Though there has been research into leadership styles, if we’re all self-aware enough, we cannot ignore the extent to which our most dominant personality traits inevitably lean us towards a particular style of leadership.
Throughout my career, I have recognised several personality-based leadership styles in education, all of which have their pros and cons. There are many ways to define these types of leadership but this is how I have defined them.
Many of us will find ourselves leaning towards one or several of these. However, as with all types of leadership styles, they are only problematic when used in isolation. We must learn to embrace and understand them, because these traits are part of who we are and are a vital component of authentic leadership.
Types of leadership:
The ‘micro-manager’ is rooted in control. Leaders who are naturally organised and methodical may find themselves leaning towards this style. The style has its benefits (so long as it isn’t used excessively).
Less experienced staff may appreciate the ‘scaffolded’ support in a new role; more experienced staff may appreciate the clarity regarding expectations at a time of the year where taking the initiative is simply too exhausting. However, the danger with this style is that it can lead to staff feeling disempowered, and consequently becoming resentful, frustrated, and even deskilled.
Next, we have the ‘warrior-leader’. Leaders who are naturally energetic, confident and honest may find themselves drawn to this style.
These leaders are often very well-liked and command a huge amount of loyalty from staff, as they are often considered ‘one of the gang’, and their motivational approach to ‘rallying the troops’ can be incredibly energising, especially for younger staff.
However, this style of leadership in education can have a tendency to lean towards staff becoming almost dependent on the leader’s presence around the school to feel motivated. In addition, for those members of staff with a more sensitive disposition, the style can feel intimidating and alienating.
Another type of leadership is the ‘careerist-leader’. These are leaders who are naturally ambitious, single-minded, relentless, and uncompromising. The benefit here is that they can be hugely effective – generally, they will make career moves quickly, and thus need to make an impact as quickly as possible to prepare for the next promotion.
These leaders are generally politically aware and thus able to confidently navigate the political landscape of a large multi-academy-trust. However, staff may struggle to align the leader’s moral purpose with the leader’s own personal ambition. Without clear vision and values, staff may have cause to question the ethics and authenticity of the leader, causing issues with trust and, ultimately, ‘buy-in’.
4. Good-guy leader
The final type of leadership style in education I will write about is the ‘good-guy-leader’. Leaders who are naturally personable, thoughtful, empathetic and sensitive may find that they are prone to using this style. As with the ‘warrior-leader’, these leaders are often well-liked by staff.
The leader will tend to make decisions based on over-all consensus, taking into account others’ views and empowering others. Thus, this style of leadership in school is effective in building sustainability in leadership. This leader may favour a nurturing and supportive approach to performance management and staff development, improving attendance of staff and wellbeing.
However, the pitfalls are that they may be reluctant to challenge under performance and may enable poor practice to continue for far too long. This may lead to a decline in standards, with staff ultimately losing confidence in the abilities of the leader.
We owe it to our students to refine and improve our leadership styles in schools, drawing on other leadership styles (directive, visonary, cooperative and so on) to adapt our approach depending on the situation. This self-awareness is absolutely vital, so that we can recognise the ‘triggers’ that cause us to revert to the ‘unfiltered’ version of our default style and thus avoid the pitfalls.
We can never simply accept these default leadership styles in education without question, because in leadership it is never okay to ‘just be ourselves’, because we owe it to our students to be the ‘best version of ourselves’. So, yes, be yourself - but be better.
This article originally appeared on the website of the Ambition School Leadership. In March 2019 the Institute for Teaching merged with Ambition School Leadership to form Ambition Institute.