School Leadership Profiles and Personality

Part 1 of GSE’s “What We Believe” Series:

What are common trends in school leadership profiles and personality type?

During the 90s I participated in many workshops and training forums focussed on leadership development. A key component was always leadership profiles and personality type. Throughout that period I learnt a great deal about personal development and differences through the frame of Meyers Briggs Personality Type (MBTI). In my district, and others, many Principals determined their MBTI type and this was very helpful when leaders were unpacking leadership styles and behaviours. It created a frame reference that helped people understand difference. Subsequently, facilitators of these workshops, without intention or purpose, grew to understand the clear trends that existed in personality types across the many hundreds of Principals they were working with.

To paraphrase some conversations I had during that time with facilitators:

“It might be surprising to know that the most common personality type across Principals in our workshops are ESTJ or ISTJ. Of course there is a spread of all personality types across Principals but there is a clear trend towards this personality styles.”

Facilitators and Principals in a common school district

Is there a natural inclination for people of this type to be drawn to Principalship?

Does the system and its requirements drive this trend?

Let me share my very strong opinions about this:

Firstly, any personality type can do anything well. I do not accept that an introvert cannot be a very good public speaker, be effective in large groups and manage interpersonal relationships. I don’t accept that someone who prefers to think “big picture” cannot be well organised and attend to detail well. We may have default positions, or preferences, but we can all perform all tasks very well. It just takes more energy to operate in ways that are not our preference or default style. In fact I am an extreme introvert. Off the chart! However, I love nothing more than speaking in front of large groups at a conference or holding court as required in my leadership role. I sometimes wear loud shirts, take strong public positions and stand out in the crowd. I re-energise however privately and in small groups. I think and reflect internally and speak less than people of other extrovert personality types. I disagree that the role of Principal, or leadership in other industries, is better served by one personality type over another. I worry about preferred school leadership profiles and personality type and how this influences education systems.

I believe the system or convention of “preferred Principal profile” does drive these trends however.

My research is only anecdotal and the above example is not easily verified however I would claim that the reason why more principals are of one type over the other is that “the system” and convention drives these trends. As human beings we are drawn to people who are more like us. We are attracted to characteristics in others that match things we value in ourselves. In the above example it was well known at the time that leaders at regional or state level were mostly ESTJ or ISTJ. In the appointment of Principals across their districts they were unknowingly appointing people just like themselves. Unconventional leadership styles were certainly not favoured. There was a profile that was more likely to succeed based on perception.

Do you employ people like yourself?

I would argue that it is very important to employ people who are different to yourself. How do you add value or create a complimentary team from people who are all very similar?

School Leadership Profiles and Personality
Leadership Diversity

Unconscious or implicit bias toward people who are similar to ourselves is natural and very common. We do it not just in terms of personality type but also gender, race, education level, politics, age, economic status, culture, values and background. We are subconsciously looking for points of similarity in everyone we meet because similarities make us feel safer and more comfortable. We end up with this big, homogenous culture where everybody looks alike, thinks alike, and everybody likes socialising or working in the same way. “What most interviewers are looking for and acting on is more of an intuitive sense of, ‘Would I get along with this person?’ and that often isn’t very reliable,” says Kirsta Anderson, global head of culture transformation in London for Korn Ferry. Believe it or not, even if you are from an underrepresented group, you have biases that impact your professional decisions, especially when hiring key leaders. There is a strong chance that you might also be reinforcing standard school leadership profiles and personality type.

In 2017, Fortune 500 executive Kristen Pressner gave a brave TEDx talk, where she admitted to harbouring gender bias against female leaders, despite identifying as a woman herself. The fact is that if you want to build teams or organizations capable of being innovative and different, you need diversity. Diversity enhances innovation and creativity. It encourages the search for unique information and perspectives, leading to better decision making and problem solving. Even simply being exposed to diversity can change the way you think. There is decades of research from scientists, psychologists, sociologists, economists, and demographers that proves that information diversity is valuable. When people with very diverse backgrounds and perspectives are brought together to solve problems in groups, they bring different information, opinions, and perspectives.

How do we deal with this?

I have some friends and colleagues who say “Well I am who I am and will not pretend to be someone I am not. They will just have to accept me for who I am.”

Good luck with that – sorry to be blunt! That just wont work!

These conventions, especially those related to gender, race etc have existed for centuries. Don’t be a victim but don’t be naive.


If you want to make change you can only do that from the inside! It is fine to protest from the sidelines but let’s be honest about what we are dealing with.

Be the best you can possibly be. Shine a light on the things that make you exceptional. But be who you need to be in context.

If you are too loud at times when others think you need to be quieter, then understand that there are times to be a chameleon. Look around you, be socially aware. Understand emotional intelligeence.

If you are shy and quiet at times when you need to speak out and make your position and ideas clear, learn to change. Leadership requires you to be present, in front and bold, when appropriate.

School Principal Leadership Profiles and Personality

I too am ashamed at how indifference is treated. Gender, race, culture, background should not be what determines leadership or value in any circumstance. However, for now it does. You cannot change who you are but you can control your actions. Lean in, push boundaries and do not accept current conventions, but understand them. You can bend a green branch but if that branch breaks it will not grow. It will die. Understand the consequences of “standing out” as well as “being grey.” When you are effective you can stand out for the right reasons. The spotlight will shine on your greatness.

Leadership requires adaptation and skills in navigation within different contexts. We should represent a variety of school leadership profiles and personality type.

Especially in international leadership contexts.

Be who you need to be!

Check out our other blogs from GSE’s “What We Believe” series over coming weeks!

CEO and Education Expert Greg Parry

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Internationally renowned for his expertise in education leadership, Greg Parry’s vast experience includes leadership of projects for edu-cation institutions throughout Australia, the Middle East, the United States, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and China. Recognised for his numerous contributions in the education arena, Greg has received the Ministers Award for Excellence in School Leadership based on improvements in school performance and a range of successful principal training and leadership development programs, as well as the School of Excellence Award for Industry/School Partnerships and the School of Excellence Award for Technology Innovation. His company GSE (Global Services in Education) has been recognised as having the Best Global Brand in International Education in 2015 and 2016.

Considered one of the premier experts in his profession, Greg has trained teachers and principals throughout the world in areas such as critical thinking, language development and leadership. His expertise in school start up projects, leadership and curriculum development, has made him a sought after authority in these disciplines.

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