The Essence of Inner Leadership and Its Crucial Role in Supporting the Personal Development of MAT CEOs & Headteachers

In the ever-evolving landscape of education, the roles of Headteachers and MAT CEOs stand as pillars of leadership. Daily, we observe how individuals who are called into these roles navigate the increasing complexities of life within educational institutions.

Whether you’re a seasoned Headteacher or a MAT CEO, this blog is an invitation to stop, pause and reflect on your role and the person you are becoming as you learn to lean into the inevitable areas of stretch and discomfort that always accompany positions where the weight of responsibility hangs heavy.

My interest as a coach has always been in the inner work that individuals must undertake whenever they step into new roles. I believe that every individual who takes on the mantle of MAT or school leadership crosses a threshold. It is a threshold that calls them into a deeper relationship with themselves and a further actualising of their gifts and talents. But without support mechanisms that actively and explicitly address the fundamentals of Inner Leadership, many fall short of achieving all they first dreamed of when they stepped into their roles.

As such, this blog explores the theme of inner leadership and its crucial role in enabling Heads and MAT CEOs to overcome the challenges of their roles and fulfil the vision that they hold for themselves and others.

What is Inner Leadership?

Inner Leadership is not just a concept; it’s a beacon guiding school leaders through the intricate web of personal, professional, and organisational growth. It’s the recognition of the profound link between external outcomes and the journey of self-discovery that every school leader embarks upon.

Despite its significance, the inner journey of MAT and school leadership often remains unacknowledged. When challenges arise, leaders may perceive their responses as personal shortcomings. However, these challenges serve as signposts directing individuals toward aspects of themselves that necessitate growth. It’s about evolving psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually to better navigate the complexities of modern MAT and school leadership.

I believe the education sector needs a better understanding of the inner journey. As a result of neo-liberal approaches to education policy over the past decade or more, external markers like accolades and titles overshadow the importance of inner development. And there has been a cost. We have all paid a price for a fragmented system lacking cohesion and connection at all levels.

Has the price been worth it? I think not.

Rarely do we ask: What is the inner landscape of a school leader, and how does it shape their impact on others? Instead, we rely on superficial approaches to leadership development, leaving leaders adrift and pointing to support that only deals with the personal complexities of school leadership from the surface.

Our education system perpetuates a culture of superficiality, where persona prevails over authenticity, and depth remains elusive. To lead meaningful lives and inspire others, MAT CEOs and Headteachers must embrace inner leadership wholeheartedly. They must confront life’s crucible experiences and, in so doing, discover how to extract wisdom from adversity.

So, what impedes school leaders from embracing this path?

The journey of inner leadership has been called “The road less travelled” for a reason. It challenges the status quo, disrupting comfort zones and societal norms. By choosing this path, leaders not only confront the uncomfortable truths that lie beneath the surface, unsettling established systems of inequity and injustice, but they also confront their own shadows, aspects of themselves that also need to be challenged and faced head-on so that new growth can occur.

Why does this matter for school leadership?

Leading a school or a Multi-Academy Trust (MAT) is undeniably daunting. Having served as a Headteacher and now supporting MAT CEOs and Headteachers, I’ve witnessed the profound impact of unforeseen challenges. When the ground shifts beneath individuals, the world turns upside down, forcing individuals to rediscover themselves amidst the chaos.

In such moments of upheaval, what leaders truly need is support that encourages introspection and self-discovery. It’s about navigating the unfamiliar terrain of change by delving into the depths of one’s internal landscape.

Unfortunately, our support systems often fall short, clinging to outdated school improvement and CPD norms. One need only look at the raft of NPQs to see that inner leadership is a much-neglected aspect of any training for future leaders.

These outdated modes of CPD fail to acknowledge the intrinsic link between individuals’ inner and outer worlds. What needs to be recognised is that inner leadership isn’t a simple concept; it’s a fundamental lifeline for MAT CEOs and Headteachers navigating the complexities of their roles. It’s about cultivating relational spaces that enable individuals in these roles to embrace vulnerability and confront discomfort so that they can emerge stronger, wiser, and better equipped to help create better tomorrows for all our children.

We need to dream a bigger dream

We need to imagine what could be as we look to the future, with whispers of change should we have a new government. We must take the development needs of our nation’s MAT and school leaders more seriously. We must consider leadership well-being, recruitment and retention within a much wider paradigm, and recognise that our MAT and school leaders will only stay when their deeper needs are attended to and that they are not made to feel guilty, weak, or incapable when requesting support of this nature.

Always here to help…

It’s my hope that if any of what I have shared here resonates and you feel inspired to go on a deeper leadership journey, then you’ll book in call with us to see whether we can be of help.

We’re passionate about our sector and are determined to help all those who recognise the call of Inner Leadership, to travel with the necessary support and assistance.

So, if you’d like to book a call to discuss any of our services, click below:


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