Coaching & Leadership Development
July 23, 2019

The Inner Work of a School Leader

The Inner Work of a School Leader

This blog comes from International speaker, writer and “Education for the Soul” Conference keynote speaker, Mac Macartney.


Contained within the wisdom traditions of North America’s First Nation people are many teachings that relate directly to leadership. A central teaching is that of the Twin Trail.


Like so many other threads of wisdom emerging from indigenous peoples, the Twin Trail reflects a deep understanding of our human psychology. The Twin Trail refers to the inner life; that we all must attend to if we are to lead ourselves (and others) with integrity, authenticity and purpose.  It also speaks to our capacity as humans to make moral choices.


In a challenging encounter that I had with my First Nation mentors in 1998, the Twin Trail was described to me in this manner:



 “We would not trust any leader who is not committed to the Twin Trail – the inner trail of self-understanding, self-unfolding and deepening; as this is a necessary companion for the outer trail.


The outer trail concerns how we show up as leaders. It is the barometer for the depth of our inner work. The Twin Trail of leadership is built upon the knowledge that very few humans can survive the accumulation of power without becoming corrupted by it.


Hubris is the greatest challenge of all successful leaders and it grows most powerful where there is no valuing of the inner trail. The outer trail, where our behaviours impact on the world is hugely important, but without the on-going wisdom path of the inner trail, both our conscious and unconscious endeavours, may not always seek to serve the greater good.”


Commitment to the inner work


A leader’s commitment to the Twin Trail (inner work) becomes increasingly important as we progress in our careers, grow our professional reputation, find ourselves admired, and our opinion sought.


Receiving the accolades of others, and surrounded by the evidence of our success, we can, if safeguards are not in place, become increasingly susceptible to childish fantasies; imagining ourselves as different from ordinary folk and tempted to fly too close to the sun.


Many versions of the Icarus tale have led more than a few erstwhile leaders to a sad and humiliating downfall. Their descents providing salutary lessons as to what happens when the inner work is neglected.


Consciously stepping into Leadership


The potential benefits of consciously walking the twin trail are most likely to find fertile ground in the early years of an aspirant leader. Since most of us with ambition are eager learners in our younger years and there can be a tendency for this to be less so as we grow older.


The possibility of a truly successful leadership journey would be greatly assisted if we looked for ways of rewarding ‘how’ things are achieved and not only ‘what’ is achieved. The Twin Trail eschews the idea, that some of the most challenging lessons of leadership are learnt early in our careers.


It maintains that we will be most sorely tested when conversely, our Ego’s are strongest, and power and achievement can hold considerable weight in our perception of ourselves.


In order to meet these challenges and avoid the fate of Icarus, it would be advisable for individuals setting out on their leadership journey to be made aware of the cravings of the Ego. As awareness leads to an increased ability to self-regulate and prevent wings being scorched; when as a result of the Ego’s prompting, individuals have been tempted to fly too near the sun.


In education today, we have numerous examples of leaders who have followed the path of Icarus. Some have learnt their lesson, others, sadly, have not. As on-lookers, their all too public downfalls can help us to think carefully and consider the choices that we make in our day-to-day lives. Do we carry on regardless, or do we pause and consider whether;


– We could pay more attention to the inner work of being human?

– Others would benefit from more self-less acts of service?

– Our relationships would be stronger if we learnt to engage with ourselves and others differently?




On the 17th October, Mac Macartney will be joining us for our  3rd Education for the Soul Conference with a talk which will get to the heart of what it means to lead with authenticity, courage and compassion, and why this is important through these uncertain and extraordinary times.


The conference is a conscious decision by Integrity’s Director, Viv Grant, to provide a space that will assist school leaders in answering these types of questions, though paying attention to the inner work of school leadership.


The theme for the day will be “Inspiring Authentic School Leadership” and through the keynotes, panel discussions, workshops and talks we will explore how individuals can:


– 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

– Nurture a deeper self-acceptance of themselves, both their strengths and their limitations

– 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


It is our hope that those who attend will leave feeling truly inspired to embrace their unique authenticity and be equipped with the tools for bolstering their values, building their resilience and embracing their strengths and gifts.

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