The three disciplines of great school leaders

Integrity Coaching’s second ‘Education for the Soul’ conference will look at creating ‘new narratives for the school leader’s journey’

Our schools will always need great leaders. Individuals who possess deep levels of courage, tenacity and integrity, and are willing to take on the often very heavy mantle of school leadership. With a continuing decline in the number of teachers putting themselves forward for leadership roles, we need to take a long hard look at what can be done to maintain the commitment of those who have taken a step up the ladder.

Strategies need to be considered that address the person within the role and, “evoke the inner life of activities that cultivate their capacity to lead with greater consciousness, self-awareness and integrity” (Parker J Palmer). When such strategies are in place, an individual’s capacity for being ‘great’ is increased and they are able to maintain an upward trajectory towards self-actualisation. This trajectory is maintained through the development of three key disciplines that are integral to the way in which they lead themselves and others.

Discipline 1: They keep connected to their personal vision

Great school leaders know that without a strong and secure sense of who they are and how they wish to be seen, the impact of their leadership can be seriously undermined. They know that amidst the myriad of opinions and voices offering advice and telling them what to do, they need to know when to turn down the volume and listen to their own voice. They know that the ability to do so keeps them connected to their personal vision, it keeps them connected to their ‘why’, and in so doing ensures that any decisions they do make are aligned to who they are and how they wish to be seen.

Discipline 2: They ask questions of themselves

Great school leaders know that it is not enough to ask questions of others in their endeavour to create good and outstanding schools. They know that they must also ask questions of themselves: the questions that they know others would not dare to ask of them, but nevertheless they know that they must dare to ask of themselves.

They know they must ask questions about their hidden fears, their limitations, their biases and their emotional responses to the challenges of the role. They face up to asking these questions because they know that in doing so, they will find answers that will strengthen their leadership and their capacity for growing in the role.

Discipline 3: They take risks

Great school leaders are not afraid of failure. They are not afraid of stepping out into the unknown. They are not foolhardy in their decision-making, neither are they unconsciously influenced by the unmet needs of their ego. Instead, they are guided by their strong moral purpose. The risks that they take are guided by what they believe to be right or wrong and they understand that, paradoxically, the right thing to do is not always the easiest thing to do. As a result, the risks that they take enable them to grow in both character and wisdom. They are leaders that others look up to and trust, because they demonstrate that great leadership is not a popularity contest, but a selfless quest carried out in the service of others.

Helping school leaders to develop these disciplines

On 18 October, Integrity Coaching will be hosting its second ‘Education for the Soul’ conference in London. The theme for this year’s conference is creating ‘new narratives for the school leader’s journey’. Within the spirit of seeking to bring humanity back into education, the conference will provide a collegial meeting place where school leaders can consider how to build these disciplines and see that they are not alone with the challenges they face. 

Further conference details can be found by visiting



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