What kind of school leader do you have?

Different contexts call for different leadership styles, says Adam Riches, and knowing when to deploy the right one is crucial for success

leadership schools

There are a lot of different ways to lead a school.

Leadership style will depend very heavily on the ethos and vision of the school or trust, the requirements of the particular role and, of course, individual personality traits. 

Knowing what kind of leadership style is required in a particular moment is a real skill – and it can mean the difference between success and failure.


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But why do some styles of leadership better suit certain scenarios? And how can you know what kind of leadership best suits different groups?

Visionary leadership

Visionary leaders have a powerful ability to drive progress, inspiring people in times of change with the power of their plans and vision. One of the key traits of a visionary leader is that they are able to motivate their team through clearly outlined outcomes. This type of leadership is especially helpful for small, fast-growing schools and those who require drastic changes. 

Autocratic leadership

Autocratic leaders tend to be labelled as authoritarians; quite often, they focus their attention predominantly on results and efficiency. Decisions and direction are often decided alone, or on some occasions with a small, trusted group. Autocratic leaders expect employees to do exactly what they’re asked. 

Where compliance is paramount and experience is minimal, this type of leadership approach can be useful. An issue that can arise from a prolonged period of autocratic leadership, however, is the reduction in creativity, potentially leading to demotivation and stifled growth.

Coach leadership

A coach leader is someone who can ascertain their team members’ strengths, weaknesses and motivations and uses this understanding to help them improve. This type of leader often observes practice and then provides regular feedback to promote growth – in contrast to mentoring, they help the member of staff with their own journey of discovery, much more implicitly than a mentor would. 

A coach leader is often skilled in setting expectations and creating a positive, motivating environment for colleagues. This style can be hugely motivational, but is time-consuming and may only be appropriate for specific contexts rather than whole-staff incentives.

Servant leadership

A servant leader puts their staff first in all situations. The mindset is that when team members feel personally and professionally fulfilled, they’re more effective and more likely to buy into the vision and ethos of an organisation. 

The focus on employee satisfaction and collaboration often results in higher levels of respect for these types of leaders.

Participative leadership

The participative leader uses a combination of styles to create a kind of democracy. These leaders ask for input from their teams before making the final decision. Including team members in planning can be hugely motivational as they feel their voices are heard and their contributions matter. 

One question leaders who adopt this style may want to ask themselves is whether the sharing of decision-making is taking away from the direct vision of the organisation. Remember what they say about too many cooks...

Transformational leadership

A transformational leadership style often looks very much like a coach leadership style, with the biggest difference being the focus of organisational vision and improvement as opposed to individual improvement. Transformational leaders spend much of their time on the overall vision of a school. 

This style is most effective with teams who can work with relative autonomy and are able to be delegated tasks. Transformational leaders thrive with well-established colleagues who have a good level of experience in their specialist fields. 

Having an awareness of different leadership styles can help with the way in which you manage a task as a leader or help you to understand how and why your leader is taking the approach they are.

Adam Riches is a senior leader for teaching and learning, specialist leader in education and head of English

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