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Neither an art nor a science. Have you got what it takes?

Terry Phillips asks some pertinent questions to those thinking of moving on to management

Are you thinking of taking a course in ELT management in the near future? There are several excellent ones available in the UK. In fact, I work on two of them, an intensive course at Nile and an extensive one for English UK. But just before I try to persuade you to book your place, here are a few questions for you to think about.

Firstly, why do you want to become a manager? There is clearly a strong link between teaching in an ELT organisation and managing one, but an ELT manager is not just an ELT teacher with more power. I personally think it is essential that managers of teachers have spent considerable time in the classroom (and the staffroom) so they understand the teachers’ and the students’ reality. But crossing into management involves moving away from teaching even if you keep your hand in, and if you are unhappy about that, think again about becoming a manager.

Secondly, can you work in isolation and keep your thoughts to yourself? Teaching by its very nature is a very social profession. You are with people in the classroom and then with other people in the staffroom. In the evening you can socialise with other staff and moan about everything which has annoyed you during the day. But successful managers usually maintain a social distance between themselves and their staff. It is very hard to conduct a disciplinary meeting with a teacher the morning after you have spent the evening with them in a pub.

In addition, successful managers usually keep their musings to themselves until they have decided what to do in a particular situation. It is one thing to chat about a problem with one of your peers and quite another to mull it over with subordinates. Before you know it, all sorts of rumours about your intentions will be flying around the staffroom.

Thirdly, can you make decisions? If you are indecisive in life, you will have to undergo a big personality change to be successful as a manager. However, management decisions are sometimes easier to make than personal decisions such as ‘Shall I buy that car?’ or ‘Shall I have tea or coffee?’ It is usually possible to consider the alternatives in a rational way and come to a balanced conclusion. But you will not succeed as a manager if you put off making decisions which affect your organisation. Remember that in many cases there is only one thing worse than a bad decision, and that is no decision at all.

Fourthly, do you mind being unpopular at times? Even if your management style turns out to be a Benthamesque ‘greatest good of the greatest number’, you are always going to have members of staff who are unhappy about decisions you have made. The good news is that it is not the job of a manager to make people happy, only to keep them satisfied. Satisfaction, in this sense, is defined as delivery minus expectation, so if you deliver slightly more than people reasonably expect of you, you will be doing your job as a manager. But it doesn’t mean all your staff will like you all of the time.

Fifthly, are you willing to deal with conflict arising from your decisions, or between members of staff? Some people can’t bear confrontation and will do anything to avoid it, but that is not an option for a manager. If you avoid confrontation as a manager, the situation will almost certainly escalate.
Sixthly, are you a calm person? Managers must be leaders and, as someone once said, the best advice you can give a new director of studies is, ‘Don’t run in the corridor.’ If you panic easily, that will communicate itself to your staff and, although you do not have to have the stiff upper lip of a First World War general, you do need to radiate confidence that any problem can be solved.

Finally, are you organised? Organisations are not given that name by chance. A successful unit of any kind is one where there is a high degree of organisation, and responsibility for most of that organisation falls on junior and middle managers. Communication within the organisation and with the outside world must be planned, with careful choices made about whether to have a face-to-face meeting with one person or send a memo to every member of staff. If you just want to sit at your desk firing off emails, management is not for you.

The good news is that, even if you have answered no to some of these questions, you may be able to become a successful manager, and the first step to making that change is a course in ELT management. Being a good manager is not an art – in that you don’t have to be born with the talent – nor is it a science – in that there are no foolproof formulae which work every time. It is a practice, which means that if you are willing to recognise the personality changes required and to study the theory of organisations, motivation, managing communication and dealing with conflict, and a myriad other areas, you will learn from your mistakes and become a great manager over time.

So, what do you think? If you still want to be a manager and can spare two weeks this summer for a course to change your life, why not contact Sarah at Nile now on sarah@nile-elt.com?


Terry Phillips has been in ELT management for more than forty years. He works on the management module for the Reading University MADL and lectures on the DELTM for English UK. Every summer he runs the two-week management in ELT course for Nile, which this year is 2–12 June