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Top 10 Characteristics of Awesome 21st Century School Leaders

Top 10 Characteristics of Awesome 21st Century School Leaders

Good schools are driven by teachers, Principals and Heads of School who are passionate about making a difference to the lives of the children in their care. However, the challenges of 21st Century global and technological advances have placed school leaders and teachers under more pressure than ever before.

How can you be a successful School Leader or and promote international school leadership? Here are the characteristics I believe you need to develop to thrive in the 21st Century.


Honesty and Integrity

As a leader you need to know yourself and your values. Find a school that aligns with your values and then model your values and the school’s values to all in your community. Make a personal commitment to be honest with yourself and your team at all times. Be transparent. Nurture honesty and integrity in your faculty and students. If you make a mistake, admit it, take responsibility for it, resolve it and learn from it. Always uphold your word and your promises.


Ability to Trust and Empower

Listen to your teachers and students. Learn their talents, interests and passions and then delegate accordingly. Empower them to take responsibility for tasks and projects. Be there to coach them and make sure you praise them for what they achieve.


Communicative, Collaborative and Connected

Openly seek and share information and knowledge. Seek to be understood and to understand others. Connect with the world via blogging and social media, and follow organisations relating to INTO international education. Collaborate with others virtually and face-to-face to ensure the best decisions are made.


Positive Energy

Always present a positive, pro-active and caring approach. Make the time to speak with students, teachers and parents. Get to know and value them by developing authentic relationships. Make sure you manage your health, well being and energy levels.



Be confident and approachable, even if this is your first principalship or international school leadership role and you are feeling overwhelmed. Be visible, ask questions, value what you see and give praise for effective teaching and learning practices. As a leader you will be faced with difficult situations. In these situations, always stay calm and confident to maintain morale and confidence in the school community. Ensure your focus always returns to your strategic goals. The key objective is to keep everyone working and moving ahead.


Commitment and Persistence

Displaying genuine commitment and dedication is such a motivator to your teachers and students. Make sure you create short term and long term plans based on 21st Century strategic visioning.  Be 100% committed to the achievement of the school improvement goals. Adapt when unforeseen situations occur and then persist till the important goals are achieved. Never give up!


Willingness to Learn, Unlearn and Relearn

Never stop learning! The opportunities and possibilities of the 21st Century are exciting and empowering for you and your school community. Be open to it and adopt a growth mindset. Seth Godin says, “If you’re not doing the things that scare you, you’re not really learning.” Attend workshops and conferences to learn from great 21st Century leaders.


Entrepreneurial, Creative and Innovative

The ability to think outside the box is powerful. Creativity and innovation are great ways to manage the disruptions and complexities of the 21st Century. Empower students and teachers to be resourceful, flexible, creative, to think like entrepreneurs and develop global partners and resources to succeed in our ever-changing world. Develop the school as an entrepreneurial organisation.



Learn to trust your instincts. Recent research shows that we can successfully solve problems intuitively.  Listen to the voice within you; it comes from a wise and good place.


Ability to Inspire

Be inspiring! Address teachers, students and parents with speeches about noble 21st century educational possibilities, highlighting the school’s vision and mission. Create an enthusiasm and optimism to work together in creating future directions for the school. Continue this focus all through your tenure. For some inspiration to motivate your team, check out our list of inspirational quotes for 21st century educators.


Want to learn more?

Why not sign up for my next online Masterclass Webinar: Leadership for the New Normal Innovative 21C School Leadership Workshop. You will learn how to lead 21st Century Schools using innovation and change.

Check it out here

    Download our "Top 3 Challenges Facing School Leaders today" whitepaper and learn how to overcome them.