Learning, Leaning and Leading

by Michael Taylor

It can be a circuitous journey into leadership but that’s half the fun… 

Quite often aspiring leaders will ask What do I need to do to get this leadership position? It’s terribly cliched but responding that it is all about the journey, not necessarily the destination, is one of life’s truisms. Developing leadership capacity is a pathway that takes you to places you may never have expected, into roles you never realised. Beyond the ‘usual suspects’ (e.g. completing a Master’s, volunteering for opportunities, leading initiatives) that go into the leadership trajectory, there are also many less obvious experiences that will help you develop into the leader you are. For me, the leadership pathway can be broken into Learning, Leaning and Leading and how the sum of the parts makes the leader. Hopefully, some of the musings here will have you reflect on your leadership journey and the roundabout pathway that it is taking you on.   


Learning is the bedrock that leadership is built upon. As a leader, you are duty-bound to continue to develop your craft through the latest research, professional development and personal growth. Using that Master’s degree and upskilling to an Ed.D. are all wonderful opportunities to grow. Still consider, though, the ‘lesser lights’ such as certificates and subjects in programmes that interest you. Learning languages has always been a ‘foot in the door’ when leading internationally. It gives you a connection to your local community but it also helps to break down barriers with students (a simple ‘ohayo gozaimasu’, ‘goeiemorgen’, ‘jou sun’ or ‘bonjour’ to the respective students usually puts a smile on most faces). Undertake that ESL/ELL/ML certification. Get first-aid qualified. Complete those technology platform certifications. Sign up for a leadership course. No one ever lost out by broadening their horizons.      

Learning however does not stop there. Learning from each and every experience is how good leaders evolve. The decisions we make today are also crafted from what we learnt ‘back in the day’. That part-time job (think McDonald’s, Starbucks, your local supermarket or even grinding metal in a foundry!) that taught you how to deal with customers of various backgrounds and demeanours; that taught you resilience; that taught you there has to be a better way. Now think of school – anything sounding familiar? Schools are diverse and complex but they are also a reflection of what’s happening in society. 

Right now, the work of Professor Raffaella Sadun (Harvard Business School) is certainly piquing interest with her ‘Boring Management Matters’.

So rule number one, good leaders never stop learning.


Leaning on your networks. One of the greatest collateral benefits of being in the teaching fraternity is that we like to share. Teachers are gregarious by nature. Actively building these varying levels of support, results in leaders accessing more than one perspective; more than one opinion; more than one experience. From this point, you can make a valued decision based on a wealth of knowledge. Using data-driven decisions will always be one of your superpowers. Join those professional networks and look to be active and volunteer your support or assistance. Try to join up with the local professional development network, school sports association or educational technology group. All these networks can help support your leadership. All they require is an open mind, some effort and the rarest of commodities – time. 

One of the most influential networks can be found through the accrediting agencies. Beyond the obvious benefit and value of being an accredited school, an underestimated element is being part of the agency’s network. Work ‘both sides of the fence’ by joining accreditation teams to support other schools. Working on an accrediting team is much like being the away team in sports. Not because it’s you versus the school (in most cases quite the opposite – you feel part of the school), but because of the bond you build within a visiting team. Working to collective deadlines, deep diving into the school’s documents all the while sharing data and insights; definitely having a few laughs along the way; and the ultimate goal to write a report that will help the school with continuous growth and development.

It’s not always support from within school systems that you can call upon. Chamber of Commerce, Embassy networks, Expat Associations, Sporting Associations, Community groups, and NGOs (think Foodbank) all have far-reaching support and resources that can support leadership and importantly schools. Be willing and open-minded.      


The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.’ Leading by example is not the grandiose but the mundane. As mentioned above ‘boring leadership matters’  This is another truism that resonates in education. Be the person who picks up the random trash in the corridors; performs supervision duties no one else wants; and is available to cover classes. These examples are some of the best leadership qualities you can share with the staff.

Who do you model your leadership on? Who are the leaders that inspire you? Sometimes inspiration comes from unusual places. It has been humbling and inspiring to witness cleaners in state schools set a bar of high personal expectations. Working on minimum wage; bound by less-than-friendly work conditions; and taking pride in presenting a clean and supportive environment for students every day. That is authentically leading the way. Every day be that leader that makes students feel they are the most important person in that school. Visibility in the school is leadership. 

Leading committees, subjects, divisions, and schools is satisfying. It requires hard work and a realisation that good leadership is selfless. There is ‘nothing in it’ for good leaders other than the intrinsic satisfaction of seeing students develop their independence; observing leadership growth in staff; being part of a school community that values learning; and supporting communities through school that are less fortunate are the gold standards you can aspire to. Plus the realisation that ongoing school improvement is never-ending. Good leading is like painting the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge. As soon as you finish painting it, you start all over again. Good leadership is perpetual. The journey is never finished, but then again, you would never have it any other way…

Michael Taylor is the Principal at UIA International School of Tokyo, Japan.

To connect with Michael on LinkedIn, click here

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2 thoughts on “<strong>Learning, Leaning and Leading</strong>”

  1. I like the idea of learning through the accreditation process. Forming a deep bond with others and developing an interdependent culture where your equal thoughts, ideas and input are so important is energising. ‘The standard you walk past is the standard you accept’. What as a leader are you prepared to accept/not accept. A great interview question!

  2. ‘Leading by example is not the grandiose but the mundane.’ What a powerful truth. Michael’s thoughtful piece sets people thinking. No one can ever speak highly enough about the importance of engaging in continuous learning and maintaining a healthy network. It is absolutely worth reading again and again.

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