What Type Of Middle Leader Are You?

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Paul Ainsworth

Paul has been writing for the Teacher Toolkit website since 2012 and is the author of 'No Silver Bullets: Day in, day out school improvement'. He is a system leader supporting primary schools, secondary schools and MATs currently with with Infinity Academies Trust as Education...
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What type of middle leader are you?

In recent weeks it has been hard to escape the news of different leaders in the press. Whether it is the latest tweet from Donald Trump, the continual tribulations of Jeremy Corbyn or the shocking dismissal of Claudio Ranieri; leaders have taken up many column inches or blog pages.

Last week I had the pleasure of working with a group of middle leaders in an academy, which is on a journey of rapid improvement.

I shared with them the thought that however many actions the Head or other senior leaders took, the people who would turn the initiatives into reality and hence would really move the academy forwards were them. They were the engines room of change in that institution.

However to do this, they had to lead their colleagues in their department or year team. They had to set the vision and hold their staff to account. We spent some time looking at and discussing different leadership styles, which they could use.

Styles Of Leadership

Our starting point was to look at a leader who had inspired them. Interestingly they all considered Headteachers that they had worked for. Their consensus on the person, who had moved the school forward the most, was undoubtedly a heroic leader. They led by example and conviction. They commanded the school community and whilst not everybody in the room liked the former colleague in question, they all respected him and felt that he left the school in a better position than he found it.

This is one of the many difficulties of heroic leadership, when the individual leaves, the institution can quickly fall backwards.

We then considered leaders at the other end of the spectrum, who take a ‘laissez-faire’ attitude, which as the French phrase signifies mean ‘a hands off, let things ride approach’. Sometimes when things are difficult in a school, this can be tempting, just concentrate on your issues and allow your colleagues to get on with things. It can also take place when a school is in a strong position, as leaders believe their staff are doing a good job and hence leave them to continue. It can also be seen in faculty structures where a Head of History or Head of Art is overseeing the Humanities or Technology faculty. They concentrate on their own area of expertise and assume their other colleagues are looking after their areas too.

Unfortunately without considerable amounts of luck this style is unlikely to prove effective for long.

An inexperienced leader (middle or senior) may look to rewards as a method of persuading or motivating their colleagues. This is called Transactional Leadership. Many of us will have worked for a Headteacher at some time who was continually promising staff a variety of rewards, from promotions to non-contact time to salary increases. Unfortunately colleagues soon realise such rewards are not forthcoming and have been offered to their peers too.

As a middle leader, the only rewards you can give are your thanks or small tokens.

If a member of staff is running an activity for you, it is unlikely that you could give them that time back via a non-contact. The reality is though that any reward you could give is likely to be small and hence will not persuade your more recalcitrant colleagues to support you. In addition those who do work with you would have been likely to have done so anyway.

Could You Be A Transformational Leader?

We focussed on transformational leadership as a style, which the group could use as a scaffold. People who exhibit this style of leadership often have a strong set of values and ideals. This group certainly had this with their commitment to the school and the question was how could this be used to motivate their colleagues. Transformational leadership can be broken down into four sub-groups, sometimes known as the ‘four I’s’ and this means that you will likely find that one of them fits your personality or skills most. The different styles are illustrated in the table below:


Idealised Influence

Leaders who use their charisma to act as strong role models so that others wish to follow them.

E.g. the teacher in the staffroom with excellent pupil discipline. These characteristics are recognised by colleagues and they want to work with them.



Inspirational Motivation

A leader motivates their staff by communicating their high expectations to others.

E.g. the teacher who can deliver really high quality training sessions to staff, which inspires them.


Intellectual Stimulation

A leader who uses creative and innovative ideas to challenge the beliefs of others.

E.g. the teacher who has the ability to research proposals and then develop a logical process of improvement. If you can do this, do not rush to tell your colleagues the proposals but instead take your time to explain why they have been developed and what evidence you have found which indicate they will be a success.



Individualised Consideration

A leader who provides a supportive climate and listens carefully to those they are trying to lead.

E.g. the teacher whose best method of developing projects is by working with individual staff or with small groups. Do not rush to develop things across all your staff but instead chip away at individuals with the aim of reaching a critical mass of advocates, who then create a tipping point for change.



There are two questions, which I asked the group which you could also think about. These were:

1. Which one of these leadership styles do you think you lean towards?

2. What more could you do to make this even more effective?

All leaders needs to reflect and consider how can they work more effectively and as a middle leader your actions are crucial in ensuring your colleagues are working well to help the children in your care realise their potential.


If you help and support the other classrooms in your department or support the teachers in your phase so the children make more progress, this will truly make a difference to your school, perhaps even a transformational one.

Paul Ainsworth writes for Teacher Toolkit and his new book is called Bloomsbury CPD Library: Middle Leadership.

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