by Steve Munby @steve_munby
After 17 years as the CEO/Director of large education organisations, I have come to the conclusion that “Imperfect Leadership” is one of the best terms to describe my own leadership. This is not something I am ashamed about; quite the reverse, in fact. I believe that imperfect leadership should be celebrated. Too often we hear talks or read books about perfect leaders; super-hero leaders who are hugely successful and are exceptionally good at what they do. It is supposed to inspire us to emulate them but it actually has the reverse effect.
These kind of school leaders are portrayed as being able to do everything but I believe that the concept that we need to be good at all aspects of leadership is not only unrealistic, it is bad for the mental and physical well-being of leaders, who may end up striving to be the kind of leader that doesn’t really exist. The more we seek to become the perfect leader, the more likely we are to disempower those around us. Importantly, the need for “perfect leadership” will do nothing to attract new people into leadership; they will be inclined to think that if they can’t already do all of these things to a high level then they cannot possibly consider applying for a leadership role. And we know from the research that this perception is more likely to be true of women than of men. So the concept of “perfect leadership” is particularly discouraging for women leaders.
Imperfect leaders know they can’t hope to do all aspects of leadership well so they seek to develop shared leadership and to distribute leadership amongst the team. And this is true not just for leadership of a school but also for MATs and networks. “Imperfect network leaders” are more likely to make themselves vulnerable and to develop trust. This behaviour attracts others to want to be part of the network and to feel that they can contribute; it encourages reciprocity. As Brene Brown says: “What makes us vulnerable, makes us beautiful.” Networks led by imperfect leaders may take longer to get going but the outcome is more likely to be collective efficacy across schools rather than dependency.
My wish for 2019 and beyond is for sustainable, well-led schools and networks with shared leadership that attract the next generation into leadership. My hope is that in order to achieve this, more and more leaders will ditch all the striving towards perfection, focus on doing what’s right for the students, genuinely ask for help from others and celebrate the fact that we are imperfect leaders.
Visiting Professor at UCL London Institute of Education
My book “Imperfect Leadership – a book for leaders who know they don’t know it all” will be published by Crown House in April/May 2019.