The mark of a true leader

Grocott's Mail - - MAKANA VOICES -

On Fri­day 25 Au­gust the teach­ers of the Gadra Ma­tric School and other staff of Gadra Ed­u­ca­tion paid trib­ute to Ms Me­lanie Lan­caster. They cel­e­brated her 20th year as the Prin­ci­pal of the Gadra Ma­tric School and saw it as an ap­pro­pri­ate mo­ment to re­flect on the im­por­tance of lead­er­ship in the school­ing con­text.

There is wide pub­lic recog­ni­tion of the im­por­tance of good lead­er­ship in the po­lit­i­cal sphere. In South Africa, we have an ex­cel­lent case study that demon­strates the im­mense in­flu­ence that lead­ers play in the for­tunes of na­tion states. The three long-serv­ing pres­i­dents that we have had since democ­racy – Man­dela, Mbeki and Zuma – have all been very dif­fer­ent from one an­other and their lead­er­ship has pro­duced very dif­fer­ent re­sults.

Man­dela will for­ever be iconic be­cause he took the coun­try out of apartheid into democ­racy. Fur­ther­more, he was a uniquely charis­matic and rec­on­cil­ia­tory leader. He led from the front in a va­ri­ety of con­texts and man­aged to win the hearts and minds of the vast ma­jor­ity of cit­i­zens, black and white alike. He was the em­bod­i­ment of for­give­ness, hav­ing been in­car­cer­ated for al­most three decades and then be­ing will­ing to em­brace his for­mer prison warders and white South Africans in gen­eral. He led by ex­am­ple.

Thabo Mbeki was an aloof yet ef­fec­tive leader. His pri­or­i­ties were to de­ra­cialise the South African econ­omy by grow­ing a black mid­dle class and to re­duce poverty through an ex­pan­sion of the wel­fare state. He man­aged to achieve solid eco­nomic out­comes and poverty was sig­nif­i­cantly re­duced dur­ing his nine years in of­fice, be­fore he was un­cer­e­mo­ni­ously dumped on the in­struc­tions of his neme­sis, Jabob Zuma. Mbeki was a vi­sion­ary, thought­ful leader, whose achieve­ments would not have been pos­si­ble with­out his con­sis­tency, re­solve and iron­like de­ter­mi­na­tion to stay the course.

Ja­cob Zuma strode into power by ral­ly­ing and mo­bil­is­ing a ‘coali­tion of the wounded’, com­pris­ing any­one and ev­ery­one who felt ag­grieved by Mbeki. From the out­set, Zuma was a ma­nip­u­la­tive self-in­ter­ested pop­ulist. His main ob­jec­tives over the past decade seem to have been to shore up his own po­lit­i­cal power, to build his own per­sonal wealth and that of his fam­ily and friends, and to en­sure that he never has to face mul­ti­ple crim­i­nal charges for cor­rup­tion, fraud and rack­e­teer­ing.

Un­der his abysmal lead­er­ship, eco­nomic growth has slowed, un­em­ploy­ment has in­creased, the coun­try has been down­graded to junk sta­tus and poverty is again worsen- ing. There is there­fore am­ple ev­i­dence that the qual­ity of a coun­try’s lead­er­ship has a sig­nif­i­cant bear­ing on its de­vel­op­ment tra­jec­tory.

Lead­er­ship is equally im­por­tant in the school­ing con­text. More specif­i­cally, the qual­ity of a school prin­ci­pal is a ma­jor fac­tor in de­ter­min­ing over­all school qual­ity. Over the past 20 years, un­der the lead­er­ship of Me­lanie Lan­caster, the Gadra Ma­tric School (GMS) has pro­duced con­sis­tently good re­sults and over the most re­cent five years in par­tic­u­lar it has emerged as the largest feeder school to Rhodes Univer­sity.

All school alumni speak of the love and con­cern that Me­lanie has for all stu­dents and the teach­ing staff has deep trust and re­spect for her. Her lead­er­ship style is best de­scribed as en­abling and unas­sum­ing. When she was thanked on 25 Au­gust for her won­der­ful lead­er­ship, her re­sponse was that she still thinks of her­self as school ‘co­or­di­na­tor’ rather than prin­ci­pal! This typ­i­fies the gen­uine hu­mil­ity that char­ac­terises her out­stand­ing lead­er­ship of GMS.

Some may ar­gue that it is eas­ier to lead an in­de­pen­dent school to suc­cess than a no-fee pub­lic school. Af­ter all, in the for­mer one does not need to deal with the bu­reau­cratic mazes, de­struc­tive unions and de­bil­i­tat­ing re­source con­straints that char­ac­terise the lat­ter.

How­ever, here in our own back­yard, of Gra­ham­stown, we have a per­fectly clear and com­pelling ex­am­ple of the im­por­tance of lead­er­ship in a no-fee pub­lic school. What Madeleine Schoe­man has achieved in six short years at Nt­sika High School is re­mark­able. Over the past three years, the num­ber of Bach­e­lor passes pro­duced at the school has in­creased from seven (2014) to 11 (2015) and then all the way up to 22 (2016)!

In fact, Nt­sika’s over­all Grade 12 re­sults were so good in 2016 that it out­per­formed a lo­cal fee-pay­ing school, both in re­la­tion to the over­all pass rate and the num­ber of Bach­e­lor passes. This is the first time in the his­tory of Gra­ham­stown that a no-fee high school has out­per­formed a fee-pay­ing school in the ma­tric ex­am­i­na­tions. A ma­jor rea­son for this is Madeleine’s brave and bold lead­er­ship. Her abil­ity to mo­bilise var­i­ous ca­pac­i­ties avail­able in the town through ex­cel­lent networking skills has en­abled her to of­fer the learn­ers at Nt­sika a mean­ing­ful, full aca­demic ex­pe­ri­ence.

Be­cause of the cen­tral im­por­tance of school lead­er­ship, the Vice-Chan­cel­lor of Rhodes Univer­sity Dr Sizwe Mabizela, is to be com­mended for of­fer­ing fully spon­sored ac­cred­ited lead­er­ship train­ing to all lo­cal pub­lic school prin­ci­pals and their deputies. Mabizela’s com­mit­ment to re­vi­tal­is­ing pub­lic school­ing in Gra­ham­stown is tan­gi­ble and sub­stan­tial, and the lead­er­ship train­ing of­fered by the univer­sity’s Busi­ness School shows that it is more­over strate­gic in its con­cep­tu­al­i­sa­tion and de­liv­ery. In­deed, Mabizela is an­other ex­am­ple of an ex­tra­or­di­nary leader in the lo­cal ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor. Good lead­ers should be val­ued, ac­knowl­edged and sup­ported be­cause they make a pos­i­tive con­tri­bu­tion to and in­deli­ble im­pact on the lives of all who they lead.

•Ash­ley West­away is the man­ager of Gadra Ed­u­ca­tion.

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