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Who Do You Bring to Leadership?

Ten years ago I was fortunate to experience the Leadership Programme for Serving Headteachers.  It was an excellent programme.  I still remember the impact of the Iceberg Model and subsequent discussion around motives and traits. 

Acknowledgement: Iceberg Model from the Hay Group

This is the Iceberg Model from the Hay Group

It really helped me appreciate how my leadership was often an extension of behaviours I exhibited in life generally.  Authentic leadership – whether in the classroom, school or across the system – is rooted in a complex merging of awareness and knowledge of self, values and beliefs.  Authentic leaders always bring themselves to every leadership situation, they do not have an alternative.  

I came across the model again a number of years later when working with Hay Group who allowed us to use some of their materials, in leadership programmes we developed in house.  I now work as the Course Leader for the SSAT “Aspiring Senior Leaders” and run a session aimed at getting people to reflect on who they bring to leadership and the implications of it for them and the people you lead.


With apologies to Little Misses but I couldn't find appropriate ones for the traits below.

With apologies to Little Misses but I couldn’t find appropriate ones for the traits below.

Mr and Little Miss Perfect

You can always spot a Mr or Little Miss Perfect – everything colour co-ordinated and matching, files are immaculate and pens and pencils neatly arranged in their pencil case or on the desk in front of them.  They will often claim not to be OCD but you know different.  Great people to work with when you need accurate work done to a very high standard – it has to “be right” before they let go.  However, high standards take time and fiddling about with the chairs on the Titanic whilst there are other bigger more pressing issues is not always the best use of time.  When things become a bit stressy they can panic about the loss of control and become even more task orientated or at times aggressive.

Mr and Little Miss Cheerful

Who turns up at a meeting with cakes or biscuits in hand and ready to make the drinks?  A meeting for them is a social occasion and an opportunity to chat and work with people.  These people really help to knit a team together showing a great empathy and desire to understand and help other members of the team.  This can make it difficult for them to challenge underperformance and be assertive in crunch situations for fear of upsetting others.  Sometimes they can try too hard to help others rather than requiring them to do the work and can be very emotional if things get a bit fraught in the group.

Mr and Little Miss Rush

Know someone who has ants in their pants or always leaves things to the very last moment?  The train is leaving at 09:11 and they arrive at 09:10, no waiting on the station wasting time for them, or even better they burst on to the station and throw themselves through the doors just before they close.  Lift buttons tend to be pushed a hundred times and they may well finish your sentence as they can’t wait for you to spit it out!  Great people when you need a lot of plates spinning at the same time or require a job done quickly to a very short deadline.  Check out for mistakes in work and that they don’t become so frenetic they run around in ever decreasing circles.

Mr and Little Miss Busy

Absolute Trojan, will work and work away no matter how many hours it takes.  Totally committed and motivated.  Mr Busy & Little Miss Busy never stop trying and doing.  The real work horses of the team who will always volunteer to help and can bring a bit of creative flair to solve problems – important members of a team.  Make sure they bring projects to a successful conclusion and finish what they have started and don’t allow them to take on so much that they stand no chance of completing the work allocated.

Mr and Little Miss Strong

“How are you, Mr Strong and Little Miss Strong?” I ask.  “Fine thanks”, comes the reply.  “No how are you really?” I ask in an earnest and caring way.  “Mind your own business”, comes the rather terse reply.  This isn’t about emotional resilience but rather about people who don’t really like to show their emotions or difficulties or have you digging behind the person they present to the World.  They are always calm under pressure, unflappable and can think logically whilst mere mortals, like me, are running around like headless chickens.  They will be very self sufficient.  They can appear a bit distant emotionally and you may need to check they have the resources to fulfil a role as they won’t want to ask for help.

The Mr Men & Little Misses are based on the five traits, used by Hay Group:

  • Be Perfect
  • Please People
  • Hurry Up
  • Be Strong
  • Try Hard

The traits, repeating patterns of behaviour, we often show throughout are lives are our greatest strength and worst enemy in leadership situations.  Sometimes our traits perfectly match the leadership challenge and we can just flow but at other times they are not helpful and self control will be required in bucketfuls.  A bit of wisdom will help us discern what’s required and a bit of forgiveness will allow us to move on when we get it horribly wrong.

A team needs a really good mixture of different Mr Men & Little Misses, there are no good or bad traits there just is.  Recognising the different qualities we can bring as members of a team is key to strong teams and good leaders know this.  It is sometimes quite interesting to think about the different people and characters in the teams you work in and lead – which Mr Men & Little Misses do you have around the table.

It’s fascinating to see the effectiveness of very different people and characters in leadership roles.  When seeking to appoint a person to a leadership position or a teacher, who leads learning in a classroom, I want to know something about who they are.  They bring who they are to leadership – it’s unavoidable.  My favourite interview questions which I normally ask when chatting 1:1 with a person are:

  1. How do you organise your wardrobe/food cupboards?
  2. What would you do if you were in a traffic jam on the motorway – swap lanes or stick in one?  Why?
  3. If you really fancied a little more wine when enjoying an evening with friends, picked up the bottle with a little left in the bottom, and offered it to others and four friend all wanted a drink what would you do?

If someone lacks a particular piece of knowledge or skill it is relatively easy to fill the gap but working with someone who has little or no self awareness, and even more challenging who doesn’t know it, can be a long hard road.  There are no right or wrong answers to the questions.  All I’m really interested in is how fascinated a person is about their own behaviours and can they see them.  These questions sit alongside a written task, formal interview, student panel and a lesson observation which are standard parts of what is a varied day for candidates with different opportunities for them to show off their talents.

If you’re looking for a really great blog post on interviews, in fact the whole application process, look no further than this blog post by Tom Sherrington (@headguruteacher)

By the way I am a combination of Mr Perfect and Mr Rush.  I want it right yesterday so you can only imagine what a joy I am to work with.  Sadly, I can also be …

Mr Grumpy

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… what about you?



14 thoughts on “Who Do You Bring to Leadership?

  1. Great job. Very insightful.

    Posted by cranstonholden | May 5, 2013, 7:05 pm
  2. Really interesting, made me think and look at myself!

    Posted by Heidi Zeffie | May 6, 2013, 7:58 am
  3. Food for thought!! I guess we’re all a bit of a mixture and the challenge is getting the balance right for the many and varied situations that get thrown our way.

    Posted by Maria Quinn | May 7, 2013, 7:02 pm
    • Spot on Maria. It starts with knowing yourself well, controlling some of our traits when needed and understanding others (empathy). It’s how we actually influence others but it is a challenge.

      Posted by headstmary | May 7, 2013, 7:08 pm
  4. Always find your posts interesting. You seem to have a similar philosophy to our school. I would be interested in visiting if that is possible as not far away.

    Posted by Sean | May 8, 2013, 8:07 pm
    • Sean, You would be welcome and I’d be happy to set something up. Can you call the school and either chat then or leave me a contact number – 01253 396286. Mention the blog and it will nudge my memory. Thanks for the note.

      Posted by headstmary | May 8, 2013, 9:41 pm
  5. Hello! As soon as I saw the ice-berg picture I knew you were talking about the Hay Group! I’ve also been lucky enough to experience one of their Leadership Programmes. I have come across your blog whilst looking for examples of how schools use SOLO taxonomy – so thank you for sharing the good practice in your school.

    Posted by Kate Davies | June 21, 2013, 9:41 am


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