3 Lessons in Leadership

3 Lessons in Leadership

Leadership has been a key notion that I have explored in 2022. Having spent the year studying a postgraduate degree in educational leadership, the extant literature on what it means to lead successfully and effectively in education is littered with differing ideas. I have had the pleasure of being able to apply some of these theories into practice with various projects and leadership positions this year within, as well as outside of my university. These experiences have served me well in building who I want to be as a changemaker in education. This year, the process of learning, doing and reflecting has propelled me forward in ways that I had never imagined for myself. Being recognised for my efforts is a wonderful success, however, I acknowledge that this would have not been possible without a journey of consistency, humility and compassion.

My role as a student representative for the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences saw me focus on improving the student experience, particularly in developing self-awareness and character. This journey allowed me to generate transformative change across the faculty. Working collaboratively with academics, staff and students, I welcomed change and sustained improvement through innovation and continual reflection. Furthermore, being a coordinator for a Japanese student exchange program with Hokusei Gakuen University (北星学園大学), I have enhanced my cross-cultural responsiveness and deepened my understanding of Japanese societal norms. Our sessions aimed to dialogue with Japanese undergraduate students on seeking happiness, living with purpose and clarifying their inner selves through self-evaluation.

What follows are three key reflections about leadership and leading. These stem from a mix of theoretical notions prevalent in leadership research and personal experience. Hopefully, these will inspire you to think, and think again about what leadership means to you.

'A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.' - Lao Tzu Photo by Igor Sporynin

1. Anyone can lead

Being a postgraduate student, there have been multiple times where I felt that I was not experienced, capable or important enough to be a changemaker. Who would want to listen to my opinions when don’t have as much experience as others? Will I be taken seriously for my stance on different educational issues? These thoughts floated around during the beginning of my degree when I was starting out as a student representative. When I had an initially met with the Education Committee Chair that I would be working with, he told me that my position as a student was very powerful. This was because everyone else on the committee were Deans and Heads of Schools who could not speak from the perspective of a student. They had not been a student for over ten or twenty years. Being recognised for my unique perspectives, I began to value how I currently experience teaching and learning as a student at the institution.

At our monthly meetings, people would throw it over to me and ask me to share my insights. What are your insights on assessment from a student point of view? How do you think we can improve the student experience? What can academics to make you feel seen and engaged in your learning? Speaking about gaps that I had identified in the everyday experience as a student then opened opportunities for collaborative efforts to fill these spaces with academics, staff and other students. Over time, I realised that I could lead in powerful ways no matter where I was in an organisation because everyone holds a unique perspective and position. This experience aligns with educational leadership literature which explores the notions of distributed leadership (Spillane, 2005; Timperley, 2005), where hierarchies are no longer a top-down model, but rather a flat model which puts everyone on an equal playing field. It builds a culture of agency, creates trust within organisations and strengthens interpersonal relationships. We all need each other to create meaningful change for the collective wellbeing and it’s not just one person’s responsibility. Allowing teachers and students to lead build a culture of agency, creates trust within the organisation and strengthens the interpersonal relationships.

2. My three C’s: Consistency, character and compassion

These three concepts have been prominent themes that I have dedicated myself to in 2022. Having so many moving parts means that I need to be disciplined in all that I do. Once I drop the ball or fall behind in one area, the rest also feels the effects. I am not saying that I am perfect at this but keeping a high level of consistency throughout the months has been a powerful way of making progress. When it comes to managing large-scale projects, doing a small task each day or every second day is crucial. Drafting emails, pitching to stakeholders, creating surveys, designing promotional material and planning presentations all add up if you leave it the last minute. When collaborating with so many different people and parties, I realised that I am working on their timelines, and this may not always align with the efficiency that I need. Hence, being consistently organised and setting up time buffers has helped me them remain emotionally calm when delays or interruptions happen. As a leader, understanding that every small action plays a significant role in moving towards your desired outcomes will motivate you to keep a steady and constant pace.

I have often seen leaders direct, preach or demand moral actions from others, yet fail to uphold their own. Being able to clarify my own values and bring discipline to my character has been a journey of rapid self-transformation which allows me to be a more successful leader. My attitude this year was one of attention and awareness in the present moment to continually consider how this impacted those around me. In Semester 2, I had the opportunity to plan and deliver workshops to university students which developed their self-awareness through interactive activities and collaborative discussions. By getting participants to reflect on their own values and think deeply about who they need to be to improve society, this would have only been possible if I led from a place where I had clarity on my own sense of self. Understanding what intentions I have, what virtues I embody and how I strive to living in alignment with my morals were the priority before leading others. I constantly asked myself these questions. Am I uniting those around me through shared values and moral action? Am I influencing others through my character, rather than with power? I would like to pose these questions to you. Consider them when you are leading others and strive to cultivate your inner self first as this will lead to more just and virtuous external actions.

Compassion for myself and others is easier said than done. It requires me to practice empathy, understanding differing perspectives and showing a genuine concern for issues in society. This is all because I care. I care for my wellbeing. I care for the progress of those in my community. I care for the betterment of humanity. This is easier said than done. It will require you to practice letting go of the ego and come from a place of love and compassion, rather than greed and power.

Photo by Lizandmollie

3. Failure + reflection = progress

This year has been a steep learning curve as I embarked on many new projects and commitments. As a teacher, I understand that learning things for the first time can be daunting and challenging. We are bound to fall, make mistakes and fail more than once. However, to continue moving forward, I have consistently reflected upon my actions, seeing them objectively and pinpointing what I can do to improve. Without the reflection, we get caught up in our failures and either continue blindly repeating the same mistakes or criticise ourselves for not being good enough. Every time that I have failed and reflected, I see this as a small win. By consistently doing this over time, I stay humble and self-aware, as well as being more resilient and open-minded to perceiving the world fluidly. As a leader, this allows others to see me as honest, authentic and imperfect. It builds trust, understanding and openness in my interpersonal relationships. I can model to others that learning is a journey and that we do not have to have it all figured out.

By carving out the time to self-reflect, we are also demonstrating that we care for our soul. Caring for oneself is a notion that has been explored by Ancient Greek philosophers over 2000 years ago. Socrates states in Plato’s Apology:

Are you not ashamed that you give your attention to acquiring as much money as possible, and similarly with reputation and honour, and give no attention or thought to truth and understanding and the perfection of your soul? Pl. Ap. 29d–e.

This ongoing mission to craft our souls through self-examination, compassion and care is also a central theme in Plato’s Alcibiades and Marcus Aurelius Meditations as “we ought

to pay less attention to what goes on in the souls of other people and instead focus our attention on taking care of our own soul” (Sellars, 2019, p. 202). We grow through what we go through, moving forward with intention, virtue and excellence.

Photo by Soleoado

Concluding Thoughts

Leadership is a complex and fluid notion. What is looks like, feels like and sounds like will be constantly changing with our understanding of society and human relationships. Apropos leadership and education, we must learn to lead from within, with humble intentions and clarity in our values. I encourage you to consider how you currently lead yourself and others. How do you care and work on your soul? Do your actions align with your personal beliefs and organisation’s mission? If not, what micro-actions can you take to close that gap?

This year, I have learning that leadership is a verb. It is about what you can do for yourself and others through intention, virtue and action. Leadership is spiritual. It is about carving out your values and character, constantly seeking to understand what this looks like for you, rather than blindly following the discourses of society. Leadership happens at the micro scale. How you do one thing is how you do anything. Every moment is a chance to practice kindness, compassion and humility for yourself and others in order to create meaningful, transformative and sustainable change.

If you would like to show your support, feel free to buy me a coffee! ☕


Sellars, J. (2019). Socratic Themes in the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. In Brill's Companion to the Reception of Socrates (pp. 293-310). Brill.

Spillane, J. P. (2005, June). Distributed leadership. In The educational forum (Vol. 69, No. 2, pp. 143-150). Taylor & Francis Group.

Timperley, H. S. (2005). Distributed leadership: Developing theory from practice. Journal of curriculum studies, 37(4), 395-420.