Courage to change one’s mind

On 2 April I announced that Nottingham High School is to become co-educational after 500 years of being a boys’ school. This decision has been widely welcomed by a large majority of our school community and it is an exciting time for the School. As part of this process we asked people for their comments and some correspondents pointed out that I had previously blogged about the benefits of a single-sex education and saw the changing of my mind as a sign of weakness. I wrote on our school blog site a long response to this claim part of which I want to share here. Those of us who have the huge privilege of leading schools are expected always to be strong in our leadership, to hide any frailties and to lead from the front.

Yet there are other ways of doing things. At the heart of my vision of headship is a desire to lead with integrity and with humility. I am not one of those heads who leads in a heroic fashion from the front with his personality defining the School. Instead I see my role as developing the talents of those around me to ensure that all working for the School are working hard to make it the best it can be. For the ‘heroic’ leader changing one’s mind must be very difficult because so much depends on your strength of personality, your supreme self-confidence. In my case over a period of time with careful research, much thought and soul-searching I realised that the best way forward for my school was to make this move and thus I have had to back-track on my previously held views.

Changing one’s mind is a difficult process. It would have been easy to be stubborn and just take the quiet life. My school is financially stable and we certainly don’t need to make this move for financial reasons so I could just have kept going as we were. Alternatively, it would have been easy to move on to a new school, content with the work I had done in the period up to our 500th Anniversary celebrations in 2013. Yet I love what I do, I love the people I work with, I love my School and so started the work on this new, exciting chapter for the School.

I am aware that some will see the changing of my mind as ‘shameful’ or a sign of weakness. I would like to think that the majority will take a different view. True leadership comes from the ability to take stock, to be brave and steer a different course, to admit when one has been wrong but then do something about it. That takes inner strength, it takes courage but in the end if you are driven by what you believe to be in the best interests of all then these are steps worth taking.

One of my favourite books is ‘Leadership’ by Rudolf Giuliani who was Mayor of New York City at the time of the World Trade Centre attacks. I will leave the last word to him:

“The development of beliefs can follow a more winding path, an evolution that may not be applicable to everyone but is irrefutable to the person honest enough to acknowledge it. Sometimes those beliefs are inconvenient, even painful. This may lead you away from long-held positions and might even cost you friends. But a real leader, one who leads from a true heart and honest mind, won’t deny an emerging belief simply because it makes him uncomfortable.”