Rock Star or Conductor

A leadership style is a leader’s style of providing direction, implementing plans, and motivating people. There are many different leadership styles that can be exhibited by leaders in the political, business or other fields. Have you reflected on yours recently?

When I started at my current school, I had to introduce myself to my new team, to meet them and start getting to know them. You know the sort of thing; this is me,  this is how I like to work with teams of people, this is what you can expect. It’s part of settling in as a new leader and setting the tone. But it made me reflect on who I am as a leader and what I would be like to work with compared to the school’s last business manager.

I had the advantage of knowing my predecessor very well and had a clear sense of the differences in our leadership approach. So I used two images to describe our very different styles; he was a rock star and I would be a conductor.

Man on stage with concert crowd below and bright spotlights

Both of us had the same goal; to focus on quality and to put on a spectacular performance. But each of us had a different way of doing it. A rock star is at the centre of everything, leading from the front, taking the applause, headlining the bill; everything rests on his/her ability to perform. A conductor seeks to bring out the best in other performers, blending their individual efforts into a seamless whole. Neither is wrong. Both approaches result in great outcomes. In musical terms, both fill concert venues, both can lead to an Ofsted ‘outstanding’.

But the conducting role is how I, and many others, lead our support teams; we choose the agenda (the piece of music to be played), we set the rehearsal schedule (the improvement plan) and we say if the performance is ready for the public yet (performance management objectives).

Conductors work with their teams, understanding how all the elements must blend together for best effect. They don’t play any part of the tune themselves, and yet without them, the tune is disjointed, unfocused.

Just as a conductor invites leading members of the orchestra to stand for applause, my team now know that I will work to bring them into the spotlight; when the reprographics department do well, I make sure they get the credit. The caretakers get invited to take a bow when they have gone above and beyond the call of duty once again.

Not a soft touch

“there are times that I bang the music stand and shout no, no, no!”


It doesn’t mean we conductors are a soft touch. My team understand there are times that I will metaphorically bang the music stand and shout “no, no, no! Go again from the top…and this time do it properly”. They realise that it is my job to balance the services they are providing, to allocate each of them the resources they need and then to give them feedback as they get on with the job in hand.


Leadership is a crucial part of the school business management role


The Leading Support Services section of the NASBM Professional Standards was written with this conductor style in mind. The very first section talks about developing strategy for our own teams and the overall setting – blending information and insight to shape the overall direction of the organisation in much the same way a conductor shapes an orchestra.

The standards sum this up as the requirement to “Lead, develop and coordinate support services, or your specialist function(s), to support outcomes for pupils across the school/trust by providing high-quality solutions.”

Not everyone will be a giant on the school business management stage, not everyone can be operations directors for the largest MATs. But all of us are called to get the best possible performance from the teams we lead.

If you are a Sir Simon Rattle or are just starting out on your leadership journey, remember we all had to start somewhere: just as a symphony orchestra starts with the first out-of-tune rehearsal of a training band.