HOME  > 
HOME  > 

Uplifting Leadership that Lifts Up Learning

Uplifting Leadership that Lifts Up Learning


Case for change, innovation

In a seven-year global study with colleagues Alan Boyle and Alma Harris, we analysed how leadership teams from diverse organizations across business, sports, and education that were characterised by unusually high performance, inspired and elevated individual and collective excellence. Their relentless focus was to build high potential in their staff, students, and clients to ensure quality outcomes of many kinds. They uplifted those they served by uplifting those who served them.

In these organisations, these leaders combined the emotional, spiritual, and social power to guide staff to improve their own potential and those they influence within and beyond their organization.

  • During this study and in subsequent studies I have found that in schools that are performing beyond expectations there is strong communal leadership (with or without individual charismatic leadership at the top) that inspires improbable dreaming in the face of apparently impossible challenges. After an intensive period of team analysis following our site visits to all the organisations, we found the following factors defined the nature of uplifting leadership, including within the schools and school networks.

These schools:

  • Dream with determination and explore the nature of uplift (providing opportunities for all students by inspiring the adults who serve them) and its impact on progress and performance, and the ways to achieve this within and beyond the school. They perform beyond expectations, aspire to, and articulate an improbable, collectively held dream that is bolder and more challenging than a plan or even a vision.  They dream big, and identify and articulate an inspirational vision for what the school could be for all students, their families and the school community.  Collectively, they plan carefully and at a sustainable pace to ensure pervasive implementation.  These schools do not try to expand as quickly as possible nor take off too fast. They are built for sustainable growth.
  • Actively explore partnerships that are simultaneously seen as competitive and challenging, but have the potential to produce greater results and social value for the whole community. These robust collaborations inspire courageous and innovative responses to challenges such as raising shared performance or increasing the public commitment to all the schools in one’s sector rather than pitting one school against another. Leaders within these schools know how to develop creative cultures that take risks bravely against the grain of mainstream thinking.
  • Balance autonomy with a sense of discipline and collective responsibility in pursuing a shared dream. The community is pushed as much as pulled beyond their comfort zone through the employment of peer pressure that pushes everyone to achieve a higher purpose and stronger outcomes that yield increased engagement as well as achievement.
  • Cultivate, engage with, and support communities that have importance for them.  These include the communities of origin from which they recruit their talent, the communities of practice of those who work for them, and the communities of support where they are often physically located.
  • Mark, monitor and manage their progress towards success using metrics and indicators in a mindful and meaningful way. They use indicators and targets of progress and performance that are personally meaningful, publicly shared, and demonstrably fair measures of what the school community is trying to achieve.  Evidence is used to move change forward in ways that support the vision and mission of the school.
  • Embrace uplifting leadership that honours the concept of slow and sustainable pace and an uplifted focus pushing high potential in every corner of the organisation.  This leadership relies upon a firm foundation for success to be pervasive. Sustainable success requires a solid footing, a manageable rate of progress, and an ability to ensure that immediate actions are connected to long-term results (Hargreaves, Boyle, & Harris, 2014, p. 157).
  • Recognise that the ultimate ambition of uplift is to improve the prospects of the generations who will succeed us long after we are gone, while making sure that we can make things better for the people we lead and serve in the present (Hargreaves, Boyle, & Harris, 2014, p. 157).


Reflection Questions

  • What characteristics make our school successful and sustainable, far beyond expectations?
  • How does sustainability in leadership and change manifest itself in education, compared to other professional sectors?
  • What are the implications for schools and school leaders?

Hargreaves, A., Boyle, A., & Harris, A. (2014). Uplifting leadership: How organizations, teams, and communities raise performance. John Wiley & Sons.

About Authors

Andy Hargreaves
Brennan Chair in Education
President: International Congress of School Effectiveness & Improvement
Editor-in-Chief: Journal of Professional Capital & Community
Lynch School of Education
Boston College, Campion Hall 109
Case for change