The Education Partners

Are leaders born or bred?

‘Surround yourself with great people; delegate authority; get out of the way.’ Ronald Reagan

Education thrives with great leadership but can quickly fall from favour when leaders lose direction or don’t create the environment for people to flourish. Leadership is about personality, courage, self-reliance, communication, motivation and risk taking to name but a few.  Whether on a national scale or down to individual organisations, leadership makes the difference between mediocrity and inspiration.

The key to effective leadership is having the confidence to give people their heads. Once the touch paper has been lit and delegation has taken place, people need to be empowered to get on with the job. Frustration in the work place is usually a consequence of people not feeling valued, professionally being put in a box, or their strengths not being recognised.

Leadership is about having the inbred skills to effectively solve problems, giving people the confidence that decisions made will ensure things operate on a higher plain. No-one is inspired by the ‘average’, everyone is inspired, whether they admit it or not by empowerment. 

We all remember an inspirational leader, they take us with them on their journey, they make us feel good about ourselves and they identify our strengths, giving us the confidence to use our skills and talents to motivate others.

Andrew Carnegie is quoted as saying ‘The first man will get the oyster, the second man gets the shell.’ Education is a pearl, the whole purpose of which is to give service to others. Leading people to value this fact is the oyster. Without that goal there is little purpose in education, and one of the problems, at least in the British education system, is that too many schools and educational leaders have lost the vision and are out of touch with what excellence is. They are left with, and exist in the shell.

I spend much of my life working with leaders in education and am often inspired and sometimes despair. Effective leaders take opportunities to instigate change, to constantly evaluate outcomes and set challenging but achievable targets. They are courageous in their decision-making and aren’t satisfied with the ordinary. The leaders of leaders use their personality, skills and vision to push boundaries in their pursuit of excellence, expecting everyone in the business to rise to challenges set. Weak leaders fail to see when things start to stagnate, accept mediocrity and lack the ability and ambition to motivate and build effective teams.

When leadership is lacking, voids appear and these fester and lead to decline. In the simplest terms, a teacher who doesn’t inspire and motivate a class is responsible for impacting negatively on individual lives. A teacher who accepts mediocrity, instead of having the expectation that every student can achieve at the very highest level, can have a direct impact on a person’s career aspirations. That is the golden nugget or perhaps burden we carry in education, and what a heavy load it can be if we have ineffective leadership. Transfer that single class to leaders of large organisations such as schools, and the very real dangers of poor leadership on the wealth and outcome of a community or even a nation is immense, particularly when multiplied by a whole educational system.

So, to answer the question ‘Are leaders born or bred?’ my view is that they are born, as without the basic characteristics and qualities expected of a leader, ‘leaders’ will fail to motivate and inspire those they expect to lead. However, those who have the potential to lead can develop their skills to become outstanding leaders by experiencing quality leadership in action, gaining an understanding of what aspects of their personal skills need honing, whilst ensuring they are surrounded by people who will challenge and question them, expecting to be treated with respect even though they may constantly challenge their leader.

The most effective leaders build effective teams, inspire people who want to make a difference and motivate others to aspire to the highest standards, often thought to be unattainable. Effective leaders instill a passion amongst stakeholders of the organisation they are involved with, whether it be a school, multinational business or a nation itself. Not everyone will be able, or in fact want to follow a great leader but if leaders don’t have the skills, born and bred, they can’t even start to walk the path to greatness that inspires others. 

Robert Cook is the Director of Adeoci, an international education consultancy specializing in school improvement, leadership support and change management. 

Following a successful career as a Head spanning 25 years, during which time all his schools were judged to be ‘Outstanding’ by inspection bodies, Robert Cook has developed a wealth of experience in establishing new, highly successful schools. He opened the UK's first Venture Capital School in London in 2010 that was judged to be Outstanding in every category by Ofsted after just 120 days of operation, transformed one of the UK's first Grant Maintained Schools into a prestigious Technology College and he has just completed his latest project, establishing Cognita’s new Independent school located in Islington, London, UK.


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