Key Voices #127 – School leadership and adult ego development with Dr Neil Gilbride

“Heck! The reason this job is so hard is not just because we believe it to be so, but because a lot of the expectations of what headteachers have to do day-to-day... are implicitly demanding of a very high stage of adult ego development.”

This week we speak to Dr Neil Gilbride, Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of Gloucestershire. We discuss his research into School Principals at Different Stages of Adult Ego Development: Their Sense-Making Capabilities and How Others Experience Them. Neil tells us about why and how he conducted the research, what it tells us about leadership in a school setting and the particular challenges school leaders face. 

We talk about:
  • Neil’s career and background 
  • Why he chose to undertake the research and the possible implications the findings might have
  • What the ‘ego’ is, what it does and how it develops according to Loevinger’s model of the 8 stages of adult ego development 
  • More details about the 3 stages of ego development the study focuses on 
  • What the research shows us about how difficult it is to be a leader in a school setting 
  • What constitutes a ‘wicked’ problem as opposed to a ‘tame’ problem
  • Why it is important to understand education leadership and its challenges first, before working out what we can learn from other sectors
  • How he designed the study and carried it out 
  • What kind of scaffolding leaders might need to help them sense-make more effectively and the impact stress can have on someone’s sense-making abilities 
  • Role of experience and experiences in leadership development 
  • Neil’s plans for further research 


You can read Neil’s paper here it includes full details of Loevinger’s model of adult ego development

You can learn more about his international project Getting Heads Together here

“Some people described the headteacher who was “individualist” as magical. They could just seem to put their finger on the problem and they think it is some kind of divine intervention, and it isn’t. Actually the way they make sense of the problem incorporated so many different perspectives and views that by the time they got there everyone felt they’d been heard and everyone could see where the headteacher was coming from.”

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