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The 6 Myths about Educational Leadership

The 6 Myths about Educational Leadership banner

Being an inspirational or visionary leader doesn’t come easy and there is a debate about whether great leaders are born or made. Whatever your position is in the nature–nurture debate you need to be aware that there are many myths about leadership that have grown up over the years that may affect your thinking on the subject. Here are 6 myths about educational leadership by Bob Bates, author of Educational Leadership Simplified:


  1. You don't have to be intelligent to be a great leader. 
    Daniel Goleman (1996) suggested that intelligence is not just about developing a high IQ or being technically skilled, but that people also need to develop their emo­tional intelligence. He argued that there were five key elements of emotional intelligence, which we have interpreted for leaders. These are self-awareness, managing emotions, empathy, social skills and motivation.

  2. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
    Of course, history is riddled with people who have abused the power they have been given or taken, but John French and Bertram Raven (1959) argue that leaders should work to accumulate as many sources of power as possible. It’s not the nature of power that corrupts, even if this power is absolute and unchallenged, but the people who wield it. Both Hitler and Martin Luther King had a powerful hold over their followers, one used it for violent purposes the other to promote peaceful demonstrations.

  3. The means doesn't justify the ends.
    If need be, protect yourself against others who believe that the ends justify the means. They are evident in the policy makers, the managers in your organisation, the staff, the parents and even your learners.They are unlikely to shy away from causing you problems if it suits their purpose.

  4. Nice people don't make successful leaders.
    We work on the principle that leaders can only lead if people are prepared to follow them. The argument in favour of nice people making successful leaders is based on the feel-good assumption that the best leaders are collaborative, compassionate, empa­thetic and free of most defects of character.

  5. Leaders should have their own unique style that they strictly adhere to.
    You probably read a lot about the importance of having the right style of leadership, however if none of these styles appeal to you, you can try ‘chameleonistic leadership’. Tell anyone asking you what your leadership style is, that you adapt your style to suit the environment and circumstances you are in. Chameleon leadership is therefore predicated on the belief that when leaders make a decision, they must take into account all aspects of the current situation and act on those aspects that are key to the situation at hand.

  6. You have to have been a good teacher to make a good headteacher.
    Someone who excels as a teacher may have qualities such as excellent subject knowledge, the ability to deliver a lesson with pace and interest and know how best to teach tricky concepts. Although these qualities set the scene for everything that’s good in teaching, they may not be the ones looked for in a good headteacher, where the patience, tenacity and diplomacy to deal with awkward school governors, aggressive Ofsted inspectors or an uncooperative Local Authority may be what’s needed.

This is an extract from Educational Leadership Simplified, the go-to companion for anyone who is, or aspires to be, a senior leader in schools, colleges and other educational organisations.