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How to be an effective leader

The topic of the week is Arnie Skelton on Leadership.


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Arnie Skelton joined us this week to talk about leadership.

With a background in Further Education teaching, Arnie branched out on his own in 1990 by setting up his own business and now works with various sectors on leadership, mentoring, coaching and a number of other development activities.Arnie starts with what leadership is. He wonders if leadership is a position, a set of qualities or both.

ArniePositional leadership

This creates a set of expectations – the leader sets the tone, provides clarity and sets the tone and direction in terms of core values and behaviours. The ‘head’ has
to lead internally but also externally.

Distributed leadership

This can be seen as independent of anyone’s formal position or role. Anyone can be and perhaps should be a leader. In a teaching position you are modelling your behaviours to your students – you are leading by example. So it’s inevitable that we are all leaders.

Paul asks if educational establishments can run without the post of ‘Head’. Arnie believes they can. There are examples of distributed or team leadership where the team is very good at managing itself. There has to be a commitment to doing that and a shared set of skills. This won’t be the right model for all institutions, however. Some people like to be led.

Charisma vs. learning to lead

Paul asks how much can be learned in leadership. Arnie thinks some people are naturally more wired for leadership than others. A large part of what makes a good leaders can be acquired either formally or informally. Many great leaders say that their upbringing helped to form their leadership skills and style – they develop from experience, from circumstance.

In leadership, you either step up or you step out.

To be an effective leader you need to be prepared to make the first move. Paul says that he doesn’t think he learned much from the ‘charisma’ leaders he has worked for. Those leaders who delegated more responsibility and worked more collaboratively enabled him to learn a lot more about leadership himself.

Arnie points out that the situation you are in can make different kinds of leaders more appropriate than others. If you are in a burning building you want the kind of leader who takes control. A really good leader knows how to lead according to the situation – when to lead from the front and when to coach from the back.

Paul agrees and says there are different school leaders who are great at rescuing a school form crisis but are not as good at developing one from calm to excellence. Specialist leaders move on when they know they are better used elsewhere and someone else can come in to continue the development.

Arnie mentions what he calls the ‘Enterprise Team’. A team comprised of individuals who all have different skills and talents can be highly effective. You might have:

  • someone with a vision
  • somone with a solution to make the vision a reality
  • someone to be a champion or enthusiast to sell the vision to people
  • someone to provide the resourcing, the engine room
  • someone to manage

There is a lot of reseach which says that those who are great at vision are lousy at management. For example, a visionary wants change, a quest for better whereas a manager wants stability. So a great Senior Management Team could be comprised of complementary roles – an enterprise team who all bring their own, different leadership qualities to the enterprise.

How to lead teachers to become better teachers

Most teachers, Arnie says, are technically competent – they know what they need to know to teach their subject or subjects. More importantly, leading teaching needs to shift the emphasis to relationship building and maintenance.

(Creative Commons Sound clip by Johnny Pixel Productions, Inc. –

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