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I recently watched a documentary about Sir Alex Ferguson, who shared his views on leadership with Harvard Business School undergraduates. There were some wonderful insights on leadership and I would advocate investing their time to watch this production.

Much of the conversation centered on how Ferguson shaped the culture of Manchester United. Words such as family, pride, personal conduct and professionalism jumped out, as being significant to Ferguson in instilling his way. Not every element of his leadership style resonated with me, in particular power and control. There were, however, many gems to take away.

One of those that stuck with me was Ferguson’s stance on what he was prepared to accept in terms of individual behaviour and its impact on the culture of the football club. During his time, Ferguson was willing to move on high profile players such as David Beckham and former club captain, Roy Keane. It was interesting to hear Ferguson’s unwillingness to allow an individual player to influence the team culture. Hence he moved on Keane and Beckham despite them both being great players and valuable assets to Manchester United.

In trying to draw parallels between Manchester United and the schools in which I have worked, I was able to quickly see that the best school leaders that I have worked with were the ones who clearly outlined fair and reasonable expectations for teachers and were willing to follow-up if there were concerns. The culture of the schools in which those leaders worked reflected that expectation and what the leaders were willing to tolerate in terms of professional conduct.

While this may sound somewhat draconian, what we are prepared to accept will become part of the culture of our schools. If we do not hold ourselves and others to high standards, then we will only have mediocrity. Schools do not need to be led with an iron fist but hey do need to be led with realistic expectations of professionalism in order to provide the best possible education for our students. We would not want them to expect anything less from us.

Published by Richard Bruford

Richard is currently Secondary School Principal of Suzhou Singapore International School, one of China's leading international schools. He leads workshops across the Asia-Pacific region for the International Baccalaureate in the areas of pedagogical leadership and approaches to teaching and learning. Richard consults with schools on the topics of school improvement and effective implementation and use of technology. With a background in public and independent school education in the UK and Australia, Richard is enjoying his international school adventure in China. He is passionate about developing and supporting educational leaders, as it is essential to improving all schools. Richard is a proud family man and feels lucky to be married to Kim and father of their son Austin. In his spare time Richard enjoys to swim, bike and run and is a now retired football player and coach (with occasional guest appearances)

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  1. Richard, the Ferguson book ‘Leading’ was part of my summer reading. Whilst I’ve not finished it yet, I have enjoyed it very much. A couple of points that have resonated so far include the advice about listening and the power of networks. I am certain further salient points will emerge.

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