By Paul Guthrie
In 1999, under the guidance of the Headmaster Mike Nicholson, Hilton College informed all its stakeholders of the imminent move from a prefect system of leadership to an allencompassing programme based on Robert Greenleaf ’s principles of ‘servant leadership’, to be implemented in 2000.
As you can imagine, the announcement met with a wide range of responses: some thought we ‘had lost the plot’, while others applauded the initiative. It was a bold step.
Prefect system too divisive
Under the old prefect system, we would have appointed between 30 and 35 prefects annually from a class of around 100 boys. Many of them would have been good in their roles; some would have slowly but surely lost interest. But more importantly, we were overlooking the skills and abilities of the 70 ‘have nots’. It was also a divisive system that neglected the crucial fact that we should be nurturing, developing, assessing and guiding all our boys in aspects of leadership.
One of the aspects that changed during the decade of implementation has been the ‘reward’ and ‘demerit’ system at the request of the boys involved, and after careful deliberation and consultation. We moved from awarding ‘merit’, ‘excellence’ and ‘outstanding achievement’ to recognising different kinds of leaders in a changing environment: ‘servant leaders’, ‘transformational leaders’ and ‘managerial leaders’. The real success stories have come from those young men who might not have been prefects under the previous system, who have grabbed the opportunity to be involved and make their contribution. We now have an inclusive as opposed to an exclusive leadership system. The ‘cream’ still rises to the top, but now all senior boys take ownership and contribute to the welfare and running of the school.
Retaining some aspects, reinventing others
In each boarding house, a weekly Matric meeting is held to deal with operational matters as well as leadership development, and all senior boys, their Housemaster, Assistant Housemaster and House Manager take part. Boys have a sense of accountability towards a team to which they all belong. Each Matric boy is given various portfolios to sustain and execute, and these rotate at half-year. The rationale behind this is to develop skills as well as to challenge the boys, and to ensure that they remain motivated and inspired, and inspire those around them. It’s encouraging to witness the growth and development of all Matric boys (to varying degrees), which would not have been possible in a prefect system.
An aspect of the old system we have retained is having a Head of House; the ‘captain of the team’. Initially the Heads of Houses occupied the position for half a year before handing over to someone else, but this proved impractical.
On reflection, there is no doubt that we are developing more leaders, and it is interesting to hear what Old Boys have said once they have left school. Simon Taylor, a former teacher at the school, is currently completing his doctorate on this topic. The following comments form part of his thesis and were made by ex-pupils (18–28 years old) who were participants in Hilton’s servant leadership programme: “All types of leaders keep the world going, but servant leaders are the backbone, they build society, work together as a collective and help solve problems, be it social or environmental.”
“Servant leadership encourages teamwork and cooperation, instead of command and control.” “A leader position was about being strict and coldhearted, but during my term, I changed to servant leadership, to lead by example and a desire to make a difference.”