just not within my natural capabilities.

There are many things I’m not good at when it comes to my job too.

  • Sometimes people will point out errors in new flyers or reports. I stare at them (the flyers not the people) as if I were looking at a magic eye picture trying to conjure up some 3D shape. I just can’t see things like that!
  • I am unable to keep my desk tidy for longer than 3.5 seconds.
  • I’m physically incapable of reading any email that’s longer than five lines.
  • I will do anything to avoid filling in forms (give me a group of unhappy students screaming for my blood at reception any day – anything – just not another ISO form, please, No!)

These are, of course, real weaknesses for someone working as a DoS.

A manager should, some might argue, have a tidy desk. They should have an eye for detail. They should be master form-fillers. Many people would say that I should start addressing these weaknesses immediately. I’ve decided, however, that the best thing to do is work round or even ignore my weaknesses.

I mean, even if I dedicate hours of my life to learning how to keep a tidy desk, how good am I ever going to be? Maybe I could reach the heady heights of average-level desk-tidier – but I’ll never have the tidiest desk in town.

I could spend months learning how to be a better form-filler – or I could just give the damn things to someone else.

You could send me away for a week’s training course entitled ‘It’s all in the detail’ – but I will never be as skilled in this area as some of my colleagues from the translation department.

Management Consultant Marcus Buckingham talks alot about working to your strengths and avoiding your weaknesses. His premise is simple – Working to your strengths is what gives you results.

He has an interesting take on weaknesses – For Marcus, weaknesses are not things you are not good at, but things that make you feel weak (stressed, frustrated, angry). There are surely things that we are good at that we would quite honestly stop doing tomorrow and never miss.

Marcus advises us to identify what our strengths and weaknesses are and to get rid of the tasks that make us feel weak and spend most of our time in areas of strength.

Wayne Rooney isn’t spending his time on the training pitch practising goalkeeping skills. He’s out there practising his passing, his shooting, his movement – He is developing the things he’s already good at in order to get the most out of those strengths. Why should we spend large amounts of time working on our weaknesses when working with our strengths would bring more benefit to the school?

Now, if things need checking for detail, I pass them on to a more detail-focused colleague. I’ve minimised my paperwork by getting rid of lots and delegating more. I’ve learnt to live with my untidy desk.

I now have more time to do the things I’m good at and much less stress because I’m no longer spending time doing things that used to give me pains in my chest.

Are there any things you’re no good at – or that make you feel physically ill – that you could just stop doing or pass on to someone else?

Please leave a comment

Manager Tools is a weekly podcast designed to help you become a more effective manager.

I’ve found it really useful as it focuses on practical tips and specific actions you can take rather than on management theory. I’ve learnt loads of useful things such as –

  • How to run effective meetings
  • The importance of individual feedback
  • The benefits of having regular one-on-one meetings with teachers

The two presenters – Mark Horstman & Mike Auzenne – are bright and forthright in their opinions. There is plenty of food for thought and there are lots of lessons to be learnt (especially if you’ve just made the leap from teaching to management.)

You can download the podcast from iTunes or from their website  –http://www.manager-tools.com