Discovering the leader within | A reflective guide for educators

How do we view ourselves as a leader?

"I really want to look at applying for a senior leadership position next year … but I’m not sure I’m ready”.

I am working with a middle leader who often expresses a desire to apply for a senior leadership role. Every time she did so she would closely follow these words with feelings of self-doubt. How do any of us feel ready for leadership?

In supporting many aspiring and current leaders as a mentor, I see how much we can all be paralysed with feelings of self doubt when considering applying for leadership roles or reflecting on what kind of leader we want to be. An important part of growing the confidence to see ourselves as a leader is knowing ourselves.

In te ao Māori, knowing and understanding your whakapapa connects us to our tūpuna, whānau, whenua, iwi and marae. It's how we learn about our family history and trace our genealogy, and it's knowing who we are and where we're from.

‘Know Thyself’ was also a phrase used by the ancient Greeks such as Aeschylus, Socrates and Plato. These were the words inscribed above the entrance to the temple of Apollo at Delphi.

Podcast: Finding the leader within 

CORE Education · Finding the leader within

How do you know if you are doing the ‘right’ thing?

Because there are so many daily challenges for leaders, it is difficult to know if you are doing the ‘right thing’ if you don’t know yourself, know what you stand for and what is driving your decision-making. A place to start on your leadership journey is to step back and reflect on your understanding of leadership as a concept. Often mentees spend a considerable amount of time contemplating pātai around their understandings of leadership in relation to themselves:

  • What does leadership mean to me? What does it look like in practice?
  • Looking back to leaders I’ve worked with in the past and those I’m currently working with, what do I admire about them?
  • What strengths do I bring to leadership?
  • How do I know how effective I am as a leader?

Leadership tools

This process can be supported by leaning into a leadership tool, such as The Teaching Council’s Educational Leadership Capability Framework (2018) or the Tū Rangatira model (2010) to consider our strengths and where we have opportunities to grow.

The purpose of looking within is to uncover how we see ourselves as leaders, to know what we bring and to be clear about what we need and can develop in ourselves. This is a difficult proposition to undertake on our own. We need someone to hold a mirror up so we can see ourselves as others see us and what we can become. Some brave leaders seek out feedback from others to understand how effective they are as leaders.

Taking the time to reflect

Taking the time to reflect on your own understanding of leadership isn’t a linear process, nor is it always easy. It can take you down the path of explicitly uncovering your own core beliefs; what has shaped these and whether or not they serve us as leaders. This process can certainly help address the self-doubt we may harbour and that which may hold us back from applying for leadership roles or feeling confident about the roles we currently hold.

Ko ngā pae tata, whakamaua kia tina (The potential for tomorrow is determined by what we do today.)


Education Council. (2018). Educational leadership capability framework. Teaching council of Aotearoa New Zealand.

Ministry of Education. (2008). Kiwi leadership for principals. Ministry of Education.

Ministry of Education. (2009). School Leadership and Student Outcomes:Identifying What Works and Why. Ministry of Education.

Copyright © Ministry of Education 2010 All photographs copyright © photonewzealand Published for the Ministry of Education by Huia Publishers 39 Pipitea Street, PO Box 17-335 Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand Fax 04 4739265 ISBN 978-1-86969-433-3 If you require further copies please contact the Ministry of Education Customer Services team: Down the Back of the Chair Freephone: 0800 660 662 Freefax: 0800 660 663 Email: orders@the Web:

Educational Leadership Capability Framework Published in August 2018 by the Education Council PO Box 5326, Wellington 6145, New Zealand This document is available online at

Kiwi Leadership for Principals (2008)

Ministry of Education. (2008). Kiwi leadership for principals. Ministry of Education.

The school leadership best evidence synthesis (BES), 2009

Ministry of Education. (2009). School Leadership and Student Outcomes:Identifying What Works and Why. Ministry of Education.


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