Coaching & Leadership Development
June 14, 2019

What makes a Great School Leader?

What makes a Great School Leader?


There’s plenty of advice out there about what makes a great school leader, from text books, certifications and seminars.


Often the advice focuses around what leaders should do, how they should behave and highlighting what are deemed to be outstanding leadership examples.


However, the more I’ve worked with school leaders – the more it has become apparent that there is no one-size fits all model of leadership.


What’s more, I’ve since learned that great leadership ‘cannot be reduced to a matter of technique or style’. Rather, it comes from the very identity and integrity of every individual who has chosen to take on the mantle of school leadership.


As such, rather than our current education system trying to mould our Heads into the leaders it thinks they ought to be, I believe we should be inspiring them to lead from within, from the very heart of who they are; through ways which tap into their own unique gifts,  their values and their own internal sense of purpose.


Here’s why…


1. Leaders are more able to make wise decisions


Most leaders are capable of wise decision making. However, the combination of unstable internal and external environments, often works against this happening as frequently as it should. Instead, leaders are often forced to be reactive in their decision making; time, events, their own thoughts and emotions do not stand still for long enough to enable them to access deeper, higher levels of thought and reason that lead to wise decision making.


Most learn to live with it, an unfortunate, but accepted consequence of the role. However, living with it, does not make it any easier to bear. Most want to inhabit the role differently, most want to know how to better manage their responses to the rapid succession of events that are hurled at them virtually each and every day.


For those who’ve developed an authentic practice, i.e. a practice that allows them to be more mindful and listen to themselves, decision-making becomes easier.  These leaders know how to make decisions that are consistently in line with their values. Those who have yet to develop such a practice, tend to be pushed into choices that compromise their principles and sadly, often live with a diminished sense of agency, connection and purpose.


2. Leaders create environments built on trust


When leaders are authentic, they not only trust themselves more, but they also learn how to build deeper and more trusting relationships with others. You may have noticed this yourself; leaders who are comfortable in their own skins, make it easy for others to trust them and feel comfortable in their presence. Whereas with leaders for whom the opposite is true, relationships are often tenuous and can be a reflection of the leaders’ own inner state.


When staff and teachers are able to see a person that they can relate to, who is consistent in their behaviours and the application of their values, trust becomes part of the glue that brings a greater degree of cohesiveness to relationships.


What’s more, inspired by the example, pupils and staff  also learn what it truly means to  live by ones’ values.  Staff in particular, understand that there is challenge and there is risk in really living up to one’s values, but they also come to see that the risk is well worth the effort, when children lives are shaped for the better, because of their values-led behaviours.


3. Leaders are more likely to be resilient and motivated


It is hard to lead with authenticity and purpose when there is a lack of resonance between your own personal/professional endeavours and your own internal ‘Why.’


When leaders are supported to stay connected to a deep internal sense of purpose, motivation and resilience remains high, even in the most challenging of circumstances. Replace that drive with an external, punitive outside source and the impact is usually the opposite.


We need only look at the continued high rates of attrition from the profession and talk to colleagues who have left, to know that this is true.



That’s why we believe that authentic school leadership is crucial in maintaining the vocational vitality of our school leaders & developing healthy schools.


Yet being an authentic school leader can be exceedingly challenging, particularly in the context of an education system which has not, as yet, found a consistent way to enable school leaders to embrace their vulnerability and true sense of personhood.


That’s why on the 17th October 2019, we will be hosting our “Education for the Soul’ Conference around the theme of “Inspiring Authentic School Leadership.”


The format for this year’s conference will feature keynotes, workshops, panel discussion and storytellers. The event will enable school leaders to:


– Challenge the many damaging expectations and narratives that surround school leadership and help leaders mitigate their often-corrosive impact

– Develop stronger self-awareness and a deeper understanding of their own emotions and those of others

– Strengthen individuals’ confidence and belief in their own leadership approach so that they can lead in ways that are aligned to who they are and what they stand for

– Build the courage to stay true to their values, vision and purpose


Above all, it is our hope that those who attend will leave feeling truly inspired to embrace their own unique leadership approach; one that is truly authentic, supportive of their values, builds resilience and enables them to best utilise their strengths and gifts.


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