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Leadership Strategies and Skills

Leadership Strategies and Skills

Defining the attributes of great leaders whether inspirational, transformational, charismatic or simply a safe pair of hands is a constant focus of many educators and commentators.

 In the current climate, what we do know is that we, as leaders, cannot maintain the educational status quo and continue to operate in the same way, implement the same outdated curricula and promote the traditional roles of ‘teacher’ and ‘student’, whereby ‘teacher’ is the only source of knowledge within the walls of the building we call, ‘school’.

This is also true of leadership, where it is argued that the lone ‘Command and Control’ leader is also a thing of the past.  Today, emotionally intelligent leaders must empower and enable high performing teams, ensuring all members are motivated, engaged and free to be creative.

Leadership can be defined as a form of social influence whereby one person engages the help and support of others in a particular task or tasks. Leaders create a shared vision and purpose, providing the direction of travel for an educational community, but it is a journey that they cannot take alone. Everyone must own the vision and the team of builders bring their own skillset, competences, and knowledge to create the desired culture. A culture where purpose sits at the heart, where every member of the community can see the desired outcomes, can take risks and can embrace failure as a necessary step to success. When leaders and teachers can do this, they become excellent role models for students, who are able to recognize perseverance and grit. School leaders must proactively lead in the face of technological disruption, alongside securing excellent learning outcomes for students, placing innovation at the centre, ensuring that every learner enjoys a personalised approach in an environment that supports a variety of learning pedagogies and with a focus on the wellbeing of every member of the community.

The great paradigm shifts in education caused by a combination of the digital revolution and the pandemic, marked a historic moment in educational leadership. However, it appears that many schools are reverting to the ‘old normal’, the pre-Covid practices, instead of boldly leading educators into the next stage of the revolution, the brave new world. Some leaders have seemingly maintained their preferred style of leadership, quickly moving back to operating in a traditional way, in traditional spaces with traditional stereotypical roles. The leadership style that educators advocate has a significant effect on the organizational climate, school culture and can have a ‘profound effect on motivation and staff morale.’ (Goleman)

But as we all know, technology has continued to disrupt education and more astute leaders are dealing with a known skills and capability gap so that students can access a relevant future-focused education. Education must herald leaders who can provide everyone with continuous professional development for skills but must also ensure that the team are able to also exhibit flexibility in their approaches, whether utilizing blended learning or team -teaching with colleagues to enhance experiences for learners. This is where agility must be developed throughout the organization, for every member of the team, with agile leaders best placed to do this.

‘Individuals with emotional agility…can help reduce mistakes, cope with stress, increase workforce and adopt a more imaginative relationship between learning agility and performance.’ (Goleman 2017)

Of course, agile change-makers are the rock stars of education today, those able to change their educational world from within for the benefit of the whole school community.

‘There is a state of complexity in ‘the now’, a continuous confluence of changes.’  Gamwell and Daly 2017.

Leading change in disruptive times is a complex activity, requiring leaders to both stimulate and manage change, and make decisions based on the best possible course of action.

As Professor Julian Birkinshaw asserted in 2016, ‘we have entered the age of Agile.’  There is a mindset that is associated with this new generation of leader, ‘an agile mindset’. (UNESCO)

Carol Dweck, through her research on ‘fixed’ and ‘growth’ mindsets, coined the term. Agility can be linked to Dweck’s ‘growth’ mindset (Dweck) and to Douglas McGregor’s ‘Theory Y’ which also emphasizes high trust and freedom to follow the processes and protocols that one would expect without direction. ‘Trust the People; Trust the Process.’(US Football Mantra)

The term, ‘agile’ leader is now being applied (Bernard and Lemoine 2014) within the educational landscape and there is much discussion about ‘agile leadership’ and the skills and attributes needed to lead when change is continuous and there is leaders have to pivot quickly and skillfully dependent on context and need. Agile leaders are flexible, emotionally intelligent, promote a culture of experimentation, of risk and continuous learning. The well-worn definitions of distinct leadership styles seem to have become combined in the agile leader.

‘Effective leaders are able to weigh up a situation and make decisions based on the best way forward and they apply the most appropriate leadership style.’ (Goleman;D)

Goleman emphasizes the importance of emotional intelligence and the strengths that leaders must have such as being able to motivate the team; being self-aware and being able to self-regulate as well as showing empathy and exhibiting sharpened social skills. Of equal importance is trust. Trusting the team is key and great leaders know their people will ‘do the right thing.’

Leaders become collaborators, joining their teams to co-construct and employ the ‘sweet spot’ of each team member, the talent of those around them in dealing with any situation.

Interestingly, in The Journal of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, research has shown that individuals, exhibiting the attributes, traits, and characteristics of agile leadership, positively affected teachers’ performance. Therefore agile leaders are much sought after in the educational workspace.

As Dr. Simon Breakspear asserts, ‘Agile leaders… don’t expect rapid large-scale transformation whereby change happens through one big surge. Rather they aim to make small, critical changes that they can improve through disciplined action….agile leaders know and embrace the realization that improvement is not an event , but rather a collective journey… of getting better all the time-with no true end.’

This is the mantra of any agile leader operating in the current educational space. Long may the era of Agile last.

Bibliography Goleman, D., Langer, E., David, & Congleton, C. (2017). Mindfulness (HBR emotional intelligence series). Harvard Business Press.

Gamwell P, and Daly J. 2017. A funny thing happened on the way to the future. In The Wonder Wall, Corwin Press, Thousand Oaks, California. pp. 15–32.


Bennett, N.,&  Lemoine,  G.  J.  (2014).  What  a  difference a  word  makes: Understanding  threats  to  performance  in  a  VUCA  world. Business Horizons, 57(3), 311-317

. Yalçin, Elif, and Mustafa Özgenel. "The Effect of Agile Leadership on Teachers' Professional Development and Performance." Journal of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies 5 (2021). . Southern Connecticut State University

Breakspear, S. (2017). Embracing Agile Leadership for Learning : how leaders can create impact despite growing complexity. Australian Educational Leader; v.39 n.3 p.68-71; September 2017, 39(3), 68–71.


Tracy Moxley, Executive Principal, Citizens School