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How do you choose what type of leader to be for your school?

In many cultures in the modern world, having a leadership position often involves doing less and being served more. It can mean using others for the leader’s own gain.

Whilst the world generally teaches that leaders must be mighty, the wise know that they must be generally meek.

Worldly leaders gain power and influence through their talent, skill, and wealth. Prudent leaders gain power and influence by persuasion, by aligning people to a vision, and anchoring it in moral purpose.

Of course we see many leaders who crave public recognition, measuring themselves by applause, awards, promotions and financial reward. Today, we live in a world centred on individual success and wealth. We often hear that the ultimate goal in life is to be the best, the richest, or the most famous. Advertising hawks it, television and social media reinforce it, business and government leaders tweet it. So it’s not surprising to then find careerists in school leadership positions spouting the expected rhetoric of 'improving education' or 'elevating the student experience’ while their heart’s compass is actually set on self-aggrandisement as an end in itself.

Which type of school leader do you choose to be? Which type does the school need?

The 'Surgeon' style of leader defaults to the quick fix plan and will then bask in the recognition of having culled low-performing staff and low-scoring students and the cut budgets, to give their school a dramatic short-term performance lift.

They are often also rewarded with bonuses, promotions, titles, and frequently receive new assignments to repeat their magical effect at other schools requiring turnaround. They and others can be drawn in by the cult of apparent success. Yet this Surgeon doesn't typically stay at a school long enough to manage it onwards once their initial cuts are made.

After they move on, the incoming headteacher can inherit a school where the staff are dispirited and defensive, paranoid about job security, frustrated at having to do more with less, voiceless and undervalued.

The school's governors can be, shall we say, less than supportive of their new head. How so? They enjoyed how the previous leader bent up the grade curve as they saved on spending but those trend rates don’t continue under their new leader. They fail to spot how the Surgeon’s approach is 'slash and burn' akin to what a logging company produces when it focuses on short-term output yet without a sustainability strategy. It doesn’t take long before a denuded forest's loss of wildlife and biodiversity leads to gaps in the food chain, to soil erosion and dust clouds. Green turns to brown. Before long all the board of governors and senior leaders have to preside over is a desert . . . on special measures.

The Architect style of leader takes a different approach. Unapologetically a servant-leader, they focus away from themselves and on the greater good with a longer-term, evidently systemic approach, incrementally but solidly lifting school performance. They not only improve both staff effectiveness and student results, but do so in a way that isn't personality-dependent. Most impressively, their schools continue to flourish for years after their tenure ends.

The good news is that these school leader types are now understood and the insight gained is being applied intentionally by heads, Governors are collaborating to meet the school’s goals with whoever is currently in charge or by appointing the right head for their context.

With the ground-breaking research that featured on BBC Newsnight (Nov 2016) and the published in Harvard Business Review (2016, 2017), the official ‘Architect Leader’ school leader development programmes for current and aspiring school leaders provide governors, school heads and senior leadership teams with tertiary education, use-now tools and in-role coaching. To make a profound and lasting impact on your schools, students and communities, choose the type of school leader to be.

#ThisIsaMovement. This year’ The Schools and Academies Show in (NEC Birmingham UK 13th-14th November 2019) will explore The Architect Leader revolution in British schools and show how you can get behind it as part of your school's 2020 vision.

Based in Melbourne Australia, Nic Read is a founding director and lead mentor of The Architect Leader worldwide.

Learn more at or by talking with Ian Hilton-Turvey on 01905-617-871 (

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