Is there a place for humility in leadership? What does it mean? #SLTChat

Thoughts on educational leadership and management this week


First: “humility”. I used to be quite put off the subject domain of leadership as a taught subject when I was in my 20s. My disdain came from seeing largely what I perceived to be ego-driven individuals, beating their chests and proving their leadership potential by being the loudest voice in the room, or being able to down the most pints in an hour or having the funniest jokes to tell and being the life and soul of the party, or the cheekiest chappy at the bar. Although I can see why a lot of those kinds of behaviors command attention, and in some circles do gain popularity votes (especially after a sporting event perhaps), it leaves me wincing.  It also leaves a lot of people and their voices excluded too.

My personal preference was always for leaders of the Ghandi variety – or Nelson Mandela, Kofi Anan, or Antonio Gutiérrez, for example. I also admired Mo Mowlam. And Tony Benn. People with principle, values and personal integrity. They all had something to say. None of them empty kettles. Unafraid to firmly fight their corner for what they believed in, but not necessarily by charismatic means. Their message shone through for the long term, grounded in much more than flimsy, popularist, vote winning behaviors.

Fittingly, the topic of “If Humble People Make the Best Leaders, Why Do We Fall for Charismatic Narcissists?” is debated by the Harvard Business Review at

However, on the other hand, false modesty of the Uriah Heep type (“humble, humble, very, very humble” – picture it being said while bowing slightly and accompanied by the wringing of hands), is not my cup of tea either.

So where can the balance be struck? How about by just being honest? Say it as it is. Speak with a sense of audience: deep theory for Einstein audiences, and practical application for practitioners perhaps. A judicious mix of both when appropriate and relevant? Give what’s needed as and when it’s required. If it’s relevant to mention that you are an Olympic gold medalist, don’t hold back! If that fact is worthy of being mentioned for some reason, do so.

For those who are struggling, the ‘Leadership Freak’ gives 12 tips for humility in practice this week at:

On another note, emotional intelligence. All would-be school leaders will benefit from developing theirs. Not for the dark side of evil manipulation, but in order to just treat people well as the human beings they are, with a view to all getting along and playing nicely, and effectively. For emo int beginners, 8 apps are recommended at – these are mainly aimed at younger learners but are good for all beginners!

In addition to any MA level education leadership and management course you might be on, the UK’s DfE runs the National Professional Qualification for Headship (NPQH) – find out more at – this will help make your journey to SLT and headship increasingly robust.

Finally, possibly one of the best tweets of the week, by John Tomsett, whose school has just achieved outstanding status by Ofsted (perhaps to be coupled with a light hearted musical note at – just to keep Ofsted and regulatory bodies in perspective!):

john tomsett

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