13 Dec

What are the qualities one needs to be a leader? This is a question I have reflected on much in the past, and more so now I am in education. Just as in the corporate world, education has its own share of “leaders” who can quote the latest book they have read; which often comes from someone who has shared a bunch of twee Pinterest quotes pulled together like “Live Laugh Love” transfers on the wall of life. The best leaders will be the ones that embody these values, and strive to be better through constant reflection.

There’s much that can be brought from ocean of experience outside of education into our small pond; often we fail to do this as we are an institutionalised and often insular profession. Progressive leaders need to seek out opportunities for personal development through personal reflection. It means having the humility to admit you aren’t the expert in the room, no matter your status, and the willingness to grow as an individual. That journey is almost spiritual in its nature.

I have five pillars of thought that underpin leadership for me:

Trust: To succeed, you have to learn to sacrifice control in order to lead. You need to trust those around you to be able to do their job and get on with the task in hand. A leader is not someone that oversees each intricate detail of a what needs to be done. Your team will appreciate this, and will respond far better than they will to micro-management. The most effective leaders know they need to step back and oversee a situation, lest they are bogged down to the extent that they cannot see the full picture. One must learn to rely less on control; delegate and trust in order to lead more.

Context and Consequence: While you are busy making your department the best, striving for the top results in the school, what is happening around you? If you are telling students that your subject is the most important, demanding that they come to your after-school intervention, or telling them that you will move them down a set to a class away from their peers because they haven’t favoured your subject over revision elsewhere, what are the consequences for the school outside of your department? If your school has a problem with raising literacy standards, are you only worried about how much these students understand about photosynthesis or the how Henry VIII was desperate for a male heir? Your context and the consequences of your leadership must play into your role as a leader. You must understand this, and adapt to the needs of the school, to improve outcomes across the board, not just in the factors that affect your own performance management review. All of this is neatly summed up by ‘Think to the finish’, Allenby’s famous adage, passed on to me whilst in the Army. I cannot better that.

Competence: I am not the best person to talk about teaching and learning. I know a bit, I keep up-to-date, and I engage in conversations with others that would out-box me if we were to step into a metaphorical ring together. I haven’t been exposed to the systems in place within education at a level high enough to fully understand how these impact on one another; there is always someone that has a better grasp of the rules of the game, that they would outsmart me should we sit together like a chess grand master playing a pigeon. Likewise, with three years in the job, there will be those who assert that I need a decade under my belt to prove I can do the job. As someone that knew how everything worked in their previous sector, this is really frustrating; yet being the expert in all of these areas is not critical for leadership – these are incredibly important for strategic management, where a firm grasp of the minutia of every detail is needed. What is needed to lead is to be good at these things, thus good at your job. This is what gains the buy-in from your team, from leaders around you and above you.

Development: The best leaders do not wait to be told what CPD is needed for themselves or their department. They are forward-facing when it comes to this, and critical of what they are prepared to use in training their teams. How often do we sit in whole-school CPD when departmental-CPD would have been more appropriate? Why are we not collaborating with other subjects, or even nearby schools to provide opportunities for collaboration in order to develop ourselves? We need to be open to changing planned CPD, and less invested in a prescribed programme that needs to be followed. Keep your core stuff, but seek out new avenues for developing yourself and your team.

This also means developing and investing in those who need it. Not a need through ability per se, but the desire to “fill their bucket” and gain the experience to become a leader themselves. Novice-leaders need time to shadow those more experienced, ask questions, and learn from our experience.


I came across this on the wall outside the staff room of Ryde Academy while I was on the Teach First Insight Programme – It resonates with me.

Integrity: For me, integrity is everything. Trust takes time to build, yet a preceding reputation is the one thing we can establish over time, and integrity is the only thing that will ensure that it is protected when moving between ‘bubbles’.

How do you ensure your integrity? I was taught “Do as you ought, not as you want” as an Army Non-Commissioned Officer. Quite simply; servant leadership – subordinate your own needs and wants, to ensure appropriate and prioritised action. The standard that you walk by is the standard that you accept; one must lead by and through example. A Leader must strive to do the correct thing at all times, however difficult or unpleasant it may be. There will be times when difficult and unpopular decisions are called for. The manner in which these decisions are made are noticed by all. The things that leaders do, and importantly, those they do not do are always noticed.

We must nurture and forgive; remember this is more important than simply taking a job off someone because it wasn’t done perfectly to your liking – we learn from mistakes in leadership as much as our successes. Likewise, humility goes a long way. Being able to admit you don’t know the answer, or that you aren’t the expert is hard to do, but instantly buys you credibility. Finally, honesty is crucial. If you promise something, or make a commitment, follow through with it. Never make a promise you cannot keep. It will cost your integrity dearly.


Major General Patrick Marriott CB, CBE, DL – The man that influenced so much of my leadership development while the Commanding Officer of The Queens Royal Lancers. When this man brings you a cuppa at 1am, because you are repairing one of his tanks, you instantly had respect for him.

I think the thing that has remained with me from my time as a novice-leader was the act of servant leadership. It works for me completely. The servant-leader enables others to succeed, and to thrive. That is what Leadership boils down to for me. Leadership is about achieving success, and you do what is needed to see that happen. That could be ensuring your troops are fed before you; making a brew for everyone at break. It might involve covering them internally so that they are able to observe someone that excels in an area of practice, and admitting they are the best person for that job. Above all, remembering that we are “all one community”, and our successes and failures are borne on the shoulders of those we lead; none of us arrive where we are through our own work alone.

 Originally posted in the "pintsizedpedagogy" wordpress blog - July 2020  

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