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Leadership Baggage Drop: What Got You Here Won't Get You There

The Educational Coach

1 Nov 2023

We delve into the essence of leadership, offer an insightful exercise called 'The Baggage Drop and Claim', and provide valuable tips for educational leaders.

In the dynamic world of education, leadership in schools and classrooms plays a pivotal role in shaping the culture, the students' experiences, and the overall success of the institution. As an educational coach, it's crucial to understand the profound impact leadership has on a learning environment. This blog will delve into the essence of leadership, offer an insightful exercise called 'The Baggage Drop and Claim,' and provide valuable tips for educational leaders.

Locard's Principle: The Mark of Leadership

Locard's Principle states that when two objects or people come into contact, they leave behind traces of one another. This principle, rooted in forensic investigations, was fabricated by the “Sherlock Holmes’ of French criminology but is surprisingly relevant to leadership (Schuppli, 2013). In the context of education, this principle emphasizes that conversations, meetings, email replies, newsletters, even just walking the corridor leaves a mark on the culture and picture of leadership you are painting. 

Leadership, defined as "a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal," (Northouse, 2010) is an ongoing, evolving phenomenon. It isn't confined to a single person; it can involve a team of leaders who influence others. Here, the concept of "influence" is key, linking back to Locard’s principle, as leadership is about sharing a common vision, attitude, and purpose.

Leadership Baggage: The Baggage Drop and Claim Exercise

Leaders often bring a unique blend of attitudes, personalities, and experiences to their roles. But in the initial stages of becoming a leader, often the message is hard to deliver. This exercise helps us determine if our ‘baggage’, whether positive or negative, influences our vision, which, in turn, affects our communication. It is so crucial to recognise that what got us into a position of leadership does not keep us there or necessarily help us lead, so at our baggage drop - is there any luggage we want to claim? 

In summary, to lead effectively, it's essential to recognise what baggage you're carrying and decide what to "drop" and what to "claim." This requires self-reflection and awareness. 

Mindset and Leadership

Your mindset plays a crucial role in this baggage exercise. It's about shifting attitudes and behaviors towards growth and adaptability. Ask yourself: Are you open to taking risks to stay ahead of the performance curve? Large amounts of research into US presidents suggest being proactive is a core trait of leaders (Deluga, 1998). This proactiveness involves embracing risks and challenges, even when they might not be socially desirable, and understanding their impact on attitudes and, subsequently, behaviors. What risks can you take this term? 

The Leadership Process

So what does leadership look like? A wealth of research over the last decade or so, particularly in sporting and business contexts, have debated various models of successful leadership processes. It’s hard to negate the value of vision, challenge and support triad as outlined in the graphic below. (Martin, 1996; Daloz, 1986):

Figure 1: Cameron‐Jones, M., & O'Hara, P. (1997). Support and challenge in teacher education. British Educational Research Journal, 23(1), 15-25.

Vision: An inspirational image of the future that provides meaning and direction for followers' efforts.

Challenge: Setting high expectations for performance and goals that push followers out of their comfort zones.

Support: Offering emotional, esteem, informational, and tangible support, acknowledging the difference between perceived and received support.

But what does this mean for us in education and how can we use this to inform more effective coaching? Our ethos is that by helping leaders articulate a clear vision for their educational institution, providing them with meaningful challenges to stimulate growth, and offering robust support throughout their journey, coaches can empower educational leaders to drive positive change and achieve their goals in the ever-evolving field of education. Furthermore, recognising the critical role of support from both coaches and the leaders themselves in this triad underscores the essential need for a collaborative, nurturing environment that fosters the growth and success of educational leaders.

Coaching for Self-Awareness

As an educational coaching company, our role is to help leaders and teachers recognise where their vision aligns with challenge and support. We aim to encourage self-awareness and reflection, allowing practitioners at every level to make more informed decisions around implementing challenges and reinforcing support. 

The aspects of vision and challenge are becoming increasingly central to the demands of school leaders. The influential report, ‘The New Art of Headhsip, from RSAcademics explain: 

‘→ Process and transparency: Good relationships with staff and upholding values are important, but Heads also need to have robust policies and processes to demonstrate they are making correct and fair decisions. They need to manage processes as well as people, recording and formalising more decisions. As one person told us “You need to do the right thing and prove it”. Heads may also feel pressure to share more information about the school and its plans with staff, including financial information.’ 

The need for an open-door policy and transparency is putting added stress on leaders to be ‘correct’ at all times. Using the above techniques, and with support from coaches and mentors, reflection and its subsequent enactment is a powerful tool to combat the burden of the above to safeguard your vision, challenges and supports. 

In conclusion, educational leadership is a dynamic journey with a lasting impact. By understanding the baggage we carry, being mindful of our mindset, and following a process that combines vision, challenge, and support, we can leave a positive mark on our institutions, our teams, and most importantly, the students we serve.

For more reading on this topic, follow the link: 


Schuppli, S. (2013). Dusting for fingerprints and tracking digital footprints. Photographies, 6(1), 159-167.

Northouse, P. G. (2010). Leadership (5th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage

Deluga, R. J. (1998). American presidential proactivity, charismatic leadership, and rated performance. The Leadership Quarterly, 9(3), 265-291.

Martin, S. (1996). Support and challenge: Conflicting or complementary aspects of mentoring novice teachers?. Teachers and Teaching, 2(1), 41-56.

Daloz, L. (1986). Effective teaching and mentoring: Realizing the transformational power of adult learning experiences. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Cameron‐Jones, M., & O'Hara, P. (1997). Support and challenge in teacher education. British Educational Research Journal, 23(1), 15-25.

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