Redefining Leadership: The Death of the “Hero-Head”

This blog comes from Headteacher of Brundall Primary School, Rick Stuart-Sheppard.

What is being a leader?  What does leadership actually entail? How much does our perception of what a leader looks like simply depend on our age, generation and unquestioned stereotypes?

I’ve been pondering this because I’ve never felt comfortable hanging my suit on the hanger of Headteacher as Hero-leader or “SuperHead”. This is not because I haven’t known some heroic heads doing wonderful things in challenging situations. But rather because there’s always more to them and what they were doing than being a Sheriff walking into town, brandishing a six-shooter and announcing ‘this is how it’s going to be in my town from here on.’ *Pause for blowing the smoke away from the barrels.*

This conception of the Head as Hero has been on the rise for many years now, intensified by the drive towards academisation. Indeed, Mr Gove is alleged to have remarked he would have liked to clone a particular favourite Head of his 20 000 times and this would be progress towards solving educational problems in the UK.  He also picked another ‘hero’ Head to lead Ofsted, with painful results.

A different view of leadership has further deterred for me this idea of a Hero-Head and crystalized my thoughts.

Making Meaning with a Community

Back in October 2018, I encountered Geoff Mead (author of ‘Storytelling: The Heart and Soul of Leadership’) at the “Education for the Soul” Conference run by Integrity Coaching.  In reading Geoff’s book after the event, I was struck by a definition of leadership that he put forward, namely that leadership involves ‘making meaning with a community’.

This not only fits better with my understanding of what it means to be a leader, but also seems to me a much deeper and sustainable conception of leadership than Head as Hero.

After all, what are we, as teachers, if we are not always working to make meaning with a community?  Likewise, as leaders, we must always be working at creating and articulating a meaningful story, a meaningful solution, within meaningful relationships, each day of the year.

This definition also opens up leadership at all levels-teachers, senior leaders, parents, teaching assistants, Governors and the wider community.  This is particularly important as leadership is not something we can do alone. We can’t ride in on horseback, kick a few deadbeats out of town and ride off into the sunset looking for the next metaphorical notch on our belt.

Redefining Leadership

I believe by re-defining “leadership” in terms of making meaning with a community, we are able to take a fuller, more humane approach to the skills we need to develop as a leader and the decisions we need to make.

Take all the courses abound about ‘how to have difficult conversations’ as an example. If you see leadership as the hero, that it is “my way or the highway”, it makes sense to think that there is such a thing as difficult conversations to get better at.

However, if you are committed to ‘making meaning with a community’, every communication is an opportunity in the ongoing project. Yes, some are more intense, some are more challenging – but they are always informed by the intention of making meaning with the people you are working with and driving them towards a bigger purpose.

By re-defining this concept of leadership, we are able to change the entire framing of the conversation from a negative connotation of ‘difficult’ to a constructive positive dialogue. Best of all, it establishes a sustainable, moral and coherent conception of leadership as we develop and grow new leaders.

So I implore to you join me in saying “Death to the cult of the ‘born leader’ and the Head as Hero” and “hello” to leaders that are developed, nurtured and made through meaningful engagement with a community of learners, focused on a purposeful and moral goal.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effectively School Leaders

Over the last decade or so, we have worked with hundreds of Senior School Leaders to help them maintain a clear focus on both their professional and professional visions.

In that time, we’ve discovered seven habits of effectively School Leaders that can help School Leaders lead effectively, keep their hope alive and keep hold of their vision for both themselves and their pupils.

This is particularly for those School Leaders who want to find out more about the steps that they can take to enable them to fulfil their ‘heroic project’ of “setting minds of fire”, but without sacrificing their own wellbeing.

To download your free copy of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective School Leaders”, please follow the link below…



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