A culture of leadership

What does it really mean to have a culture of leadership at your school? It’s just like yoghurt.

Culture is the result of the fermentation process that gives yoghurt its unique texture and flavour. We can’t actually identify this elusive element called ‘culture’, it is just  there, otherwise it wouldn’t be yoghurt. The added fruit or flavourings may enhance, but they aren’t what make it yoghurt.

In the same way, a culture of leadership is something that runs through a school or organisation. It is evident in its “texture and flavour”. Leadership can be added like the fruit, but it is more effective when it forms part of the whole product.

In the last decade the nature of leadership has shifted to being the intrinsic ‘influence’ of potentially all, rather than an elite program for a few. As one of my favourite writers on leadership, Ken Blanchard once said, “The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.” This idea paints a picture of relationship, inspiration, collaboration and empowering. It is a far cry from the notion of “the boss”.

Growing up on a diet of American sitcoms and drama, I learnt from TV what it was to be a ‘boss’. They didn’t talk about leadership back then. The boss was male, old, grouchy, shouted, told people what to do, had a big corner office a female secretary and a view. Back in those days there were just workers and bosses, there weren’t teams, people just did what they were told.

The world was different then, ‘culture’ meant you went to the opera and ‘collaboration’ was just another word for cheating. Fear, blame, command and control drove the “boss” culture and power was vested in the few.

In the 21st Century leadership can be everywhere. Leaders are in the mix and making things happen. They create the texture and flavour for change to occur. Rather than identifying a few, the opportunity to lead is available to the many, if not all.

Instead of command-and-control, what are the elements necessary for leadership today? In a survey of CEOs around the world conducted by IBM, participants were asked about the key traits needed for success today and into the future. The top four were:

  • collaboration

  • communication

  • creativity

  • flexibility

Future Forecast, McCrindle 2014. Source: ABS

These areas were identified as essential skills that CEOs actively sought in recruiting new staff. If we then recognise that our students, and our younger teachers will morph and change throughout their careers, how are we providing opportunities for them to develop these skills?

In the highly regulated school environment, with external pressures that often feel like command-and-control this can be a challenge. Nevertheless, we will not serve the rising generation unless we give them opportunities to acquire these essential skills.

We need to provide opportunities to grow leaders who are equipped for:

Purposeful collaboration
Working together as a team to achieve shared goals

Effective communication
Sharing information through whatever means necessary to inspire, encourage and effect change

Creativity in practice
Where a new and valuable idea is developed for aesthetics, for simplicity or to solve problems

Flexibility in execution
Allowing for a range of appropriate responses to a given situation

The way we design schools and then structure the learning activities directly impacts the effectiveness of a leadership culture, through:

  • Openness both in the physical space and to new ideas
  • Freedom of movement and expression
  • Teams collaborating on meaningful projects

It is important that leadership is in the mix with the culture of a school and is available to anybody. Through the opportunities that technology brings and the potential of global connectedness, young people have the ability to lead and influence like never before. Schools then, need to be the place where their leadership has the space to be nurtured and grown.


Anne Knock
Senior Leadership Team