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What is leadership?

This article looks at leadership - from what might not be the best way to act as a true leader, to the very best educational leaders.

Leadership is concerned with moving people – getting them to change their position either physically, mentally or both. To do this, they need to be clear about the direction of travel.

The problem is that if the school is typical, it may not be heading anywhere – it will simply be going about its perfectly honourable business. But the implication is that the headteacher might not be leading it anywhere.

There are exceptions, of course. If the school is in trouble, it may well be that our Martian from the video is told that, ‘They’re getting us out of Special Measures’, but it’s a rare school where a possible reply is, ‘We’re on our way to becoming the best school in the area’ or, ‘We’re working to ensure that kids at the bottom end of the middle-ability range get as good a deal as we give our high attaining pupils and pupils with special educational needs.’

Headteachers don’t always act as true leaders

But we don’t need a Martian to point out that headteachers do not always act as true leaders. For example, they may:

  • Issue instructions
  • Make pronouncements
  • Report to governors
  • Attend meetings
  • Interview parents
  • Take assemblies
  • Generally act as figureheads
  • Market the school
  • Meet important people and discuss important issues

However, they are much less likely to be seen to be actively at the forefront of an overt and concerted effort to move their schools forward.

The pursuit of goals

Yet this is the core task of a real leader. Leadership is a matter of getting people to behave in a way that they would not necessarily have on their own – all in pursuit of important and articulated goals.

Sometimes, of course, such ‘real’ leaders lead their people in the wrong direction to disastrous effect, and this is as true of leaders in schools as it is of those elsewhere.

Leading the way

The very best educational leaders change both the destinies of their schools and the professional lives of their followers for the better by:

  • Acting constantly on the assumption that their central task is to check – systematically and honestly – on how well their school is discharging its key responsibilities
  • Framing and implementing improvement strategies
  • Supporting their colleagues – motivating, enabling, supporting and requiring them to engage purposefully in this process of continuous development and to subscribe to its rationale
  • Evaluating, honestly, the results of their actions

Working with this interpretation of leadership, there are some implications for methodology. As stated in the video, followers need to be moved, but being a leader is not the same as being an Alan Sugar or Donald Trump-style boss, requiring compliance, generating anxiety and yelling, ‘You’re fired!’

Instead, it involves generating commitment by not only setting a worthy direction of travel but also displaying strongly developed powers of communication and inspiration.


Bacharach, S. (2013). Leadership without presumption: Lessons from Eisenhower. Inc. Web link

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Educational Leadership: Improving Schools through Effective Leadership

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