Yesterday I watched this TED talk by Bob Davids who was talking about management/leadership and who inspired him as a leader. He spoke of Robert Townsend former CEO of ‘AVIS rent a car’ and his book ‘Up the organisation’, first published in the 1960s and seen as somewhat of a bible for business leaders, even today. Intrigued I downloaded it, “Townsend was one of the first modern corporate leaders, one who manifested vision, integrity, courage in a consistent pattern of behaviour that inspired trust, motivation, responsibility, on the part of the followers who in turn become leaders themselves.” Townsend’s book is controversial in places, humourous, challenges convention and an A-Z of interesting leadership tips. So what can school leaders learn from this corporate maverick?

  1. Time. The most important currency of leadership is time. If you commit your time to your people and create an atmosphere and a perception of fairness, you will earn their respect, and your organisation will achieve results far beyond anyone’s expectations.
  2. Motivation. Leaders can’t motivate anyone—they can only create the conditions and environment where individuals motivate themselves.
  3. Compromise and conflict. Compromise is usually bad. It should be a last resort. If two departments or people have a problem they can’t solve and it comes up to you, listen to both sides and then pick one or the other. This places solid accountability on the winner to make it work. (p.13). Conflict is the sign of a healthy organisation up to a point. A good leader doesn’t try to eliminate conflict, they try and keep it from wasting the energies of their people. (p.16)
  4. Delegate. A good leader delegates as many important matters as they can because that creates a climate in which people can grow (p.22)
  5. Leadership. As for the best leaders, the people do not notice their existence. The next best, the people honour and praise. The next, the people fear; and the next, the people hate. When the best leader’s work is done the people say, ‘We did it ourselves!’ (p.64)
  6. Mistakes. Admit your own mistakes openly, maybe even joyfully. Encourage your associates to do likewise by commiserating with them. Never castigate. Babies learn to walk by falling down. If you beat a baby every time he falls down, he’ll never care much for walking. (p.77)
  7. No Nos. Bells and buzzers, nepotism, social relations within the company unless peers, organisational charts.
  8. People. McGregor adopted “Theory Y” when dealing with people,“Theory Y”: 1. People don’t hate work. It’s as natural as rest or play. 2. They don’t have to be forced or threatened. If they commit themselves to mutual objectives, they’ll drive themselves more effectively than you can drive them. 3. But they’ll commit themselves only to the extent they can see ways of satisfying their ego and development needs (remember the others are pretty well satisfied and are no longer prime drives). Get to know your people. What they do well, what they enjoy doing, what their weaknesses and strengths are, and what they want and need to get from their job. And then try to create an organisation around your people. (p.93)
  9. Promotion from within. It is most desirable to promote from within. Use the rule of 50 per cent. Try to find somebody inside the organisation with a record of success (in any area) and with an appetite for the job. If they look like 50 per cent of what you need, give them the job. In six months they’ll have grown the other 50 per cent and everybody will be satisfied. (p.105)
  10. Distrust your instincts. Choose the person you would least like to have a chat with during your working day. Go and see them. It’ll be the best thing you do in a day. Instincts were designed to help us survive the climb from the primordial slime, not to guide us through the day in a modern bureaucracy. Ask yourself two questions every morning: 1. Who do I least want to see? 2. What do I least want to do? Chances are they’ll be your top priority for that day. (p.141)

In short, according to Townsend, a good leader:

  • Has their personal ambition under control, they get joy from seeing other people succeed
  • Is decisive
  • Sees the best in his or her people
  • Is fair, has a sense of humour and humility