Coaching & Leadership Development

Why Heads Leave – The 3 Key Reasons

Why Heads Leave – The 3 Key Reasons


“When we are doing what is wrong for us, we can temporarily mobilise energy in service to goals, and often we must, but in time such forced mobilisation leads us to irritability, anger, burnout and symptoms of all kinds”

James Hollis


Every time, I sit with a Headteacher as their coach, I become acutely aware of the amount of energy they expend in seeking to do what is right for them and right for their schools.


It is not an easy task. Many find themselves in situations where it seems impossible to see the wood for the trees and if they are not supported to find their own way forward, they may inadvertently end up following someone else’s.


More often than not, this other path can end up being the wrong path and for the reasons cited in the above quote, can lead to good people leaving the profession.


To understand why this happens and why there is still such a high rate of attrition amongst Heads, we need to deepen our understanding of three key things that happen to Heads when they ‘temporarily mobilise energy in service to goals’ that are not their own…


1. Disregard for the inner journey


It is my firm and strong belief, that Headship is for many a vocation; a call not only to serve, but also a call to show up as one’s best self. The trouble is, too much of what is provided for Heads in terms of professional development and support in the role, is concerned with the outer garms and vestiges of school leadership. Such a focus, although often well-intended, disregards the fact that just as the external educational landscape shifts and changes, so too does the personal inner landscape of school leaders.


It is not enough to just equip them with the tools for understanding policy and curriculum change. They also need to be given the tools to map and understand their own inner terrain.


Ignorance of this fact has led to a system where Heads who desire to do the inner work, feel somewhat disenfranchised. If their own professional contexts place little value on such work, they mistake their own inner turbulence as signs of weakness and not being good enough. Without a voice to counter such thoughts and feelings, they take what they think is the best and only option available to them and leave the profession.


When this happens, we all suffer. Without some kind of professional homing device, to help direct Heads back to their true identity, their best selves, they become disorientated and believe that their only way forward is an early exit from the profession.


2. Normalisation of symptoms of dis-ease


When Heads face ‘dark nights of the soul’, issues of identity, commitment and purpose are pushed to the fore. When these are not addressed, individuals often adopt detrimental coping mechanisms. Which, if they produce results, they are often rewarded for. Our system tends to reward productivity at any costs. This is in spite of what appears to be a stronger focus on well-being from policy makers!


Nevertheless, rewarding detrimental personal behaviours only serves to cause individuals and the system as a whole to normalise symptoms of dis-ease and dysfunction. Until the system is healthy and properly rewards healthy and humane leadership, Heads will continue to leave. The ‘Sacrifice Syndrome’ and its related symptoms, burnout, stress, ill-health etc, will all be considered to be a price worth paying, if school results improve.


However, the travesty is (and many of us know it) they will not improve, while the system is riddled with sickness and ways of being that do not give due care and attention to the needs of the person in the role.


3. Loss of Meaning


From my own personal experience and from my work with Heads, I have observed that when work is without meaning or purpose, the soul suffers. It should never be that in a profession, where there is an assumption that a shared moral framework underpins everything that happens, that school leaders should feel that their role is without meaning or purpose.


Yet sadly, for too many this is the case. When individuals have found themselves in contexts where they have been robbed of any sense of autonomy or self-efficacy or their values are misaligned, any sense of meaning and purpose that would normally be derived from the leadership role is lost, and with it any desire to remain in the profession.


As the well-being agenda continues to be pushed forward in our schools and links are made with the recruitment and retention of Headteachers, we need to consider what can be done to redress what success looks like in the life of Headteachers. It is my belief, that for significant change to occur and to stem the flow of Heads from the profession, a system of support is needed that will enable Heads to contextualise their ‘results’ and their work within the bigger framework of their life and purpose.



In order to sustain high levels of personal performance, confidence and motivation (particularly amidst the challenges of School Leadership), I believe our leaders need chance to explore the questions that are of real importance to them as a person and in their roles.


They need chance to step back from the daily grind of the role and reflect on the leader they want to be, what inspires and drives them as a leader and what they need to do to keep their hope alive.


That’s why we offer our “Developing Headspace” Programme, consisting of a 2 Day “Transforming Leadership” Residential in Suffolk, Group Nurture Meals, coaching calls and a half day “Review and a Reflect” session, all designed to support and enhance Headteachers’ capacity for authentic, inspiring and sustainable leadership.


The programme hopes to offer a space for reflection and active, informed listening, for Heads to renew perspective, think strategically, build lasting networks of support and refresh the vitality of their core purpose.

Spread across three school terms, the programme includes a range of activities designed to provide on-going care, support and encouragement for Heads across the school year.


Above all, it is our aim to ensure that the programme supports school leaders in 5 key areas…


Vision: Central to all aspects of the programme are processes and ways of working individually and collectively that keep individuals anchored to their vision.

Values: Heads are supported to identify ways of being that increase alignment with themselves and their key values.

Resilience: As Heads develop a deeper understanding of how they respond to the stresses of the role, individuals are supported to develop greater degrees of emotional, psychological and vocational resilience.

A Values Network: The programme design facilitates the development of new supportive and collaborative relationships with like-minded peers.

Confidence: As individuals experience a growth in self-awareness and appreciation of their core strengths, they also experience a growth in personal conviction and increased confidence in their own abilities.

If you’d like to find out more about the programme, and how it could help support you in your role, simply follow the link below…

Learn more about the Programme


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