As I come to the end of my NPQH (National Professional Qualification for Headship) I have been reflecting on myself as a leader and the things I am trying to develop. Through the process of reflection I came across a few theories that I think are linked, and possibly affect a lot of leaders (though I have no data for that) in the education system.
- The Incomplete Leader
- The Reluctant Leader
- Imposter Syndrome
The Incomplete Leader.
This is based on a Harvard Business Review article. The incomplete leader is a leadership philosophy developed by Peter Senge, a well-known organisational theorist and author of the book “The Fifth Discipline”. The Theory suggests that no individual leader can possess all the skills and knowledge necessary to lead a complex organisation in today’s fast-paced and rapidly changing environment. Instead, the incomplete leader recognises their own limitations and relies on the diverse talents and perspectives of their team to make informed decisions and achieve collective goals.
The authors of the article have developed a model of distributed leadership that views leadership as a set of four capabilities: sensemaking, relating, visioning, and inventing. Sensemaking is more than just analysis. It is an act of creativity that involves understanding the context in which the organisation is operating and drawing a map (mental or actual) that adequately represents the situation. Relating involves building relationships with others and understanding their perspectives. Visioning involves creating a compelling vision for the future that inspires others to follow. Inventing involves experimenting with new ideas and taking risks.
The idea of distributed leadership, which is closely related to the incomplete leader concept, has gained increasing popularity in educational leadership literature. Distributed leadership recognises that leadership is not solely the responsibility of the formal leader but is distributed among various individuals and teams within the school community. This approach empowers educators at all levels to contribute to decision-making and encourages collaborative problem-solving and innovation.
How Can We Apply The Theory of The Incomplete Leader to School Leadership?
The concept of the incomplete leader can be applied to school leadership. School leaders, such as principals or headteachers, face complex and constantly evolving challenges. No single individual can possess all the knowledge and skills needed to address all these challenges effectively. School leaders need to recognise their own limitations and rely on the collective strengths and perspectives of their team to make informed decisions and achieve shared goals.
Principals or headteachers face complex and constantly evolving challenges. No single individual can possess all the knowledge and skills needed to address all these challenges effectively. School leaders need to recognise their own limitations. They should rely on the collective strengths and perspectives of their team to make informed decisions and achieve shared goals.
It is the myth of the complete leader that can be detrimental to leadership success. Anyone who has ever felt inadequate to cope with complex issues knows firsthand what it’s like to be trapped in this myth. Leaders who try to stay on top of everything end up spreading themselves too thin and not being able to focus on what they do best. The cult of the Hero headteacher and how people present themselves on social media can really impact on how other school leaders may feel about their own capabilities.
The idea of distributed leadership, which is closely related to the incomplete leader concept, has gained popularity in educational leadership literature. Distributed leadership recognises that leadership is not solely the responsibility of the formal leader but is distributed among various individuals and teams within the school community. This approach empowers educators at all levels to contribute to decision-making and encourages collaborative problem-solving and innovation.
The Reluctant Leader.
The concept of the reluctant leader is a recognised theory in leadership studies. The reluctant leader is someone who is initially hesitant to take on a leadership role but is eventually persuaded to do so. This may happen because they feel a sense of obligation or responsibility, or because they are passionate about a particular cause or project.
The Reluctant Leader doesn’t suffer from thinking they are an imposter. Despite having confidence in their leadership abilities, these individuals strongly oppose being seen as autocratic or dictatorial leaders. As a result, they tend to lean towards the opposite end of the leadership spectrum and default to strategies that empower and give voice to everyone else in the organisation. This approach may be favoured over other strategies, as they prioritise the involvement and participation of all team members.
The reluctant leader may be motivated by a desire to serve others or to make a positive impact. Rather than by a desire for personal power or prestige. They may also have a leadership style that is more collaborative and participatory, seeking to empower others rather than relying solely on their own authority.
The theory of the reluctant leader has been applied in various contexts, including business, politics, and social movements. It highlights the importance of recognising and nurturing leadership potential in individuals who may not initially see themselves as leaders, and it emphasises the value of leadership that is grounded in a sense of purpose and a commitment to serving others.
The output from such a reluctance to adopt any personal sense of ‘up front’ leadership can often lead to interminable meetings, proliferation of committees and groups, and an absence of decisive direction.
How Can School Leaders Identify Strengths in their Team?
To identify the strengths of individual staff members, a headteacher can use a variety of methods, such as:
- Observation: The headteacher can observe staff members in action, both in formal and informal settings, such as in the classroom, during meetings, or when interacting with students. This can help identify areas where staff members excel and where they may need additional support.
- Feedback: The headteacher can ask for feedback from staff members themselves, as well as from colleagues, peers, and other stakeholders who have worked with them. This can provide valuable insights into their strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement.
- Self-assessment: The headteacher can encourage staff members to undertake self-assessment exercises, such as personality assessments, skill assessments, or reflection exercises. This can help staff members identify their own strengths and areas for development.
- Professional development plans: The headteacher can work with staff members to develop professional development plans, which involve setting goals and identifying areas for growth and development. This can help identify areas where staff members have a particular interest or aptitude.
- Performance evaluations: The headteacher can use formal performance evaluations to assess staff members’ performance against specific goals and objectives. This can help identify areas where staff members excel and where they may need additional support.
The concept of Imposter Syndrome is a well-documented occurrence in leadership theory where leaders believe they are frauds and don’t deserve to be in the senior positions they hold. Ironically the post on imposter syndrome I wrote a couple of years ago is one of the least popular on the site.
Imposter syndrome is a psychological pattern in which individuals doubt their own abilities and accomplishments and have a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud, even when there is no evidence to support this belief. This can lead individuals to underestimate their own skills and to feel inadequate or insecure in their role as a leader or in other areas of their life. It would be interesting to have further research into whether organisations like schools have an impact on whether their leaders feel affected by Imposter syndrome more or less that others. Is it an internal feeling or impacted by culture?
How do Imposter Syndrome, Reluctant Leader and the Incomplete Leader Theories Differ?
I wasn’t sure how to pull this together but the table below should answer that. Imposter Syndrome is a psychological challenge that can undermine leadership confidence and effectiveness, while the Reluctant Leader and Incomplete Leader theories both highlight the importance of collaboration and distributed leadership in addressing complex organisational challenges.
|Imposter Syndrome||Incomplete Leader||Reluctant Leader|
|Definition||A psychological pattern in which individuals doubt their own abilities and have a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud||A leadership philosophy that recognises no individual leader can possess all the skills and knowledge necessary to lead a complex organisation||Someone who is initially hesitant to take on a leadership role but is eventually persuaded to do so|
|Recognition of limitations||Feels insecure or inadequate due to recognition of limitations||Recognises own limitations and relies on the diverse talents and perspectives of their team to fill in the gaps||Initially hesitant to take on a leadership role, but may be persuaded to do so|
|Response to limitations||Responds with self-doubt and underestimation of skills||Responds with confidence in ability to work collaboratively with others and leverage collective expertise||May bring unique strengths and perspectives to the organisation, but may struggle with confidence or experience|
|Focus on individual vs. team||Focuses on individual’s perceived inadequacies and accomplishments||Focuses on collective strengths and contributions of team members||Seeks to empower and give voice to everyone in the organisation|
|Impact on leadership||May lead to hesitation, lack of confidence, and reluctance to take risks||Encourages collaboration, problem-solving, and innovation through distributed leadership approach||May bring a collaborative and participatory leadership style, but may also face challenges with confidence and experience|
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