Leadership, policy and trust

Is any individual leader bigger than the school itself ?

Nick Chaddock wonders how distributing greater responsibilities to middle leaders has affected the role of senior leadership in modern international schools.

Leaders as individuals

My mother was a Head teacher at Hob Moor school in York for a number of years in the not-too-distant past. I had the pleasure of shadowing her at work on a number of occasions. I will forever remember the day a teacher stopped me in the corridor and said “Do you know how brilliant your mum is?” I acknowledged that I did. On reflection I did not. I knew that she was a wonderful mother and I was always very proud of her – but did I know that she was a brilliant Head? I now understand the importance of good leadership and why that teacher made her point to me. However, I would like to think the importance attached to the role of a single individual in a modern school is being seen rather differently.

How is senior leadership changing?

The number of British schools franchised for overseas campuses has continued to grow over the past ten years and with them we have seen the export of British school leaders all over the world. All the original British schools share the same character traits in that they are invariably prestigious, long-established, traditional, high fee-paying, selective independent schools with prominent alumni. But, with that, do you get the same traditional leadership profile – or is that changing?

What is certainly changing is the skillset required to lead in 2024. The world today is a very different one to when my mother was a Head. I think the change in the profile of a Premier League football manager over the last ten years is a great analogy when looking at leadership in international schools today.

We have seen a move from traditional managers and leaders as ‘figureheads’ and ‘faces’ of both football clubs and schools, to leaders that know every aspect of their respective club or school and are tuned into the people they lead and what supports they need to succeed. They are comfortable on the training pitch and in the classroom, if you like.

Growing importance of middle leaders

I have always believed that middle leaders are the key to a successful international school, especially in terms of drive, initiative, innovation and staff morale. I believe that this is now truer than ever. I see a significant power shift away from senior leaders to middle leaders and teachers. I think dealing with this modern reality requires excellent interpersonal skills at the very top. If football managers and school leaders want to achieve success they have to surround themselves with incredible talent in every position. People who ask questions. They have to accept that they are no longer the sole expert in the room.

In other words, leadership is no longer just  about ‘being in charge’. Leadership is no longer about authority through rank. Leadership has evolved to prioritize the wellbeing of those under their guidance, providing them with the necessary support to excel in each of their own leadership roles.

The increasing importance of trust

According to author Rachel Botsman, trust is now the key element of leadership that is in flux. Trust is a fragile element that needs skillfully maintaining.

Trust is the social glue of relationships and it enables collaboration and innovation – without it you have neither.

Football again!

Pep Guardiola has changed the way teams play football in England, built on a belief in what he was doing and getting his players to trust him, even when things did not go well to begin with. Trust in workplaces has traditionally been institutional hierarchical trust – as a leader you expect to be trusted and that people will listen and follow you unreservedly because of your education, socioeconomic background and the title on your office door. Botsman says in this hyper-connected digitalized world these notions of trust and leadership have been left behind. Trust is no longer a given. Trust has to be earned.

Has leadership training kept up with change? What if traditional elite private schools that produce so many of our leaders are rich in intuitional trust and the expectations it brings? What if your school leader grew up in an age of institutional trust and that was part of their training and networking? We find ourselves in a world where trust is widely distributed and is no longer from a single senior source of authority. Trust today flows in all different directions through social networks and various platforms. Our peers now have an enormous influence on behaviour, work atmosphere and morale. To an old-fashioned leader this must feel very unsettling, chaotic and alien. This has clearly caused issues in international schools over the past ten years. So, what can be done about it?

Systems, policy and individuals

Rachel Botsman points to systems over individuals. She argues that robust systems and policies can withhold and withstand untrustworthy individuals. Therefore, even if your school lacks the leadership you would hope for, the school itself has a better chance of staying on track if policy is a well-established. thoughtful and respected source of guidance – part of the ‘way we do things here’.

Individual leadership and institutional continuity

Did I know my mother was a brilliant Head at the time? No, I did not. Do I know what a brilliant Head amounts to today? Yes, I think I do. But the point is – the quality of personal leadership should not now be the only thing that makes a difference in your school.

Fluctuations and constant evolution within the international teaching landscape should not compromise the quality of the schools we work in. Safeguarding against changes designed to cater solely to incoming management and their resumes is a crucial facet of a resilient system in an international school.

Staff, students and parents need to be able to put their trust in systems and policies. When Pep Guardiola eventually leaves Manchester City I certainly do not expect the club to undergo sweeping changes and neither will their supporters.


Nick Chaddock

Nick is from York in the UK, and currently works at North London Collegiate School on Jeju island in South Korea, specialising in second language pedagogy and the acquisition of academic English.



Further reading in ITM:

Empowering middle leaders

FEATURE IMAGE: by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Support Images: by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 

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