Why Robots can't replace School Leaders


The blog comes from Emma Turner (@Emma_Turner75), who is the research and CPD lead for Discovery Schools Trust, Leicestershire. 

There is much talk about future thinking and future-proofing and there are lists of jobs which in the future may be completed by robot technology.
Hundreds of thousands of people have read these articles, to see if their role falls under the remit of a yet-to-be-built robot.
But there are some jobs that we cannot envisage being done by a robot, which is devoid of emotion, empathy and human characteristics. There are some things that simply require heart to be successful. Leadership is one of those.

Leadership: Capturing hearts and minds

For anyone who has followed a sat-nav or become infuriated by the lack of nuance in a telephone voicemail menu, it is clear that there are some aspects of life that require more than a little humanity.
It is unlikely that the impassioned speeches of Martin Luther King or the kindness-driven changes implemented by Florence Nightingale would have made as much difference – however well-thought-through they were – had they not captured hearts and minds.
Leadership is about belief, and belief is about trust and connection and vision. However much we trust our computer systems, our sat-navs and our self-drive cars of the future, we cannot truly connect with them. They do not inspire us to go that extra mile or to give more of ourselves than we thought possible.
Computers do not inspire honesty or integrity or the vulnerability that leadership and change requires. They are blunt, binary instruments whose very function can be reduced to two simple digits.

Why robots can’t be leaders

Leadership requires more than a simple 1 or a 0. There is an infinite and sliding scale within the relationship of leader and team, and this cannot be expressed so simply. It is the shades of nuance, of grey, of the unmeasurable and unquantifiable aspects of trust, hope and inspiration that leaders elicit that will ensure that they are irreplaceable.
And it is these most uniquely human characteristics that make the most effective leaders so good at what they do.
There is no computer programme or hardware that can recognise the slight crack in a colleague’s voice or the almost imperceptible tremble of a hand as a document is handed over. There is no machine that can notice a slight hunch of usually buoyant shoulders or can see the gradual darkening of circles under eyes.
No machine can laugh uproariously at the joke of a six-year-old, or can offer comfort to a bereaved colleague or distressed parent. People do not seek to share their successes, their hopes and their dreams with a machine.

Vulnerabilities and successes

If leadership were straightforward, and governed only by common sense and yes/no decisions, then we would be one branching-tree diagram away from being led by a Microsoft or Apple program.
But real leaders are in the grey. They are in the swirling and ever-shifting mists of other people’s vulnerabilities, journeys and successes. They are between the binary, sifting through the unclear to find clarity and purpose.
Real, true and inspirational leaders can always clear the clouds and the fog to show those around them the sunlight. And as these weather magicians work their leadership magic, as they forage in the fog and sift through the swirling storms of constant information, they continue to project the forecast with accuracy. But, unlike the blunt icons of a weather app, they add that human narration.
They may seat a current damning forecast of bluster and biting cold alongside the longer-range forecast that reminds us all that summer will come. They ensure that we do not lose ourselves in a freezing downward spiral of a nine-week half-term.

Superbly human

This is why leadership is one of the most human of all roles. While we can learn and practise using apps and tech and artificial intelligence and augmented realities, the reality is that computers do not elicit trust and faith.
Even those among us who rely upon our sat-navs for orientation would not want to be led by an edu-satnav, governed only by a remote satellite map of the landscape and no appreciation of the local climate.
Leaders do not have to be superheroes, but they do need to be superbly human. I have worked for leaders who have lacked humanity, or who have had the tact and diplomacy skills of an unwieldy lump hammer. Despite their enviable intellect, I would not have followed them.
Those with scintillating intellect, but the warmth of a concrete flagstone, were the ones for whom I would have done what needed to be done, but nothing more.

Computer says ‘no’

The leaders I would have driven off a cliff for are those who know they are leading people to a vision. I have been in awe of leaders who managed to have meaningful words with all staff they encountered during the ebb and flow of the day.
It is the leaders who remember who has the poorly dog or the sick child, or who has the house move coming up, who have been the ones I would have gladly followed.
Leadership is of people and all the messiness they entail: their energy, their worries, their unique fingerprints of competencies. All of this – alongside the need to be strategic – is something I doubt will ever be replaced by robot technology.
In fact, so human, so complex and so intrinsically grey is leadership that, should an avatar be asked to take up a leadership post, I have a feeling its response would simply be: “Computer says no.”

One of the most important things that I’ve learned since leaving Headship is that no School Leader should have to live their life as a lesser version of themselves, for fear of what others might think or say, if they really saw you.
Yes, the current education landscape, can at times feel harsh, brutal and a very unsafe place to show up as our True selves, but it is necessary. Our schools, our young people need to be led by leaders who understand, as in the words of American author Brene Brown, ‘You can’t get to courage without walking through vulnerability.’
I know that this is hard. One of the hardest things for me as a Head teacher was finding the courage to ask for the help that I needed. What I needed back then was someone impartial who really understood the challenges I was experiencing. I needed someone with whom I could “drop the leadership mask” and talk openly and honestly about the issues, questions, doubts and feelings I was having in my role.
And it is the same today. If our leaders are to sustain consistently high levels of effectiveness amidst the growing complexity of the role, this form of support is not just helpful – it’s vital.
Social workers have supervision to help them process their toughest cases, and corporate executives have space for “lessons learned” and continuous improvement between projects.
Yet School Leaders remain woefully under-supported and as a result, many are left without anyone to turn to when they are in need of support, clarity, guidance or even just some encouragement to keep going.
That’s why I am now offering free “Coaching for The Soul” support calls to ensure that no School Leader finds themselves in the same situation as I was in as a Head.
These calls provide a safe, confidential space for School Leaders to:
– Talk through the challenges they are currently facing
– Get support in locating next steps and solutions to help overcome problems
– Reflect on recent events and the impact they are having
– Gain clarity around how best to move forward

Book Your Call

 If you feel like you’d benefit from a call like this or perhaps know someone who would, please follow the link above!



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