3 Ways to Develop your Leadership Skills


“Leadership is a function of knowing yourself, having a vision that is well communicated, building trust among colleagues, and taking effective action to realise your own potential”


Warren Bennis

This is one of my favourite leadership quotes as more often than not, when I use it when I am delivering training with Heads, I get somewhat of a quizzical look, when I ask, “What development needs will you need to have met in order to realise your own potential?”
If I ask them about the development needs of their staff, the responses are usually fast and furious. So accustomed are they to coming up with solutions and strategies for meeting other people’s development needs. But when it comes to the meeting of their own, they are often stumped. This shouldn’t be the case. Every Head teacher, whether new in post or well-established needs to understand that above and beyond courses that support the operational and strategic aspects of running a school, there are a myriad of other leadership development needs that must be met to facilitate a holistic approach to their own growth and development in the role.
Of the many types of leadership development needs that Heads, there are 3 that are absolutely fundamental…

1. Leadership development that increases Emotional Intelligence

If you are familiar with the work of Daniel Goleman, you will be familiar with his four components of Emotional Intelligence:
1.  Self-awareness – This is the ability to read your own emotions. It is a competency that allows people to know their strengths, limitations and feel confident about their self-worth. Effective Headteachers use self-awareness to gauge their own moods accurately and they intuitively know how they are affecting others.
2. Self-management – This is the ability to control your emotions and act with honesty and integrity in reliable and adaptable ways. Effective Headteachers don’t let their occasional bad moods seize the day. They use self-management to leave their bad moods outside the school gates or to explain their source to people in a reasonable manner, so they know their origin.
3. Social Awareness – This includes the key capabilities of empathy and organisational intuition. School leaders with a high level of social awareness do more than sense other people’s emotions, they show that they care. In addition, they understand the ‘politics’ of their schools and the wider context. Thus, Headteachers understand how their words and actions make others feel, and they are sensitive enough to change them when the impact is negative.
4. Relationship Management – This includes the abilities to communicate clearly and convincingly, disarm conflicts and build strong personal bonds. Effective Headteachers use these skills to spread their enthusiasm and solve disagreements, often with humour and kindness.
These are the four components that all successful Headteachers need if they are to survive and thrive. If you have been in Headship for a while and have attended various leadership training programmes, I am sure you will have completed some sort of emotional intelligence assessment or undertaken a workshop or two.
However, I am sure you will also testify that an assessment or workshop is only the beginning. My experience has taught me (and perhaps yours has too) that developing our levels of emotional intelligence is often a very personal and private process. We develop these competencies and strengthen our ability to use them, only when we engage in leadership development that enables us to understand how our thoughts, feelings and behaviours impact upon the vision that we have for ourselves and our relationships with others.

 2. Leadership development that builds resilience

Resilience is something that every Head teacher needs, but many are poorly supported to develop the habits that will sustain them through the toughest of times. Below, are some key resilience building steps from an Integrity Coaching Associate, Mary Evans;
1. Have time each day just to “be” –the chance to experience silence and stillness, and to be in touch with nature in some way. Some people find Mindfulness practice or meditation useful.
2. Know what restores your energy battery and how to build up some spare capacity so you are not running on empty when the unforeseen demands hit!
3. Have a sense of internal purpose that gives your life meaning – this strong commitment to an external goal, which is in line with your own values, is certainly important for School Leaders to remain resilient.
4. Be open to learning about yourself. This includes developing self-awareness, accepting who and how you are, having a sound belief in your own judgement and developing the ability to be objective and to step aside to reflect.
5. Work with others and ask for help, also delegate, but have sufficient independence to hang onto your sense of OK when you meet personal challenges.
In addition to these five things, seek to be both optimistic and pragmatic, moving on rather than dwelling on things, taking responsibility rather than blaming others and having a sense of humour. In summary it is important to check in regularly (probably daily) with your own energy level and how resilient you are feeling and what you can do to shift things in the right direction.

3. Leadership development that nurtures greater self-understanding

Headteachers that pursue this type of leadership development understand that change begins with themselves. They recognise that their own personal lens through which they observe and interpret the world, may have a whole range of flaws.
They recognise that our growth into adulthood, has meant that we have often had to make adaptations to fit in. They recognise that in order to fulfil their potential, they need to review what these adaptations may have been and whether they have promoted their growth or stunted it. Familiar adaptations show up in our relationships and in how we lead ourselves and others:
– An inability to say “No” can be an adaptation where growing up the individual ‘learnt’ that if they said “Yes” they were seen as being more pleasing or agreeable to others
– An over pre-occupation with detail can be an adaptation where growing up the individual ‘learnt’ that if they got things ‘right’ no harm would come to them or they were seen as being ‘good/worthy”
– Internalising of emotions can be an adaptation where growing up the individual ‘learnt’ that they were safe if they didn’t express their feelings or rock the boat.
And there are many more. The point is leadership development that seeks to raise a Head teacher’s self-awareness, can help to uncover blind-spots, that if left uncovered may seriously damage their leadership.
Such support involves;

“Not denying, distorting, exaggerating or ignoring private knowledge, internal experiences and externally based information”

(The Leadership Quarterly – 2005)

Quite simply, this form of leadership development that supports the Head teacher to have both a honest relationship with self and with others is crucial.
Every leader needs opportunities to step back and reflect on this and their own leadership, as when they do so they become more adept at learning lessons from experience, leading themselves in more supportive ways and refining the way they go about their roles.
What’s more by giving themselves a chance to stop, pause and reflect, they create invaluable opportunities where they can re-energise, re-focus on what they want to achieve, re-connect with what drives them and above all, plot how they are going about to achieve our vision. Particularly amidst the growing emotional cost of leading, the complexity of the role and heightened pressure of being a School Leader – this is essential to sustaining high levels of leadership effectiveness and staying in Headship for the long-haul.

Without a doubt the pandemic brought many unexpected challenges for us all. However, one of the silver linings of the past two years has been a heightened awareness of what matters most for all of us. We learnt:

– The value of community

– The need to stay connected

– The importance of being supported

We also learnt that deeper connections matter, none of us can survive alone and to thrive and overcome the challenges of leadership life we need real, deep, and meaningful connections with others.

That’s why we have launched our new “Heads Together”, a new School Leadership community, designed to connect like-minded school-leaders and to provide a watering hole for inspiration, encouragement and support.

Our “Heads Together” Community is designed to provide School Leaders with:

– A vital network of support to help individuals manage the emotional strains and stresses of the role

– Collaborative forums for thoughtful exploration around timely and important leadership themes

– Inspiration and encouragement throughout the year to help keep leaders’ passion and purpose alive

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

Learn more



Leave a Reply