Ethics in Education

Ethics in Education - Larger than life leaders

  • By Ian White
  • 06 Jul, 2016

Ego's and Charisma

Of the seven indicators that support an environment where ethics are more likely to be compromised in schools we have covered so far:

“An over obsession with the numbers” and “Fear and Silence”

Now we need to look at the third indicator, which is when the person leading the organisation is a larger than life, egotistical, and charismatic leader. In these circumstances, ethics are rarely considered by the organisation, often viewed as irrelevant and something that gets in the way. These leaders can promote the other indicators of ethical compromise as well as exerting their powerful personality to compromise others.

I sometimes wonder if this type of leader is recruited for the following reasons:

·      They over-promise and over-estimate their abilities and outcomes they can achieve

·      They are able, through their personality, to convince others that they are brilliant

·      They are tempting to employ because they are movers and shakers, quick turnaround, quick fix people

·      They have star quality and can raise the profile of the organisation; government is often wooed and enamoured by them

They have certain characteristics and strategies:

·      They usually add inexperienced and young people to their senior team in order to be able to more easily manipulate and influence – often highly motivated and ambitious, these young members of the senior team can become sycophants.

·      They tie people in with the benefits of success, perks and financial rewards

·      They encourage group-think and stop dissent

·      They often lie to their team and also to Governors

·      They enjoy being able to make decisions without the need for consultation or collaboration

·      They see the leadership style of ‘Pace-setter’ as a good thing

·      They display the characteristics of resilience, but far too much; they are over-confident, enjoy stupidly high levels of challenge, are too controlling and over-commit

·      For them, it is about power

·      They often come from humble beginnings

·      They consider themselves above the rules and often state that their conscience is clear

With this type of leader, employees know that what they are doing is wrong, they continue to do what they know is wrong and will cause pain, but they do it because the person in charge told them to.

These leaders tend to go unchecked and over a period of time they become immune to criticism and feedback, detached from reality.

This work by Laura McInerney , Editor of Schools Week , has produced some great research and editorial pieces on these issues. This one, among many, is worth a look, “Superheads – the true cost to schools.” -

If we come back again to the DFE and Ofsted, our ‘bosses’, who may increase the likelihood of ethical compromise in schools, even if not intentionally, how does their role impact on this particular indicator?

I think that you may already have noted the extreme short-termism of current policy and practice, the high stakes inspections and insistence on quick-fix fast turnaround - who can save us?  Step forward the larger than life egotistical leader, who will deliver short-term success and build in medium and long term failure.

So how do we avoid this indicator and the ethical compromise that is likely to follow, how do we avoid these leaders?

·      Don’t employ them in the first place or look to offer them a way out of the organisation if you already have (easier said than done I hear you say). Build this into your recruitment process – don’t snog, don’t marry, avoid!

·      Question them, and then after you have questioned them (with the inevitable reaction), question them again. Take me through how these hard to believe predictions are reached? Take me through the cash, how much cash is in the bank? Why do we have a high turnover of staff?

·      Insist on a list of all members of staff who leave or join the organisation, and who changes role, pay or position in the organisation.

·      Develop your young ambitious and capable members of staff, don’t promote them too early but educate them in ethics and what can go wrong in organisations like yours.


We will continue to ask the question: Do ethically sound schools achieve better outcomes in the medium to long term, and do ethically compromised schools fail in the medium to long term?


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Next blog: Ethics in education – A weak governing body

Much of this thinking and ideas stem from the book ‘The Seven Signs of Ethical Collapse’ by Marianne Jennings as well as ’Good to Great’ by Jim Collins

‘Ethics in Education’ – A new research based project by David Howard, Clare Wolfenden, Janet Oosthuysen, Andy Thorpe and Ian White (Bradford College, England, UK).

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