If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, then you are a leader

I want to be a successful school leader? So, what does it take to be a great school leader?

I love working with people. That may sound an obvious statement for a leader but to me its pivotal to being a great leader. For me, leadership isn’t just simply about selling an idea, engaging with people and making things happen. Leadership is about empathy, about understanding people and their motives; it’s about unlocking talent, enabling people to thrive in a context which is creative, non-threatening, purposeful and rewarding. It’s about inspiring others to be better than yourself. Great leaders surround themselves with great people who achieve wonderful things. Great leaders don’t take credit or stand and address with authority – they move forward, taking people with them.  Am I a great leader?

I personally don’t think that I’m a great leader. I like to think of myself as a leader that is continuously growing, learning and aspiring to be ‘great’. Colleague I have had the pleasure to work with will have the full spectrum of opinions of the quality of my leadership. And that brings me on to an idea – is leadership seen through the prism of different people purely subjective or are there objective criteria for great leadership? Can we prescribe what makes a great leader? Or do we view people, their attitudes, actions and behaviours and come to a judgement?  As I reach a milestone birthday, having taught for over 26 years, I have given considerable thought to what are the skills and attributes of great leadership? Leadership theories abound and the literature available to read about leadership is colossal and even overwhelming. So, what are my thoughts in the context I know best – education.?

I believe that there are key skills and attributes school leaders can learn to become great. I also believe that some people have ‘leadership qualities’ innately and can take people forward utilizing their communication skills, presence and personal charisma.

So, as a headteacher, what attributes and skills have I learnt to be an aspiring, great leader?

  • Ability to listen – if you can’t listen, you can’t learn, and great leaders are always learning
  • Show humility – nobody is perfect, leaders have imperfections – don’t pretend to be someone – be yourself
  • Enjoy being with people and learn to understand them
  • Be a thinker – where are you going? What strategies are you going to employ? How will you know you’ve arrived?
  • Don’t abuse power. Power is only powerful when you light up people
  • Be approachable not just visible
  • Be fair and show compassion – people love being loved
  • Set your standards and principles and hold on to them
  • Build relationships and grow them
  • Let go and accept mistakes/failures as part of the leadership journey
  • Don’t ever give up on people

And what have colleagues thought?

‘Colin is one of the most dedicated heads I have ever worked with. Passionate about the children in his care, determined to bring the best out of his staff, liked, respected and admired by all. His firm but fair tactics and his approachability to both staff and students alike, impressed me from day one. A man whose experience makes him worth listening to’ Stephen Dixon, Sky News Presenter

I’m proud of that description and Stephen was able to see my leadership both as an outsider and working closely with my school colleagues and students and building relationships.

A colleague who I worked with for two years described my leadership:

‘Colin is a progressive and empowering leader with a strong vision for educational and social reform, through raising aspirations and employability skills. His drive comes from seeking out innovation and valuable experiences for his clients through straight talking and solutions focused thinking. Colin is committed to outstanding results.’ Anon

Again, a positive reflection of my leadership with a strategic focus and very different to Stephen’s relationship based focus to my leadership.

Final thoughts

For me, leadership is a privilege. My own leadership capabilities are constantly evolving. I’m not by any measure a great leader yet but show some promise ! Great leaders value people and remain grounded. I aspire every day as a school leader to remain grounded – focused on what matters in schools – creating a climate for learning where all staff and children thrive, feel a sense of belonging and are all of equal value.

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