23 April 2020


Dave and Susannah Knowles

My wife Susannah and I donned our Clifton Colours for Clifton Friday last week.

As a country and community, as well as a school community, we have faced various unique challenges as we confront the implications of the coronavirus pandemic and the national lockdown. We have had to deal with the very real and practical challenges of closing the school in March, getting the online system up and running effectively, as well as coping with the practical and emotional issues around the lockdown in the community and home environment.

Leadership in a Virtual World

Over and above this, one of the challenges that has intrigued me at this time is the question of leading in a virtual world. How does one lead in a school environment that is completely different from what has been the norm? I am sure that this is a question being considered and debated in many corporates and businesses around the country and indeed the world. In a school environment, this question is incredibly relevant, because schools are social places, and so much of the essence of the school experience is built around social interaction – in the classroom, at the tuck-shop during break time, on the school grounds during co-curricular activities, and on the sports field. These interactions happen between staff and boys, between the boys themselves, and indeed between the staff themselves.

The Essential Acts of Leadership

Fortunately, I have had some assistance in this regard, and my thought processes have been challenged by the work of Patrick Lencioni (The 5 dysfunctions of a team) and by Grant Ashfield.  The question posed in my mind revolves around the essential acts of leadership that must be implemented now for the organization (in our case, Clifton School) to emerge stronger after the lockdown has been lifted and the pandemic has passed.

In many ways, this is a window of opportunity to reinvigorate our purpose. As we know, the old normal is gone, and the new normal will replace it; what will that look like, and how much can we as an organization shape this new normal for ourselves? To put this another way, what are we doing now, and what behaviours have we developed during this time, that we wish to retain after the crisis, and which will enhance our organizational culture?

Creating Healthy Organizations

One of the ways leaders can affect this strong post-lockdown emergence is by creating a healthier organization, where there is high morale, high productivity, a low level of “politics” and little confusion. This is in addition to this, being a smart organization where there is a focus on strategy, technology, finances and so on.

There are various strategies to achieve this healthy organization, which I have enjoyed exploring over the years as I have walked this leadership journey. However, the current crisis has thrown these ideas into stark relief, and to my mind have become more relevant. The senior leadership team at Clifton has been exploring these ideas and concepts further as we prepare for the “new normal”.

Freedom Day

This weekend we enjoy the first of two long weekends, albeit under lockdown. This Monday is Freedom Day, a day to commemorate the first post-apartheid elections, held on 27 April 1994. There is a certain irony with regard to this public holiday this year; whilst political freedom was achieved on that day in 1994, and it is important that we celebrate this significant milestone in our country’s history, especially our younger generation, we know that economic freedom was not achieved.

In addition, in our current context, we yearn for freedom from fear around the coronavirus and what the future holds. And to some degree, we yearn for the freedom of movement, freedom to travel and meet our extended families, to socialize without worrying about social distancing, to attend big events and visit the beach. This brings, I would suggest, a different dimension to our Freedom Day public holiday this year.

As always, my best wishes and God’s blessings to our boys, staff, parents and extended families at this time.

Warm regards