The Mud of Middle Leadership


Where culture and strategy go to die

Do you plan to create real change in your school? Maybe you have a cracking strategy based on research that you just know will turn your data around. Or maybe you are striving to build a culture that promotes collaboration, deprivitisation and growth mindset.

Good on you!

How’s that working for you?

Change not happening as fast as you want it to? Alignment with the vision actually looks like exhausted teachers nodding at staff meetings and then doing what they have always done. Data movement glacial?

It’s so easy to feel despondent and even easier to lay blame at the feet of teachers. The reality is probably a little closer to your office – your middle leaders. This is the real graveyard of good intentions – and it’s not their fault entirely. Anyone who has been a middle leader in a school knows that it is a pretty thankless job, caught in the wilderness between ultimate decision making and your teaching colleagues.

Middle leaders are the ones that can lead change that impacts in classrooms. They are also the people who carry the school culture – nurturing, sustaining and advocating appropriate workplace behaviours.

However, they are rarely given the skills or autonomy to perform these critical roles. Instead they become form fillers, fire fighters and bureaucrats. They see themselves as managers not leaders.

What Senior Leaders Need To Do.... pssst, thats you!

1.    Invest time in your aspirants and middle leaders. Devote your time and school resources to improving their leadership qualities. What got them here wont necessarily be the same qualities that equal leadership success. They need to understand about themselves and others not just perform the task of their role. So ....

2.   Provide access to quality 360° assessments tools to create data, inform goal setting and give feedback. Using norm referenced feedback tools. The Lifestyles Inventory (LSI) by Human Synergistics is gold standard. Support the 360° assessment with industry standard psychometric tools such as Everything DiSC, TMS, Myers Briggs and strength-based assessment such as VIA Character Strengths or Strengths Profile (previously Realise2). Middle leaders rarely struggle with content knowledge. They struggle to understand how to inspire, motivate and build trust with their teams. They spend endless effort doing “the best they can” because they lack basic understanding of human motivation. They attempt the fruitless task of trying to change others when they first need to know and possibly change themselves. And they get stuck in the mud and the good intention withers.

3.    Meet frequentlyat least monthly with leaders and aspirants to have robust performance conversations – based around goals set from the assessments mentioned earlier.

Understand and communicate when you are coaching, mentoring or managing. Your staff will need all three at times so be clear what you are doing and model that you know the difference. If you can’t meet frequently with staff then find them a coach. Someone skilled at goal setting and mindset management. Someone who can take the 360° feedback and turn it into new and more effective ways of leading.

4.    Get out of their way and allow them to lead.

This doesn’t mean you aren’t clear on strategic direction and your success indicators. However, it does mean allowing mid-leaders to be 100% responsible – for success and for failure. Back them either way. Trust that your leader already has the content knowledge they need or that it is readily available. Support them to be the person who can inspire others to see the shared vision and have the skills to get the best out of their team.

Middle leaders were hired because they were good and showed real promise. Play to their strengths, leverage their potential. Allow them to shine. They hold the success of your school in their hands – don’t let them be the place where strategy and culture go to die.

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Are you, or someone you know, just starting out on your leadership journey?
Launching into Leadership is an 8-week online course designed specifically for female teachers and educators. Discover the knowledge, tools and mindsets you need to confidently navigate your early leadership journey. This program runs a couple of times a year. Find out more here.


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