When it comes to leadership, Professor Keith Grint is an expert. He's been studying it over the past 20 years, first at Oxford and now at Lancaster, where he has been appointed head of the school's new leadership centre. You might think he had little new to learn. But children at his local karate club have been able to teach him a thing or two.
'It's a very small club, the Oxford Karate Club, and the teacher had to leave,' he explains. This meant that the only people left to pass on skills were those in the club with the relevant experience. So the upshot was young teenage teachers passing on their knowledge to students who were much older than them. 'I was taught by someone of 16, and I was 40. It was a great experience for me to watch them. We've had five or six groups led by senior students " and we've had the most success of any club in the UK, with members of the under- 18 English team and so on. And they always say that the best way to learn is to teach, so these students were really learning as they taught.'
Grint believes this model of distributed leadership 'really reflects Lancaster's philosophy of leadership development, which offers people a chance to hone skills through dealing with actual problems. We make everything as realistic as possible and avoid dry case studies or trotting out the maxim that 'leadership doesn't work like that'.'
In fact, hands-on experience is crucial, he believes, citing the case of a karate teacher who, having done all his training in a 'no contact' club, was completely stumped about what to do when he was attacked in the street.
Leadership research and development has been a strength of Lancaster University Management School since the 1970s. But the opening of the new pounds 9.5m Lancaster Leadership Centre this week, which will coordinate and draw on leadership expertise across all the school's departments, will consolidate this.
'It's a real centre of excellence. I think we have the largest number of researchers " about 30 " of anywhere in the country.'
The Centre has lecture theatres, seminar rooms and communal spaces. It is partly funded by the Northwest Development Agency and aims to engage local communities with leadership issues, as well as promote academic teaching and research. Digby Jones, director- general of the Confederation of British Industry, officially opened the centre, but local primary school children were also involved, emphasising how widely the centre plans to cast its net.
'My wife is a teacher so I have that interest,' says Grint. 'And I've done a bit of work looking at the kind of mythical stories which help shape our idea of leadership. We asked the youngest children to enter a competition to write or do a picture about leadership. …