top of page
  • Writer's pictureBrad Gay

If the leader sneezes...

We have all heard the saying if a leader sneezes the staff get the flu. Here are four areas where leadership breaks down.

1. There is inconsistent or no acceleration of learning

Unfortunately, as far as ERO are concerned, achievement remains at the forefront of expectations for schools.

However, before you rush in to making changes, it is important to look closely at your behaviours as a leader.


  • Resist the rush to judgment. Consistently below expected achievement results are an indicator of a problem or, more likely, a confluence of problems.

  • Avoid conducting autopsies of blaming factors outside your control. It’s tempting to point fingers at the teacher, the new innovative teaching technique or the problems with ministry or the students themselves. However, you need to resist the temptation to point. It’s time look at the team around you and importantly at the leader of the team staring back at you in the mirror.

  • Explore the symptoms.

  • Remember, you are the leader. When the team succeeds it is because they did their job. When they fail, it’s your fault.

2. The lack of empowerment is stifling new ideas.

When ideas to solve problems or innovative solution seeking isn’t taking place, there’s usually a leadership factor involved.

The leader is responsible for forming and framing the school working environment, and when the teachers in that environment go quiet on offering ideas, it’s time to change your approach.


  • Perhaps you’ve fallen into the trap of telling instead of coaching. Resist the urge to tell teachers what to do, ask people what they would like to do.

  • Explore whether you are stifling teacher's ideas because your quest to be seen as the leader of learning has intimidated your staff into not contributing. You need to model patience and showcase support for people experimenting and failing with new approaches. Position every failure as a lesson learned and encourage staff to keep looking for solutions. Using a Teaching as Inquiry approach can help staff to experiment.

3. Share the trust

If you perceive you are getting the cold shoulder, you are probably right. This situation is particularly common for leaders new to a team.


  • You are likely navigating a trust issue with members, particularly if you are just getting started working with them. Often, leaders do a little dance with trust, suggesting or telegraphing by actions and words that people have to work hard to earn their trust.

  • To strengthen the team chemistry faster, quit putting people on “trust trial” and instead, offer your trust to them immediately. People will understand your positive gesture and good employees will move mountains to not let you down. If someone does let you down or betray your trust, well, that’s another issue. However, it is worth the risk. Trust first!

4. Your Team is Just Going Through The Motions

No leader wants to admit that her team is just going through the motions, but it happens. And while it is tempting to look at the people or overall workplace factors as the root causes, you control the energy switch for your team.


  • If teachers are not excited about their work or, if they do not clearly see how their efforts connect to the larger strategic vision and key goals, they may feel like their just treading water until the next fad comes along. It is essential that you as the leader bring a sense of mission and purpose to the challenges your staff team faces.

  • Celebrate more. Often we are so focused on our daily firefighting that we forget to acknowledge the victories—small and large. Find opportunities to celebrate accomplishments and milestones and become your team’s biggest cheerleader.

5 Key Actions to Help Strengthen Your Team's Performance:

There’s always an explanation for poor results. While there may be external factors, chances are, there are leadership, resource, and process issues at work creating the challenges. Now that you’ve looked at some factors under your direct control, it’s time to get the team involved in helping diagnose the cause and develop the cure.

  1. Be transparent with your team about the poor results. They deserve to understand that things are not working and that management is looking for improvements.

  2. Resist the rush to tell your team what’s wrong. Ask the team to explore the areas where performance is weak and offer their analyses. Listen more than you talk.

  3. Look for solutions. Once the team develops a hypothesis on root causes, encourage them to detail their ideas for potential solutions. Help them prioritise the ideas.

  4. Provide ownership of the ideas for improvement to your team members. Ask them to own the implementation and on-going monitoring and tuning of their ideas. This sense of ownership for improving their overall performance will address many of the issues identified throughout this article.

  5. Celebrate the victories and place your team members in the spotlight with senior management. Remember, when things go right, it is because of them, not you. .

bottom of page