21 Aug 2023
By virtue of his service and record, Sir Steve Lancashire is as close to national treasure status as any educator gets. They say never to meet your heroes, but having met Sir Steve a number of times I already knew that his writing would be compelling. I wasn’t disappointed. Within just a few pages I was completely engrossed in his narrative, amused by his tone and nodding away at his reflections. I read it cover to cover the first time, and have managed three reads in one week. Simply put, it is THAT good.
On the surface, Reflections on being the CEO is written to build on Michael Pain’s key pillars of Being the CEO. It comprises a series of blogs, articles and stories that astutely weave the professional maturation of the MAT landscape over a decade with the personal thoughts and views of one of the country’s pioneer CEOs.
What could be rather dry if it were posited just within the policy world is instead brought to life by the wit and charm of the writing; in every line there is a sense of ‘sparkle’, as Sir Steve would say. This is not your usual leadership book and it is infinitely better as a result. Part love letter to the sector, part leadership manual, part promise to the future, it is the ultimate tonic for a profession in much need of hope and optimism.
The book charts Lancashire’s own leadership journey through the formation of Reach2 and the “wild west” days of early academisation. It interweaves social commentary on the political and educational context he operated within and provides honest and open insight into the seismic sector shifts we have witnessed over the past 15 years and more.
The book begins with chapters looking at the CEO role, how it is evolving and what that means for a new generation of leaders. Lancashire makes a clear case for the importance of public service, of checking and removing ego and of building on strong foundations. The current inflection point, he argues, is an opportunity to carve out a stronger, more impactful, more fulfilling role than ever.
Sir Steve then navigates through aspects of working with boards, comparing the CEO-chair relationship to marriage and urging us to have clear prenups, before moving onto attitudes towards growth, arguing that size truly matters but that quality is the ultimate marker.
His views on culture are clear: it drives the “why” of what we do. In this as in everything else, his approach is founded on his fundamental belief in people and enjoyment in seeing them flourish. Accordingly, he really develops the need for intentionality and fidelity to our stakeholders. No complex metric dashboard can replace the simple act of watching, listening and learning.
For someone as connected as Sir Steve, it is unsurprising that he goes on to dedicate considerable time to the importance of networks. These are given significance in terms of his own experiences, but also more widely in terms of breaking down barriers of competition and promoting collaboration. But it isn’t without a note of caution. Recognising that time is at a premium, he notes that external engagement must bring tangible benefits to the organisation.
Chapter 10, Me being me, you being you is the most personal and perhaps also the most resonant today. It centres on authenticity and charts his experience as an LGBT educator through the days of section 28 and beyond. It is an poignant warning to us all that our progress is recent, fragile and requires us to keep EDI work at the front of our minds.
This is a unique offering in what is a crowded leadership book market. Witty, irreverent, laser-sharp, and informed by unparalleled insight into how our sector has evolved over the past few years, it is essential reading. Indeed a treasure.
I have no doubt that getting to know Sir Steve a little better will help you to know yourself better too. And that could very well be his greatest service yet.