Inspiring entrepreneurial women leaders in North East education

I recently had the privilege of being asked to deliver a keynote speech at the inaugural meeting of the North East Women Leading in Education Network. Set up under the leadership of Nicki Smith, Assistant Vice Principal at Nunthorpe Academy in Middlesbrough who leads on the North East Schools Teaching Alliance Teaching School (NESTA), this new regional network is one of nine such networks being supported by the National College of Teaching & Leadership and funded by the DfE until 2020. Its purpose is to inspire and empower women as educational leaders, because it has become evident through extensive research undertaken by NASUWT (the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers) that there are gender differences between the take-up of leadership roles throughout the teaching profession in schools; through the project they hope to inspire and support the next generation of women in education to take up leadership positions, to enable the education sector to fully benefit from their contribution in the future.

Entrepreneurial leadership in education


My part in this inspiring launch event was to put into context entrepreneurial leadership. To aspire to be a leader is one thing, but to become an entrepreneurial leader would enable these women to really excel, to inspire other teachers as well as their students, and enable them to make a serious difference. The concept of entrepreneurialism, however, can be so trapped in the ‘business’ realm, that we couldn’t blame teachers and leaders in the education sector to see it as irrelevant. So my quest during this session was to change their thinking, and to recognise that entrepreneurial leadership is about an attitude and an approach that could really help aspiring women leaders to maybe do things a bit differently to many of their forerunners.

Sir Ken Robinson, a highly honoured educationalist who has led national and international projects on creative and cultural education, calls for the need to take a ‘different approach to education’ which is built not around order and conformity, but passion and personalisation. He explains that “the real role of leadership in education … is not and should not be command in control. The real role of leadership is climate control, creating a climate of possibility”. I translate this to the women in our audience into the practical steps they can take to become successful entrepreneurial women leaders in education …

Steps to entrepreneurial leadership


Have a clear vision

This has to be number one, because without it the rest of the steps are impossible to achieve. Decide where you want to be (as an individual, as a team of professionals, as a school …), and what you want to achieve.

Communicate your vision clearly

To literally anyone who will listen! By making everyone around you aware of where you and they are heading, you will build a powerful force to ensure your vision is achieved.

Take action to make it happen

Author and pioneer in the field of leadership studies, Warren Bennis, said “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality”. Make a plan, take action, review progress, adjust (or take corrective action – we’re allowed to get it wrong sometimes!), then repeat.

Make connections

An entrepreneurial leader recognises the the value of building social capital in the form of relationships with both close and distant networks (read my blog on Boundary Spanning for an explanation of the latter) to help them to achieve their goals. To quote Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “Skill is fine, and genius is splendid, but the right contacts are more valuable than either”

Be resilient

Taking a different path to your predecessors can be tough. There will be doubters (you may be one of them, sometimes!),and there may be challenges to encounter on the way, but remembering that the ultimate vision is worth fighting for will ease your journey. Believe in yourself and don’t quit!

Stay involved

Entrepreneurial leaders are supportive of the people they have around them, and empower them to contribute their maximum towards achieving the vision, however staying in touch with the current reality is also key by maintaining an active involvement – stepping back too far becomes observation, not leadership.

Getting started with building self confidence


As Chinese philosopher Laozi is credited to have said: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. For anyone starting their journey into entrepreneurial leadership, this step might relate to growing their self-confidence – something that my host at the North East Women Leading in Education Network launch identified as a significant barrier that holds back many women from taking steps into leadership roles.

A great way to start to build your confidence is to surround yourself with people who make you feel stronger, and to believe in yourself and your own capability. 4 ways to achieve this could be:

  1. Find a mentor (or mentors) to work with
  2. Look for positive role models to relieve your self doubt – if they can do it so can you!
  3. Keep learning – and remember that this includes allowing yourself to make mistakes sometimes so you can learn and move on
  4. Always be prepared to ask for help – “shy bairns get nowt!” as I’m often reminded by a entrepreneurial colleague of mine!