Game Changers | Lead | The Journey of a Leader

Competencies for a Fit for Purpose 21c Leader

How can we become leaders whose approaches reflect the full range of 21C competencies? We've compiled six short case studies to demonstrate what they look like.



In running a large single-sex state school, the leadership purpose of Principal A is very much centred on building a healthy school culture. His focus in this respect on the fundamental purpose of the school – an education for 21C character and competencies. His leadership competency revolves around strengthening. He believes that leading through character adds to the value of a school. This is characterised by the way he works towards embedding shared values in a culture with a clear and meaningful core of civic character, performance character, and moral character. His leadership capability reveals that he is a purpose-driven and disciplined leader. He demonstrates the character, competency, drive, and passion for responsibility to lead by example. He enacts suitable, practical and sustainable leadership principles to meet team, task and individual needs and goals. He models high standards of personal and professional discipline, especially in the face of adversity, and he enhances team members’ self-discipline and collective discipline to achieve high standards. He relies more on outcomes and long-term sustainability of the team and achievement of a shared purpose rather than on leadership style or details of tasks which he routinely delegates to other team members.


The leadership purpose of Principal B, who leads a regional coeducational community-based school, is to build the future of the school and its community. He applies models and frameworks of positive leadership that balance the need to honour the past and address the demands of the present, while prioritising looking forward to a preferred future. His leadership competency is characterised by informing. He believes that leading through narrative creates shared purpose in the school. This is characterised by the way he is leading it towards a shared understanding of its context, trajectory, and sense of community. This draws on his leadership capability to create and communicate vision. He uses far-sighted vision and clear goals to set direction, build the team and design its supporting structures. He translates vision into action through positive leadership that is continually interpreting, reviewing and reinforcing the team vision by communicating well and often. He uses a wide variety of effective communication to motivate, influence and direct the team. He aligns the team and community to the desired vision, promotes the team’s credibility, and enhances the viability of achieving the school’s goals.

Effective leaders ... provide answers that help us to make sense of the volume, pace, and intensity of our times with patience, empathy, and insight. They are Game Changers with the reflectiveness, sensitivity and strength to lead in a way that brings out the best in others and enhances the future for all of us.


Principal C leads a large, old, faith-based school in a time of transformation. Her leadership purpose is to build learning. She recognises that change means adult learning and seeks to co-create an agreed approach to change readiness and organisational development in her community. She wishes to help others to institutionalise the desire to learn from all of the experiences of schooling to implement changes that improve outcomes for more learners. He particular leadership competency lies in orienting her community to this future. She believes that leading through transformation commits the school to growth. This is characterised by adopting behaviours of adaptive expertise and professional self-efficacy in pursuit of the progressive attainment of iterative standards. This draws on her leadership capability to understand and harness change. She brings about change in an intentional, goal-oriented and purposeful way. She employs effective processes and strategies to overcome resistance, enhance learning and maintain team cohesiveness. She is acquiring even greater expertise in using different methods to resolve conflict and employs suitable techniques to bring individuals and groups to short-term agreement and improve long-term working relationships.


Principal D leads a well-established boarding school and exercises a leadership purpose to build performance. She seeks to identify and share a “secret sauce” of aspirations, a sense of kinship, and pathways to success, applied within a high performance culture of inspiration, challenge, and support that fosters both the pursuit of excellence by young people of character, and the sense of belonging to and engagement in school that keeps them in their groove and holds them to the educational purpose. She appreciates the importance of using evidence to focus people on developing the right solutions for building a culture of high performance in leadership and learning. Her particular leadership competency is that of focusing. She believes that leading through expectation concentrates the school on solutions for the future derived from the best possible thinking. This is characterised by enacting strategic intent, paying attention to detail in implementation, and emphasising achievement of desired outcomes. This draws on her leadership capability to solve problems and make decisions. She consults team members appropriately in making decisions, equipping herself with a range of appropriate evidence-based decision-making models that help her to focus on the right information needed to make timely decisions that meet the desired object and successfully manage the stress and risk associated with the decision. 



The educational purpose of Principal E is to build strategy and this helps him to align the operations of all aspects of daily life in the community of his urban elementary, middle and high school to this intent. He is inherently dissatisfied with the status quo, and is prepared to redesign the vision, direction, structures and processes required to create a great school that graduates fit for purpose citizens. His signal leadership competency is that of aligning. He believes that leading through intent draws the school together by building trust. This is characterised by the way he promotes openness and responsibility, establishes commitment to a common aspiration, and resources for long-term success. This draws on his leadership capability of values-based leadership styles. He understands in this respect that there is no ‘best’ style of leadership – he works hard to develop a range of them to connect people with purpose and propel their work towards the school strategy. He also uses practical day-to-day skills of administration to work with people to resolve issues and get the job done in a way that aligns with the values, mission, strategy, and culture of the school


The educational purpose of Principal F in running a large coeducational independent school is to build systems and operations that bring people together. He nurtures effective learning relationships and strives to support an appropriately resourced community of inquiry and practice. His leadership competency is very much that of enriching. He believes that leading through teams enhances the school by empowering people. This is characterised by his conscious acknowledgement of the voice and agency of individuals and groups within the school’s whole community of inquiry and practice. This draws on his leadership capability to build the right team culture. He assiduously demonstrates team values and cultivates the right team attitude, creating a culture that supports the desired ethos and enables the preferred strategy, while enhancing the dignity, worth, and contribution of every team member.

How do you see your own leadership competencies? Where do your strengths lie and how is this connected to your own passion? Long-term educational leadership success lies in clear purpose and direction, strong values and organisational belief that enhance team flexibility and responsiveness. To this end, leaders in education must be adaptable and meet challenges by accepting greater levels of responsibility, finding new and better ways of doing things, and understanding the implicit need for leaders to make decisions that involve forming judgments, managing risk and allowing freedom of action by team members. Complex educational environments place difficult, challenging and contradictory demands on leaders. In our work with schools internationally, time and time again, we see that the leadership that makes a difference in this quest is deeply imbued with the quality of complexity. We see this exercised by effective leaders who provide answers that help us to make sense of the volume, pace, and intensity of our times with patience, empathy, and insight. They are Game Changers with the reflectiveness, sensitivity and strength to lead in a way that brings out the best in others and enhances the future for all of us. 

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