Just knowing or the importance of your gut in leadership

On Monday, I was involved in a brilliant session with staff of Ardrishaig Primary School (APS) in Argyll.  It was a review and reflection of the past twelve months and a consideration of how the school has progressed.   Despite the lockdowns much progress has been made.  How do we know?  Feedback from parents, pupils and members of staff; survey results.  I have been working with the school since November 2019 and, it is true to say that it is a much different place than back when I started.  The funny thing is, through my experience I don’t need the data to tell me that.  I can feel it in the school; the atmosphere and ambience are much more positive; there is more smiling and laughing; people are happier.  This is what I can feel.

I know what any school is like within a few minutes of entering the foyer because I can feel it.  I just kind of know.  I can’t measure it or score it, but I know.  It is just like back in the day as a Heidie, sometimes walking through the playground, or entering the school canteen, or going into a classroom something didn’t seem right.  I just knew.  I remember being on the beach in Fuengirola with the family and jumping the waves with my son Cameron.  He had the knack of timing it just right.  Curious, I asked how he did it.  He started to explain: “You look at the waves and …; it’s the white on the top of them and …; you time your run from …;  Ach I just know!’

I heard the Swedish leadership expert Kjell Nordström talk about this kind of thing at a conference in Manchester some years ago.  Kjell spoke of going to fish on a wee boat, as a boy, with his grandfather who always just knew where the fish were.  His grandfather couldn’t explain how he did it.  He just knew.  Trompenaars referred to this as tacit knowledge1.  The stuff that you know but can’t explain or put into words.

When at Newlands Junior College, I had a very wise colleague.  Donald MacLeod was his name.  He drove the mini-bus part-time but was much more than that to the students – and all of the staff.  He was a retired senior police officer – a Superintendent with Strathclyde’s finest.  I used to talk to him a lot, over a cuppa, in the canteen about leadership, human relationships and more important things like football!!  We are both ardent supporters of one of the Glasgow clubs.  Anyway, when talking about ‘just knowing things’ one day, I remember Donald saying, “When your gut is telling you something, go with your gut! Always. I used this in the police.”

So, remember, there are some things that can’t be measured, turned into data or put in a graph or table – but your gut will tell you!

  1. Tacit Knowledge

Iain White

26th May 2021

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