Why Heads Need to Learn to Share

A while back, I attended a well-being conference for School Leaders. An OFSTED inspector was one of the guest speakers. As the School Leaders who were present aired their feelings about OFSTED and whether it was really fit for purpose, this inspector’s demeanour changed.
Initially, he confidently told the audience what he believed they should be thinking and feeling about OFSTED. But he became nervous and agitated when the audience asked him to listen to their actual thoughts and feelings.
It seemed that he was uncomfortable with the level of emotion in the room, and to have acknowledged that depth of feeling would have left him exposed and vulnerable. It is my belief that if he had dropped his guard – if only for a moment – he would have shown a more human side to OFSTED, which is what the delegates were desperate to see. Like all of us, they just wanted to be listened to.

The consequences of emotional insensitivity

When our emotional needs are not met, just as in the scenario above, we feel dehumanised and alone. We feel as though out humanity has been pushed to one side. The ability to feel, laugh, to cry to hurt can all be seen as a hinderance to one’s ability to lead effectively.
Sadly, for many Heads, spaces where they can feel, laugh, and cry are few and far between. As a result, many lead from a place of inner dissonance. Their basic emotional needs to feel accepted, appreciated, believed in, respected, listened to, valued and supported are ignored. Many suffer in silence and from a place of hidden inner turmoil and self-doubt.
When the emotional needs of Heads are not met, it is their vulnerable self that suffers. Locked away behind a wall of self-preservation and sometimes fear, individuals end up neglecting that part of themselves that needs to be truly listened to, nurtured and encouraged; that part of themselves that needs support so that they can grow fully into the vision that they have for themselves as a leader.

Making the change

As things currently stand, it may seem to many that meeting the emotional needs of Heads is an insurmountable hurdle; Heads seem to be leaving the profession in their droves, new appointments are becoming increasingly harder to fill and more and more deputies have no desire for moving further on in their careers. The message that the system appears to be sending out, is that it is incapable of meeting the human needs of the individual. It is the role that matters more and not the person inside the role.
For things to change, Heads must be supported to share more openly with one another. And by sharing, I don’t mean complaining and sharing war stories. This type of sharing only exacerbates the situation.
By sharing, I mean having quality conversations with one another about what matters most. Having conversations where individuals support one another in connecting back to their original vision, passion and purpose. Such conversations feed the soul and bring a collective strength and energy to the Headship role.
When such conversations are missing, there is a gap in the leadership discourse. A gap which more often than not is filled by the voices of those who have little understanding of the inner life of School Leaders but yet by their very presence, do much to quell its flourishing.
When Heads are supported to share with one another and have conversations where the opposite is true, they are emboldened in their quests. To coin a phrase, used by the author Simon Walker, they become “Undefended Leaders”. Individuals who have learnt what it takes to find their own voice and speak truth to power and to themselves.
This is what our system needs more of; amidst the enforced fragmentation and separation, we need Heads who are bold enough to share and bold enough to care – not just for their own integrity, but for the integrity of the system as a whole.


I truly believe that if we are to overcome the often overwhelming feelings of isolation that many School Leaders feel, then we need to get better at sharing ‘true’ stories about the cost of School Leadership. As when we do so, it helps to remind us that we are not alone and others may have shared similar experiences to our own.

The best way we can begin to do this is when we have a listening ear, someone who we can confide in and talk openly and honestly about the challenges of your role.
One of the hardest things for me as a Headteacher was finding someone to speak to like this. What I needed back then was someone impartial who really understood the challenges I was experiencing, with whom I could “drop the leadership mask” and talk openly and honestly about the issues, questions, doubts and feelings I was having in my role.
If our leaders are to sustain consistently high levels of effectiveness and develop as leaders amidst the growing emotional cost of leading, the complexity of the role and heightened pressure of being a School Leader, this form of support is not just helpful – it’s vital.
Social workers have supervision to help them process their toughest cases, and corporate executives have space for “lessons learned” and continuous improvement between projects.
Yet School Leaders remain endemically under-supported and, as a result, many leaders are left without anyone to turn to when they are in need of support, clarity, guidance or even just some encouragement to keep going.
That’s why I am now offering free “Coaching for The Soul” support calls for School Leaders to ensure that no School Leader finds themselves in the same situation as I was as a School Leader.
– Talk through the challenges you’re currently facing in your role
– Get support in locating next steps and solutions to help you overcome the issues you’re experiencing
– Reflect on recent events and the impact they have had on you as a leader and as a person.
– Gain clarity in your thoughts and your current situation

Book Your Call

 If you feel like you’d benefit from a call like this or perhaps know someone who would, please follow the link above!


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