This particular post came from two places- a casual pub conversation and an (almost) perfect bike ride.
The pub conversation centred around the tension between the day to day business of schools and the vision for an organisation- how can you keep these two things in balance in your head simultaneously without one, or the other, dominating? The bike ride was just one of those which happens on a perfect afternoon, with smooth roads, no traffic and the sense of liberation I always feel when it all comes together just so.
In my post- ride afterglow, I got thinking about the pub conversation and how I manage to pull off the aforementioned trick. I came to the conclusion that riding a bike, and leadership, are not as far removed as one might think.
Consider it this way- your school is the machinery, a motorbike, in this case. The road you’re on is the timeline between where you are now, and the future.
The day to day of school life is the machine running. You maintain it, check the tyre pressures and oil, make sure you have enough fuel for the journey….but you don’t spend the entire journey thinking about whether the spark plugs are firing correctly or if the spindle holding the wheel on is working loose. You’re a responsible rider and you check these things regularly so that you don’t have to worry about them all the time. You’re listening to the engine, of course, when you are riding. You are vigilant for a change in note which suggests something is amiss. It isn’t, however, your main focus.
In order to get you, and the bike, safely and successfully from A to B with all your parts intact, you need to be spending your time reading the road- and looking a long way out in front. If you do this, you can prepare for the tight bend (another change in education policy) or the oil spill which might cause a skid (that staffing issue which has been brewing for a while). You might even spot the juggernaut about to pull out of a side road and flatten you. You are reactive, but in a planned way- you have a strategy for dealing with these things because you’re looking out for them.
If, when riding, you’re focussing too much on the engine, you miss the warning signs of the hazard up ahead. At best you panic and overcompensate, leaving you shaken and a bit unnerved about your capabilities as a rider. At worst, you crash. By looking out ahead, not only do you get to where you want to be, but you can also enjoy the journey.
This analogy doesn’t work with car driving. In a car, drivers are often distracted- they fiddle with the radio, drink coffee, have heated conversations, text, even. On a bike, when riding you are completely in the moment- you can’t afford not to be. Leadership works best when you’re in the moment too.
Why else should leadership be like biking? Next time you’re out, watch bikers as they meet one another on the road. There’s often an almost imperceptible nod, which is just a quick ‘hi’ or ‘I see you’ to one another. We’re in it together. We also head out on the road together, sharing experiences and journeys. Head teachers should do these things too.
Finally, you might be wondering where the title of this blog came from. It’s from the late, great Mike Hailwood, ‘Mike the Bike’ who won 12 TT races by the age of 27, setting a record as the first person to win three times in three different classes in one TT week at the age of 21.
‘Slow in, fast out’ describes how he approached a corner. You pick your line, check your speed, deal with it smoothly and move on faster from the bend because you’ve come out in the right spot. You don’t rush into the bend headlong and wrestle the bike heroically round, leaving yourself exhausted and in the wrong place for the next part of the trip- or you and the bike in a ditch.
That’s not a bad analogy for heads to follow- either in the early days of a new post or for any major change you might be considering. Slow in, fast out wins races.