Arrogance in leadership: five ways to keep yourself off the haughty step

Tes Reporter

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This is an edited version of an article that appears in the 2 October issue of TES. For the full article, subscribe to TES here

Arrogance is among the worst traits a leader can possess. I have been privileged to lead a successful school, advise government, chair national committees and create leadership qualifications, but I am acutely aware that there is still much for me to learn. I also realise that leadership comes in a diverse range of styles. If you are not empathetic you are unlikely to be pleasant to work with, loyalty will be more difficult to achieve and you will find yourself managing a fragmented workforce.

Arrogance in leadership is a corrosive and disruptive force. Nevertheless, it is worryingly prominent in education.  If you sense that you have become an arrogant leader, you need to address the situation. Here’s how.

1. Watch what you say

If you find yourself beginning a sentence with “It’s obvious that we should…”, think twice, because what is obvious to you might not be to others and your tone may sound patronising. People need to feel valued for what they know, believe and feel. They also have the right to think differently to you; being challenged is what makes a working environment more stimulating and innovative.

2. Reassess your interactions

Self-awareness and emotional intelligence are vital to effective working environments. Feedback from colleagues above and below you in the hierarchy – through processes such as 360-degree appraisals – can help you to reassess the ways in which you interact with others. This does, of course, require honesty from the colleagues providing feedback (confidentiality can help to ensure this), along with a commitment from you to address areas of concern.

3. Be open to feedback

Leaders need to be brave, not rude, and they need to lead by example. Steve Munby, chief executive of the CfBT Education Trust, once said: “Leaders need time on the balcony, as well as the dance floor.” Reflection is crucial, along with taking the time to ask colleagues what they think and how they feel. People need to feel empowered and valued.

4. Learn from others

As you progress in your career, it is necessary to observe the behaviour, actions and influence of those around you. You can learn a great deal from this, which will help you to build your own model of reference. You should then be better equipped to know when to hold back on your opinions and seek those of others.

5. Stay humble

Remember to praise and thank people who have gone beyond expectations, and never ask someone to carry out a task that you would not have done yourself if you were employed in that role. Do not be afraid to let others take credit for your ideas. Leaders influence – they must inspire – but they also need humility.

Deborah Leek-Bailey is a former headteacher and the founding director of DLB Leadership Associates. She is an adviser to the Department for Education and chair of its Independent/State School Partnership forum. She is also a trustee of Child Bereavement UK, vice-president of the Independent Schools Association, a school inspector and an adjudicator for the TES Independent School Awards


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