The Power of a Handshake

Karl Guest

Headteacher, St Columba's College

Read the blog

Topping a list of my ‘pet hates’ is the weak handshake – the one that neither welcomes, affirms, greets or really says very much at all.  It is a gesture that I could quite easily do without, a bit like the over familiar high-five.  One could equally dislike the opposite, however: the bone crusher – the handshake that transmits dominance, a supremacy and an overwhelming sense of ‘I-go-to-the-gym-more-than-you’. There is an imbalance in each gesture, one saying far too little the other far too much.

The ideal is a gesture that gives confidence, warmth and demonstrates a positive and open relationship – a handshake is the base upon which further conversations happen, so I believe it is important to get it right.

As a new HMC Head here at St Columba’s College, it is a delight to be part of the Head’s Induction Programme where I am made to feel welcome by an organisation that is so confident about its identity, willing to give help and advice but without interference, connected in so many ways and infinitely open in encouraging a wider, collegiate approach.  In essence, it epitomises the perfect handshake: welcoming, affirming, encouraging and promoting confidence.

From the very first weeks following my appointment, HMC contacted me to offer whatever help I needed and this continues to this very day, be it advice from Head Office, team members or from the group chat of new Heads that was set up following our Induction weekend in Windsor.  Support is never far away – so crucial in the privileged role that I find myself in.

Is Headship lonely?  At times, of course, but there is a distinct difference between professional loneliness and isolation and I will never feel isolated, knowing that help is always at hand.

Indicative of this warm welcome, is the personal contact made to all Heads by the General Secretary of HMC, Dr Simon Hyde.  In the short time that I have been involved with HMC, Simon has already been an immense help and support to me, offering guidance and putting me in contact with others who, in turn, have offered immediate advice and help.  I know that Simon visits all HMC schools across the country and, somewhat fortuitously for this article, during the recent Windsor Induction weekend, we were all very much drawn to the numerous pictures of Simon warmly shaking hands with fellow Headteachers.

Seems utterly fitting that such a gesture, delivered personally and with sincere professional alliance sums up HMC… and just how fortunate I feel to be a part of the family.


25 September 2023