10 Poor Leadership Attributes

Reading time: 4
shutterstock_238490077 Businessman sitting with his feet on the table


In 2010, Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit from a simple Twitter account through which he rapidly became the 'most followed teacher on social media in the UK'. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday...
Read more about @TeacherToolkit

There are many types of leadership that exists in schools. If leadership is less than desirable, how does it manifest itself?

In my 8th year of school leadership, I have much to learn, but I’d be a fool to admit that everything is perfect. It’s not.

Sadly, in schools and in school leadership there are bullies, many egos and the occasional school leader who is just not up to doing the job required. Thankfully it is rare, but it does exist.

The chances are, they are probably not reading this.

shutterstock_191582192 Sneaky boss peeking through a hole in newspaper isolated on white background

Image: Shutterstock

The Problem Exists …

Now, before I begin to outline what I think is poor in school leadership I have encountered, let me stress from the outset that I am no guru or personification of perfection. I am not. But, this post is not about me. It’s about what I know.

I would be doing a disservice to the profession and to my readers if I did not recognise that poor leadership does exist, or fail to talk about it and address the problem.

Recently I wrote about the 7 Traits of Effective Teachers and 21 Leadership Habits. From an amalgamation of both posts, it can be assumed that what is written here is in stark contrast to the qualities listed in those posts.

shutterstock_152737328 Boss is clamping his fist above frightened worker

Image: Shutterstock

10 Poor Leadership Attributes:

These are attributes that undermine a team of senior leaders in schools and damage the hearts and minds of colleagues working in schools. What’s worse, is what impact is poor leadership having on students?

1. Narrow-Minded

The poor leader lacks passion, they are disorganised and fail to reflect on what works. The rarely seek feedback.

2. Play Safe

Poor leaders do not embrace change – for example, may continue with grading lesson observations for control – and do not allow their teaching staff to take risks. They do not keep up to speed with DfE and Ofsted changes, often citing the latter for control and fear over systems of accountability in school. What’s worse, is that they are probably wrong and don’t even know it. Inexperienced teachers or those not in positions of power have their opinions muted and are shut down.

3. Closed

Poor leaders do not share ideas and resources and fail to encourage collaboration in others. They are closed to new ideas, methods and even colleagues new to the school. They may be in a school for a quick-fix to promotion …

4. Inconsistent

The worst quality of all is inconsistency. Poor leaders lack substance on the corridors and in the playground, but more significant, is that they lack any credibility in the classroom. They fail to take their own teaching seriously, use status and school systems to control students before allowing learning to take place. They are inconsistent in their own classroom, as well as using approaches when dealing with behaviour (in-line with school policy).

5. Unreliability!

This can be something as simple as not turning up to a duty spot, or failing to meet their own deadlines in-line with the school calendar. What’s worse, is that poor leaders do not set their own cover for their own classes, or they do not do what they said they would do.

An example of this, is a teacher asking for support on the corridors or in a lesson with a particular class – a cry for help perhaps – and that the school leader says that they will support at XYZ time and place, but fail to do so.

shutterstock_154527359 Man with megaphone giving an annoucement

Image: Shutterstock

6. Power

Poor school leaders use their position of power to make decisions – especially the wrong ones – or steam ahead when they are clearly against the majority. Sometimes position of power can manifest itself into various forms of bullying; often non-verbal around the working environment through emails, deadlines and final decision-making.

7. Trust / Respect

In this example, you never know if poor leaders are ‘slagging off’ the school’s decisions or your own! We all know we have to share confidential information about colleagues from time to time, or need to update each other with ‘he said this’ and ‘she did that’, but there is a line that should not be crossed in school leadership.

Respect all of your colleagues and maintain trust in all those that you work with. We are all human …

8. Compassion

Some school leaders are delighted in their decisions, taking more than pleasure in observing a colleague’s unhappiness. They lack compassion and do not see the merit in talking through the thought processes of how decisions are made and why they need to be made. You will often hear them say: “It’s a school decision … and you just need to get on with it!”

9. Leading CPD

The poor school leader does not engage with whole-school professional development. They are still of the belief that CPD is a sit-down-at-the-front INSET style event in the school hall, and that gaining new knowledge is only gathered from ‘going on a course’ and having a lunch in a hotel.

There are two kinds here at opposing ends of the spectrum. The first, who can count on one hand the last time that attended external training in the last 10 years, and the second who is ‘on-training’ once every other week and is rarely in school. This is often evident at various points in the school year: the start of autumn term when the conference circuit begins and new DfE announcements and exam qualifications are shared. Or, in the depths and darks of the winter and in the examination season when the going gets tough on the ground.

They may even go on an INSET day or two in June and July when it is even easier to get out of school when the examination season is over. Either way, the information is rarely shared and has little impact on the organisation.

10. Relationships

Finally, we all know the school leader who marches the school corridors, barking rules and abuse at students. Every school needs a voice to whip students into shape, but not when shouting becomes abusive or disruptive to the environment.

Worse, is when the school leader walks past another colleague having conversations with a student and uses the 10-20 seconds walking by to ‘add fuel to the fire’. In essence, they tip the student over the edge and unbeknownst to this school leader, this child may have already been the recipient of White Noise and anything in addition to what has already been said, damages any relationship or respect that child ever had for the school or for that leader.

Worse, the colleague is thinking that the school leader has not made the situation any better …

I’m hoping that not too many of the above remind you of someone you have – or still are – working with. I have to say, it is very rare, but if it strikes a chord in you, why not email this to colleagues or print it off and put it on the wall in your staffroom?


@TeacherToolkit logo new book Vitruvian man TT


7 thoughts on “10 Poor Leadership Attributes

  1. Sometimes poor leadership can be something as simple as setting a bad example. My dad used to call it the ‘do as I say not as I do’ syndrome.

  2. Over 40 years in the business I have experienced all of those above. The two worst heads I have worked with are from different extremes of the spectrum. One was a quick fix promotion candidate who wanted to be an HMI. Sadly that didn’t work out and so we were stuck with him. He just stuck in his office and left us alone. The second was “go ahead”, knew everything and was tick box dependant. The first one was better as at least the staff knew what they were doing and could get on with it. The second undermined the whole school and totally destroyed trust within the school and created an atmosphere of fear. Both were removed, the first after a very poor HMI inspection, the second after a 3 day strike by staff at the school. Interestingly the HMI’s spooted the failings of the first head, but OFSTED gave the second one a “Good” rating for management a month before the strikes.

  3. The worst attribute for many teachers in education today in UK schools is the lack of support from SMT/Leadership – teachers need their back up and a united front must be transparent to students – for example, have any teachers had a behaviour management issue in a lesson and called for/reported this to the SMT to have absolutely NO response or heard the leadership staff talk to the student ‘C’mon now darling…stand there for ten minutes sweetie’?
    A dinner lady in our school canteen was shot at by a year 7 pupil with an air gun (she was not hurt but not in a union so took it no further). The head teacher came into the canteen with the boy an hour later … and purchased a chocolate bar from the vending machine for him… no apology to the lady in there whatsoever. Rude?

  4. What about this …. a Head ( refusing to use the term leader) who appoints without advertising positions and appoints without interview crownies from previous schools without interview. Blows I
    The school budget on private enterprise companies then staff have to make up the shortfall by doing hours of cover short long and e am invigilation. If you dare to
    Question this system of bully strategies you are summoned into his office for the most bizarre rant . This man is out of. Control and guess what no one cares! Staff are afraid .

  5. At 43 I’m new to working in schools and have recently taken a position as site ,an aged at a primary school. The whole team are a really nice and friendly bunch, then there’s the head! Not one member of staff has a good word to say about her. I’m told last year alone 12 members of staff left. In my short few months there she talks to me like dirt and expects me to be a dogs body. You cannot do right from wrong and I genuinely think she enjoys being disliked, she is no more than a bully and I would of thought someone in her position would be aware of things like that. How I have bitten my lip and am still there I don’t know. I don’t think anyone knows how to do anything about it,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.