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Grown up and restless leadership

22 June 2016

Steve Munby, CEO of Education Development Trust weighs in on the Inspiring Leadership Conference

Last week, around 1300 head teachers joined us at the renowned Inspiring Leadership Conference at the ICC in Birmingham, UK. This is the third year we have worked with our co-hosts ASCL and NAHT to ensure a variety of speakers, both from the world of education and beyond, to bring themes and messages to school leaders across the UK. From the initial feedback we have received, delegates have left the conference reinvigorated and more inspired to do their work.

On the Thursday of the conference I delivered my keynote speech, entitled 'Grown Up and Restless Leadership' (full speech available to download here - speech will open in a new window), in which I explored how we can remain restless as leaders, constantly seeking to ensure that our organisation is the best it can be. Specifically, I launched our new 'Rapid School Improvement' research report, where we identified around 100 heads of schools who had made the move from special measures to good or outstanding in one go. What did these heads do to lead the improvement in their schools? You can find out more about this here (report will open in a new window).

I shared how passionate I am about the benefits of mentoring; and not just for those starting out in leadership, but for all leaders. Why would any leader, however experienced, not have a mentor? We associate mentors with the wisdom of age and experience but interestingly, one of my mentors is actually younger than me. This got me thinking about the nature of maturity in leadership. Is maturity a fixed thing, earned only through the hard slog of years of experience? Or are there short cuts to wisdom? I believe that with help and support, individuals can develop wisdom quickly and be brilliant leaders from any age.

I remember Professor David Hopkins saying to me once that he knew "quite a few old mountaineers and quite a few bold mountaineers but very few old and bold mountaineers". I get the point: if you are too bold, you may well not live long as a mountaineer. It is certainly true of me that as I have got older I have become in life more risk averse. An awareness of risk doesn’t have to lead to playing safe. Instead, it can give experienced leaders the ability to read risks and to take very astute gambles.

I argued that what we need are Grown Up and Restless Leaders. And that this is categorically not about age. You can be a truly grown up leader in your 20s and a really restless leader in your 70s. Grown up leaders feel comfortable in their own skins. They don't sulk or have tantrums. Grown up leaders have adult conversations. They treat people with respect and dignity.

Restless leaders are enthusiasts. They enthuse those around them and they create energy in others. People are delighted to work with them and for them because their excitement about the work and the mission is infectious. They are never satisfied with the status quo.

I think we need Grown Up and Restless Leadership instead of immature and ground down leadership. And the question is, how do we develop both those things in ourselves and in others?

As grown up and restless leaders we should commit personally to developing our future leaders in a more meaningful and focused way than ever before. To invest in them and to encourage them to challenge us. We should also commit to considering new ways to re-energise our experienced leaders. As grown up leaders, we don't just keep our heads down. We look outward and see the big picture and we understand that the context in which we are working is changing.

We use our knowledge and expertise wisely to think through what is needed now in our context and then to take decisive action. We have a strong foundation based on wisdom and we retain that youthful restlessness deep in our beings.

We understand, because we are grown up, that leadership isn't about being ambitious for ourselves it is not about proving ourselves or about ego, but it is about being ambitious for the children and young people we serve.


A full video of Steve Munby's speech will be available shortly. For a full transcript of his speech, please download thisPDF (opens speech in a new window). If you were able to join us at this years' Inspiring Leadership Conference, we would love to hear from you. Please get in contact via our twitter feed @EdDevTrust and tell us what you thought!