By: Jackie Gallagher, director, Sparrow Schools
Leadership is often characterized as a lonely job, but I prefer to focus on the privilege and growth I have experienced as the general manager at Sparrow Schools Educational Trust.
I have been able to develop as the leader of Sparrow inside a team of support that has sustained and grown me as I have grown the organisation.
I started Sparrow in 1989 when I was 28; a time of great political and personal change. While I had personal challenges to face and overcome, I also had to examine my privilege as a white South African, and transform my good intentions into an informed understanding of what the country needed. On this journey I have learnt to lead by listening to others, to validate them, and appreciate different ways of being in the world, rather than allowing the organisation to be a mirror of my own ideas.
Through my concurrent journeys of learning to know myself and learning to lead, I understood that a crucial part of being able to lead an organisation effectively was to have a management team that could support and stretch me as I challenged and developed them. My job as a leader has gradually evolved into growing a strong and effective management team. I bring the vision and history of Sparrow to the team and together we wrestle with ideas and transform them into a workable programme for the organisation.
I have concentrated on building a specific organisational culture, first in the management team and then in Sparrow more broadly. I seek to honour values and ethics rooted in a Christianity which values human dignity and fairness. Sparrow must be an organisation where people with different belief systems can expect to feel welcome and be treated fairly, where different opinions are valued and contribute to a reframing of challenges. Another key aspect of the Sparrow culture is the value that is placed on planning and procedural fairness. I lead an organisation where planning and a strong policy framework create a stable environment for each employee to bring their best selves to the work at hand.
Lastly I want to talk about the legacy I hope to leave at Sparrow: I would like the organisation to continue to nurture a culture where talent can be recognised and developed, even when that talent does not present itself in established ways. I have been able to resist a highly formalized, hierarchical company culture and instead create a culture of acceptance where I can overlook educational background, class and colour and develop and train new leaders. This is the crux of the vision that I share with my management team: developing new leaders is vital for South Africa but it takes time and a caring attitude.
In closing I leave you with an image from the beautiful poem Courage – it takes more by South African Poet Phillippa Yaa De Villiers: “only when we stand together/ can we say that we have won/one heart/one love/one”.
For more information on Sparrow Schools or to get involved, please visit http://www.sparrowschools.co.za/trust_history.html