Headship Headaches: A brief index of leadership metaphors.

Image: millwold.wordpress.com
Hamster Wheel:  Everyone is running round and round and round, getting nowhere fast but working really hard.  There’s only one solution.  Step off the wheel… STOP.  Take a look around and think.  What the hell are we doing? Let’s try something different….


Permanent White Water:  There is no point telling people that it will pass; that the calm waters are just around the corner.  They’re not.  This is how things are; this is life; this is reality… it never ends..  You need to learn to cope with it and steer a course somehow right now, not later… there is no later.


Glass half-empty/half full…Regardless of how you see it, this is the place to be. Empty glass is way to pessimistic. You’re bringing people down.  Full?  Nope… too fake; nobody trusts over-breezy delusional positivity that defies reality.  The message is: It’s tough but we’re winning – people will buy that. Half full/half empty… keep it there.

Businessman pushing large rock uphill

Pushing a rock uphill..  A fairly good description of how it can feel to get to where you want to be… But it shouldn’t be that hard.  If it is, things ain’t right; probably better to let the rock go and let it do what it’s going to do – and start again doing things differently.


The Wisdom of Solomon –  impossible choices are part of the job.  And I don’t mean the font size for the newsletter….. Cuts here or cuts there (Cuts being today’s euphemism for redundancies); curriculum time for this or curriculum time for that; the needs of the one disruptive but disturbed student versus the general discipline and wellbeing of everyone else.  Disciplinary vs Capability…  It goes on. Tough choices. No easy answers.   You can only do your best to make a choice…



The Blind Leading the Blind.   This could be a curriculum team where nobody has the strategic know-how to raise standards without external input; it could be a governing body committee or external school improvement team. But it could actually be your own team on a particular issue if you can bear to admit it.  When you really don’t have the answers, you need a guide. You need help. Better to admit it than stumble on in the dark.


Herding Cats:  When everyone is running off in different directions interpreting the ethos, strategy, vision in their own way…  That message just isn’t strong enough; you need to work on the clarity of the mission; the incentives; the bottom lines. Easier said than done.  You might want to let some cats keep on running…


Head in the sand:  You. A colleague. Parents? A member of staff.. A governor… Could be anyone who can’t face the truth. Which can be hard to take.


Spinning Plates.   It’s a daily performance, to keep all those initiatives running, all those lines of school improvement spinning along.  Something will break if too many rely on you.  Better to spin fewer plates or put a few in other people’s hands rather than let them fall in yours and smash to pieces.



You can’t polish a turd but you can roll it in glitter:   It’s important in taking on new jobs, in filtering out the advisory snake-oil,  in evaluating the quality of work in your own, in establishing the truth behind any facade –  that some folk are very skilled at erecting. All that glitters is not gold….  The danger is when the pressure is on to do a bit of this yourself to feed the PR machine; try not to! It gets messy in the end. Are you making things genuinely better or just sprinkling some glitter..?

ergo boxing www.boxingcorner.co.uk red punchbag

Punchbag:  People come to you with their stuff; their issues, gripes, crises, anxieties, problems, decisions, dilemmas, complaints; their anger, disappointment, frustration, ego, over-sensitivity, sense of injustice…. they all come. Are you meant to absorb it all?  Well, you can’t.  It’s unhealthy… You need to build some defences; boundaries for people to respect and be prepared to say: No, I am not your infinite punchbag… I’ll listen, but I have a limit.


On Top of the World: Incredibly, thankfully, you only need a few moments of getting this feeling to wipe out all the rest…  It’s what keeps everyone going.  Significant achievements, success against the odds, personal triumphs and little acts of kindness… these are the highs, the fixes that spur us on in the face of the challenges.

Check out my last post – A word of thanks –  our profession is full of unsung heroes.  You know who are you.  In fact, you may not – because you’re too humble to think it or believe it. But keep going people.  Keep going…


  1. Great post, Tom. Your ‘glass half full/half empty comment reminded me of the time I mentioned this to an engineer. He looked confused – ‘as far as engineers are concerned’, he said, ‘the glass is simply too big.’


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