Leadership Recipes

We have enough recipes for leadership to fill a cookbook.

These are normally written as a concise list of qualities that you throw into your pedagogical pot, mix together and gently heat.

Some contain magic ingredients or a secret sauce and some even talk about the ‘perfect’ recipe and an innovation soup (Puligada and Waisanen, 2022).

The leadership recipes come from all over the world and not just within education.

So what can we learn from this diversity?

We can learn plenty but making a variety of ingredients work together is the skills and it how we use them that matters (Handscomb, 2015).

It also means not sticking to one recipe and trying things out.

We can try a few of the recipes out for ourselves and see what works. We can tweak and edit recipes and even combine them.

Dipping into some of the available wonderfully rich leadership recipes that have been flavoured by the professions outside of education is helpful to a point.

Steve Rush (2013) is a renowned global expert on leadership and his leadership cake is made up of communication, authenticity, knowledge and empathy.

When she was Defra permanent secretary, Clare Moriarty talked about the four As of leadership: added value, atmosphere, attention, authenticity.

BT’s Stephen Hall thinks the mark of good leadership is the four Cs: conviction, confidence, challenge and culture.

The former CEO of Procter and Gamble, A.G. Lafley talks about the 5Es and leaders needing to: envision, engage, empower/energise, enable and execute.

Entrepreneur Doug Meyer-Cuno (2021) goes further and details a wholesome 25 ingredients for empowered leadership. But that’s nothing compared to Jo Owen (2020) who lists a whopping 100 leadership skills.

Although not school environments, these leadership ingredients still apply to leaders in education.

So what about schools. In his research Day (2005) identified ten themes which characterise successful headteachers and other leaders:

1. Performativity and vision – managing the tensions
2. Building and sustaining an inclusive community
3. Narratives of identity
4. Values, beliefs and the ethical dimension
5. Renewal of professional trust
6. Moral purpose, agency and culture of courage
7. Expectation and achievement
8. Leaders who learn
9. Building internal capacity through collectivity
10. The passion of commitment.

So where do we look?

There is clearly no agreement when it comes to ingredients although there are overlaps and similarities.

There are those that select empathy, integrity and intentional trust (Dolloff, 2022). Then there is care, clarity,  responsibility and respect (Whittaker, 2020).

Some will say a more phronetic one full of virtue, thought and action (Tierney, 2021) and values-based (Cane, 2022).

And they will be right.

Others might say emotion management, emotional intelligence (Gonzales, 2022), personal growth and comfortable in their own skin.

Perhaps communication, guiding vision, knowledge, ignition, passion and humility? Or are they culture-transforming (Earnshaw, 2021) and do they inspire greatness? (Gagnon, 2006).

They’ll be right too.

Then there is flexibility, collaboration, teamwork, professional development programmes, and connection with the community.


Not forgetting compassionate leadership (Riley, 2022), captaincy (Dixon, 2022) and authenticity (Moorish, 2022) and being bold, brave and going beyond (Mauri, 2020).

For those interested in being a leadership ‘wizard’ then Gonzales (2021) tells us that we need to focus on nine dimensions: vision, communication, influence, adversity, inspiration, commitment, empowerment and discipline.

Fullan and Kirtman (2019) identify seven key competencies that a leader equipped to create and sustain change displays. They focus on their own improvement, build capacity in others, and focus outwardly on the future trends in education by:

  1. Challenging the status quo;
  2. Building trust through clear communication and expectations;
  3. Creating a commonly owned plan for success;
  4. Focusing on team over self;
  5. Having a high sense of urgency for change and sustainable results in improving student achievement;
  6. Having a commitment to continuous improvement for self and organization; and
  7. Building external networks and partnerships.

The recipes, lists and bullet-points go on and on.

But there is one thing that you don’t often hear said when it comes to a key leadership ingredient and that is being imperfect.

Munby and Bretherton (2022) argue that being an imperfect leader is a mindset guided by a self-awareness of strengths, our flaws and areas for improvement. Authentic leaders know they need a good team around them and value their expertise. This teaches us that the finest ingredients are people.

Another leadership ingredient that doesn’t get much of a mention is how a culture and climate of love drives behaviour and decision-making (Dyson, 2022) through compassion, inclusion, integrity and availability.

And then of course there is an ingredient that doesn’t relate to any skill or training and that is luck (Hill, 2022).

Focusing on ‘what works’ recipes is a disaster in the kitchen waiting to happen because schools are so different.

Leaders come in all shapes and sizes, with different skills, attributes and personalities. This means there are no silver bullets (Ainsworth, 2021) and one-size can never fit all as leadership has to be contextualised to each school with its own unique ways of thinking, being and doing (Kelly and Hall, 2022).

Unravelling the leadership recipe (Gurr, 2016) isn’t something we should do or search for.

It’s down to you.

Leaders have to cook up something new for themselves to cater for their own contexts. If this means mixing equal parts trust-building and capacity-building, a large helping of growth and a pinch of innovation then go for it.

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