Leadership: Being, Knowing, Doing – by Stephen Tierney

Why I read it

After reading a series of books on teams, I wanted to return to core school leadership skills and knowledge. A coachee had generously given me a voucher for Christmas, and, being a fan of Stephen Tierney’s previous books, I decided to spend it on his new book on leadership.

In summary

Tierney refers to Being, Knowing, Doing as a leadership trivium, which link to form a triquetra, as shown below. Using this model, each part of the triquetra has its own elements. For Being, Tierney applies Purpose, and Introspection; for Knowing, he uses Specialism and Strategy; and lastly, for Doing, the elements are Implementation, Network, Guardianship, and Expertise.

When you put all of these components together, you have a comprehensive body of work about leadership in schools. Tierney draws from his own experiences, in addition to research and other educational thinkers, to create a thoughtful, intelligent, and well-rounded guide to leadership. As with Tierney’s other work, I find it perfectly clear and accessible, but also erudite and a catalyst for real thinking.

Key takeaways

I’ve attempted to outline four quite different chapters of the book. However, Tierney provides so many concrete examples and models that a summary simply doesn’t do the book justice. Beyond these examples, there are many more chapters to explore!

  1. Introspection and the mountain top – Tierney talks at length about ethics, behaviours, and introspection. He makes the essential point that leaders must hold the ‘dynamic tension’ of self confidence and self doubt in order to ensure the necessary humility required to lead. Tierney uses the term ‘sitting on the mountain top’ to urge leaders that they must take time to reflect and ponder; an opportunity not to do, but to be.
  2. Knowing how and when to act – in the strategy chapter, Tierney explains how strategy adds ‘knowledge of know-how, to the know-what of specialist domain-specific knowledge’. Both are required, he argues, for effective leadership. He then applies a five-step process to assessing and implementing change in an organisation, ranging from the content of what needs to change, to how the actions will be reviewed.
  3. Rethinking how we work – Tierney laments how we often act with the best of intentions and the worst of thought. He argues for a more methodical approach to how we implement change or improvements, and has come up with a model. What’s the problem?; What is your theory of action? E.g. if I do x, then y will happen; What evidence do you have to inform and challenge your logic model?; What would it look like if you are successful?; What information do you need to collect?; Will your data help show a causal or correlation relationship? He then goes on to quote the EEF model: Explore, Prepare, Deliver, Sustain – well worth a look. Essentially he is trying to take the countless hours that leaders devote to well-intentioned improvements, and make us more efficient so we can look back not at time spent but progress made.
  4. Emotional intelligence and putting staff first – the networking chapter is an exceptional discussion of how to support and lead colleagues. This ranges from recognising that ‘every viewpoint is a view from a point. We must be able to critique our own perspective if we are to see a fuller truth’, to applying that understanding to how we consider the differing views of our colleagues. Tierney goes on to explore how we can help staff thrive, quoting Jonny Uttley and John Tomsett’s wonderful book.

Favourite quotes:

‘Phronesis is an Ancient Greek word for a type of wisdom associated with practical action. It is about good judgment and good character. At its core, it is about the ability to discern how best to act. Practical wisdom involves acting thoughtfully and virtuously and encouraging others to do the same. Virtue, thought and action, which coalesce in effective leadership, I have termed the Way of Being, Way of Knowing, and Way of Doing.’

Read this if:

You want to reflect deeply about leadership: either when you are creating your own vision as a leader, or evaluating your existing role and work.

You enjoy reading a mixture of research, personal experiences, and a variety of examples.

You want a book that will challenge and provoke your thinking.

Buy the book here

%d bloggers like this: