10 (ish) secrets of leadership you don’t get taught at teachers training college…

Soo… You’re a leader working in education, which means you work with people and working with people is hard (but I guess you already know that).  It is also arguably one of the most rewarding things you can do with your life.  The leadership journey we all undertake can be related to the metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly.  Nobody ever started out as a butterfly and there are plenty of opportunities for things to go wrong along the way (you could get eaten by birds for example). Not everyone is is going to make it out on the other side as a beautiful butterfly and there is plenty of struggle along the way.  The secret is, it’s the struggle that makes you strong and it’s the fight that makes you worthy. Remember that.


You do you… I’ll do me

I put the most important one up first because it is the most important.  You do you and I’ll do me. I won’t try to do you, and don’t you try to do me (I am a much better me then you could ever be).  When it comes to leadership, everything you do, every decision you make, every interaction you have, comes from somewhere, is based on something, your values, your beliefs, who you are.  It needs to be authentic.  It needs to be real.  When we try to be someone else, or act like someone else, it is like trying to wear someone else’s clothes, they don’t fit and they are not comfortable.  Your solutions are not going to solve my problems and they can’t.  All we can do is support each other to find our own answers, solve our own problems.  When we use who we are as a resource (our values, beliefs etc), as a lens through which we engage with the world, then we can experience a sense of peace even when making the tough decisions where really there is no one right answer.  This is the idea I have the most trouble putting into practice, but that gives me the most strength when I get it right (even when I get the answer wrong, it is still my answer).  Just imagine using someone else’s solution and getting it wrong when you had one of your own that you were too afraid to use.  What’s the point of that! Everything we do has a chance of succeeding and a chance of failing (at least everything we do that is worth doing), so why not be true to yourself, act according to your values and roll the dice.

 Relationships are the key

My teaching practice is based on relationships.  Relationships are at the heart of everything I do with children and families.  I strive to get to know them deeply, to create a space where they feel comfortable to share themselves with me and to show them that I care about them.  With this relationship as a foundation I am growing my influence with these children and families.  They begin to trust me and understand that I am working in their best interests and want the best for them.  We are on the same team, so we work together and if I have an issue that is a bit tricky to talk about I can because we have the relationship.  This is teaching 101.  We all know about relationships with our children and families (or at least we should) but how many of us apply these same principles to our leadership practice with our teachers?  It is exactly the same, people need to know that you care about them if you want to have any hope of influencing them, and isn’t the whole point of leadership, influence? Convincing a group of professionals to all pull together towards a common vision?  Just remember to be yourself in the relationship.  This is my most recent learning.  I have been trying to lead at a distance, to have space between myself and my team and it doesn’t work.  It makes things worse, and now I have a hole to climb out of and all the relationship building work ahead of me.  It will take time, but it can be done.

 Know your stuff or have access to someone that does

Otherwise no one will take you seriously and why should they.  You are the bottom line and you need to make choices and decisions all the time.  It is great to make choices based on your values and beliefs (and you should) but it also has to be informed by knowledge and experience.  When you get the two together knowledge and authenticity that is when you get to sleep well at night knowing that you did the best you could with what you had.  No one can ask for any more.

 Make yourself an automatic selection

The captain of the best rugby team in the world, Richie McCaw, when talking about his leadership said that 80% of his leadership is making sure he is an automatic selection.  He has to be so good a rugby player, that it is not even a question that he will make the team and play in the next match, he is that good a player.  As leaders we act out our leadership, we rolemodel what we want from our teachers and if we are not strong in our teaching practice, how can we then ask for our teachers to be strong?  This does not mean being perfect (not possible) but don’t let your teaching practice go stale because you are so busy being a leader.  It is most likely that you were chosen to be a leader because you are a strong teacher.  Don’t forget your roots, it is probable that your identity as a teacher makes up a bit part of who you are (remember, you do you.)


It’s always better together

This is my personal mantra.  It is always better together.  I can do stuff by myself but it is never as strong or as fun or as rewarding.  When we do it together (make plans, solve problems etc) ideas come out that I would never of come up with in a million years!  I just don’t have everything, some of the answers will come from you.  When we come together with our separate knowledge, ideas and life experiences, that is when something completely new and unexpected is born.  It’s magic!  If you try to instigate something for your team to do, but you do all the planning and all the work, then you will never get their buy in, their effort, their passion and as often as not it will fail before it even gets started.  Fair warning, it is always better together.

The future is always in motion

Nothing lasts forever, the good stuff or the bad, we have no idea what tomorrow will bring.  Things could be going fantastic, recognise that this won’t last and enjoy it while it does, don’t take it for granted.  Things could be a total nightmare, recognise that this won’t last and ride it out, any situation can be tolerated for 5 mins, a day, a month (unless your health and safety are at risk, then you may need to take action).  The only thing that is certain is that everything changes.

Dream big take risks

Think back to when you were a new graduate.  Did you have some crazy ideas about the wonderful things you were going to do?  I was going to put on an art exhibit about how the image of the child is portrayed in the media (work in progress).  Ten years later it is still on my to do list, but for many years it wasn’t.  After I got into the day to day grind, I put aside my big plans and settled.  That is not who I am at all, I love taking risks and making change and driving things forward and causing a ruckus.  So now it is back on the list.  How about you?  What were your crazy dreams?  Big or small, set out to make a change in the world.  That takes courage, that takes vulnerability, but you can do it.  Maybe it will work, maybe it won’t, the only failure is in not trying.

 Choose wisely who you share yourself with

It comes back to relationships.  We all need human connection, it is part of being human, but sometimes we need something specific.  Maybe we need reassurance or acceptance or a good laugh.  Just like how you can’t buy bread at the hardware store so too you can’t expect everyone to be able to give you what you need.  Some people are the hardware store and they don’t sell milk, the message, go elsewhere, try the supermarket.  We all have special gifts and talents and we all play a different role in eachother’s lives.  If you know a person is going to dump negativity all over your exciting new ideas maybe choose a different person to share with.  I urge you to think consciously about it, who do you share with and walk away feeling good?  That is your person.  Who do you walk away from feeling bad?  Avoid them.  Maybe they are your friend for a different purpose, who knows, maybe you shouldn’t be friends with them at all.

Other people’s ideas of you have very little to do with you.

As a leader you are in the gaze of others.  People are looking at you and judging you.  They have no idea about who you are, your struggles, your journey, your why.  What other people think about you says a lot more about them, then it does about you.  It may be tempting to buy into what other people think about you, take it into your heart and assimilate it into your identity.  As humans, we strive to make connections and it’s only natural to care about what people think, but this doesn’t make them right.  Go check it out with one of the people you trust (go buy milk at the supermarket) then let it go.

Pressure turns coal into diamonds

Leadership is hard, like I said before, you are in the gaze of others and the pressure can be unbearable.  Whenever I start to feel the pressure and I wonder to myself if I am going to be able to do this, to keep going, or if I am going to start writing my letter of resignation, I remember that it is pressure that turns coal into diamonds.  I remember that in this moment, I am being shaped into a diamond.

Find your nieche you can do anything but not everything what sets you apart 

You can do anything you want!.. but not everything.  At some point you are going to have to make a choice about the direction you are going to take.  Are you going to be the world leader in future focused learning?  Or bi-culturalism?  Maybe you do the best ICT program?  You can do any of these things, but you can’t do them all.  You have to choose.  If you have a solid identity based in innovation and cutting edge leadership in something then people will choose you for that.  Be the best at something.  Choose your direction and walk.

Everyone is tired..

If they say they’re not they are lying to themselves.  Everyone is tired.  We work with people all day, everyday.  It is hard, tiring, rewarding work.  Don’t look at others with their boundless energy and wonderful projects and think they are not tired, they are.  Time and time again I have listened to personal stories of leadership, everyone is tired, everyone struggles.  It’s okay.  We live with it and put one foot in front of the other and keep going.  That’s all there is to it, keep moving forward.


So, in summary, leadership = hard + worth it (after all you are making a difference in the lives of others).  It may feel like you’re failing, it may feel like you aren’t any good at this.  What I have learnt through endless professional development courses and my own personal experience is that lots of leaders feel this way.  Very successful, inspirational leaders feel this way.  It doesn’t make the feelings or thoughts true.  They are feelings and thoughts, just passing by like clouds in the blue sky.  What would change for us if we only realised this?  You are probably a lot better at this then you realise and worst case scenario, leadership is a skill like any other and skills can be learned.

In the spirit of it’s always better together, do you have any tips you can share to make someone else’s leadership journey a little less rocky?  I would love to hear them!


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