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The Skillset for Leadership in Education: A Conversation with George McMillan

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We were delighted to welcome George McMillan, Executive Principal and National Leader of Education at the Harris Federation, to the Schools & Academies Show Birmingham 2023 to share his expertise and guidance. As a lead facilitator for the National Institute of Teaching, George plays a vital role in training and mentoring hundreds of senior leaders across the country every year.

Joining the School Improvement Theatre, George discussed why it is so important for school leaders to develop their skill sets and provided practical advice for those struggling to gain the right level of CPD. 

Why is it important for leaders to continue to develop their skill sets?

Leaders are never the finished article, like some sort of school-based Yoda dispensing endless wisdom to the young Jedi teachers coming through the system.  We should be constantly sharpening our craft in order to be the very best versions of ourselves.  Apart from anything else, when you stop learning you stop enjoying the job as the grind becomes overwhelming.  Blink, and suddenly you're five years down the track mindlessly doing the same thing you've always done and you've totally lost your edge.

Do you have any practical advice or tips for aspiring school leaders who are struggling to get the right level of CPD?

Read widely about leadership - there are a million books out there.  Even if you don't align with the content of a book, that's as informative as if you did.  You will begin to form a leadership philosophy and way of 'being' at work that is a blend of everything you have seen and read.  Hook up with other aspiring and interested leaders in your school, MAT, Local Authority and talk about leadership.  Find an elder who you really admire: pick their brains; emulate their style; ask their guidance...and they don't even have to know they are your mentor or even meet them!  One of my mentors is Jocko Willink, an ex-navy seal whose military history and leadership podcast I follow - he has never met me and never will and yet he had a profound influence on my life five years ago.

Are there specific leadership skills or competencies that you believe school leaders should prioritize, and why are these important?

Know how to coach.  Gain a recognised professional coaching qualification such as the EMCC practitioner as this will not only teach you how to ask brilliant questions but how to really listen and how to understand what makes people tick. It would also make sure that you actually know how to coach, not just think that you do. 

There are lots of other professional leadership programmes out there - spend money on yourself and on your senior team.  If you're not operating at a very high level, your staff will suffer.  I also think all leaders should still teach and be among the best in the school at it.

How can LAs or MATs better support school leaders in developing their skills sets, and what policies or initiatives can be put in place to facilitate this?

All head teachers should be assigned a professional coach with at least one session per half term. This will help retention and help prevent burnout.  Creating (and forcing) opportunities for staff from different schools to train and learn together creates great professional dialogue and relationships.  Make sure that whatever is being delivered in-house is actually being delivered by people who know what they are talking about and who can also codify the training.  Being a great teacher or inspiring leader doesn't always mean you know how to codify and teach others how to do it as part of a leadership curriculum...and even worse, the truth is that often the people delivering training are not very highly skilled themselves.  Make sure you are looking outwards as well as inwards for where the talent lies.  Work with other MATs - they are not the enemy!

Want to find out more?

Don't miss the opportunity to hear George McMillan speak at the highly anticipated Schools & Academies Show in Birmingham on 22nd November. Join him for an insightful session on 'The Skillset for Leadership' at 13.25pm in the School Improvement Theatre, which will explore:

  • CPD beyond the NPQ framework 
  • Understanding the change required for different stages of leadership   
  • How to successfully succession plan through a robust management structure 
  • The importance of a clear strategy and vision for developing all leaders within schools
  • How to manage relationships and interactionsNew call-to-action