Director's message - Why Lead?

History; Innovation; News
“Let us pick up our books and our pens,” I said. “They are our most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.” I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Edu​cation and Was Shot by the Taliban, Malala Yousafzai

Bruce Armstrong, Director, Bastow Institute of Educational Leadership Bruce Armstrong, Director, Bastow Institute of Educational Leadership

This question goes to the heart of leadership motivation. There are many reasons why a person may lead: the will for power over others, financial gain, narcissism, fame or the desire to have followers. But for some, leadership is not so intentional when a situation, context or crisis thrusts responsibility upon them.

This question of motivation is critical. Human history is littered with the consequences of leaders harming both followers and societies and for this reason some people are deeply cynical about the value and even the validity of leadership.

Leadership is often perceived as a role played out on a large stage with many followers and significant influence. But leadership can be found in everyday life - at a club when people volunteer to be president, take minutes, coach a team, coordinate an event, for example. The wellbeing of families, the social cohesion of communities and the effectiveness of businesses and organisations are upheld when people exercise leadership for the good of others.

When the question is more personal and reflective - Why do I lead? - the response requires consideration of the outcome and purpose. For me, leadership affords the opportunity to make a positive difference in the world. So knowing your why is important.

Three things come to mind when thinking about the why of leadership: vision, collaboration and service.


Purpose is the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s needs.” Carl Frederick Buechner, writer and theologian

Beginning with the end in mind is important for educators. The question: What type of adults do we want our children to become? should shape our vision of learning communities. This futures’ oriented perspective allows us to think about what knowledge, skills and dispositions children need in order to thrive in an unknowable future. It begins with a purpose and crafting a vision with others to improve the status quo, and to challenge prevailing orthodoxy if it doesn’t provide the highest possible quality education for all children.


“Coming together is a beginning, working together is progress, staying together is success.” Henry Ford, industrialist and founder of the Ford Motor Company

A way of conceptualising this is to ask why people would want to follow you. Are you worthy of being followed? Will anyone want to follow to where you are leading? The role of the leader is to motivate, engage and influence people to behave in ways that help them achieve common and shared goals that they would otherwise not be able to achieve on their own. Leadership builds organisational performance and unleashes the talent, creativity and ability of people.


The servant-leader is servant first … It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions …” The Servant as Leader, Robert K. Greenleaf

An orientation to service is focused on the growth and development of individuals, groups and communities. The servant-leader empowers by placing the needs of others first and giving away power. This is one of the paradoxes of leadership: the more power you give away, the more you have. In the words of the Martin Luther King, jnr.:

“Everybody can be great, because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

This quote points to the motivation for why one should lead: a rationale that is grounded in love, service and mutual success.

To lead is a privilege, one that brings with it a great responsibility to craft a shared vision to create environments that promote powerful human learning for all children, young people and adults.

I draw inspiration from young people such as Malala Yusafari whose dignity, courage and leadership remind me that good educational leaders can change the world.