Are the Right People Sitting at the Table?

Authentic and Sustainable Leadership for Leading and Improving 21st Century Schools

The UAE has designated 2023 as “the year of sustainability” (1). The country continues to take leaps and bounds, inventing and forging new pathways of sustainable practices across all sectors, including education. Towards this end, a specific type of viable leadership is required for creativity and longevity in schools.

Sustainable and authentic leadership is one possibility. School leaders are entrusted to make changes and reform happen at their schools. Many are moving away from making pledges and commitments to creating meaningful and long-lasting change through sustainable strategies and authentic practices. The need to continuously improve schools has made it increasingly clear that it is time to accelerate our thinking, innovate new approaches, and adapt our actions. Through revolving conversations, we see school leaders collaborate, meet, and sit with members of their learning community to create pathways forward.


Welcome to the Table
School leaders are entrusted to create change, implement those changes, and find ways to maintain longevity. Sustainable and authentic leadership are two buzzwords I’ve heard come up at meetings, symposiums, and in research literature around current trends. Being invited to a meeting and sitting at “the table” is an opportunity to share and exchange ideas and build collective intelligence around paramount issues. It provides a platform to be heard and to listen.

Those invited to school leadership meetings typically use a level of influence. They leverage their credibility and expertise to make decisions, drive initiatives forward, initiate policies, and create change. School leaders come to the table often, at different intervals, and for different and distinct reasons. They must carefully think about who they invite to the table to help build collective intelligence, address complex problems, and arrive at solutions that will not only work short-term but long-term as well. The needs of schooling today are dynamic and complicated.


The Survey Says
Upon reflecting on conversations and dialogues I had with school leaders about the challenges they face to create meaningful reform and lasting change in schools, I was inspired to read about nuances and trends in leadership. Interestingly, I found one blog by the Center for Creative Leadership (2023) with a survey and poll. The question was about the most powerful communication skills that today’s leaders should demonstrate. When I first looked at the poll question, I thought, “Oh, this is easy.” In my opinion, I felt the number one and most powerful skill needed is “trust” or to be “trustworthy”. However, trust was not one of the four options.

I completed the poll using the possible answer choices provided. Poll respondents were given four choices: 1) authenticity, 2) setting clear expectations, 3) encouraging input, and 4) simplifying and being direct. I reflected on my reading and experience. Later, I returned to view the results of the poll. I was intrigued by all the responses. The response that was generated by over 55% was “setting clear expectations”. I disagreed and wondered why this response generated such a high percentage.


Making the Case
In my view, trust should have been one of the options and responses. But it was not, and I wondered why. Back to “sitting at that table” and why I thought that trust is so important. More questions came to my mind. What does it mean to be trusted? Why is that important? How does trust evolve? Can leaders do their best work if they are not trusted to do so or if they are unable to trust others in their team? Does the trait and characteristic of being trustworthy lead one to being authentic? How can one do this with longevity?

Leading Authentically
I then had an “aha” moment about the type of leader who is authentically trustworthy and how this can position one’s leadership. “Authenticity” is about consistently being true to yourself and your values and not pretending to be someone you’re not. School leaders should demonstrate authenticity. When they are genuine, consistent, and authentic, those who depend on them can sense it, see it, and are more likely to trust them because they feel their school leaders are not hiding anything or trying to hurt or manipulate them. Teachers, parents, and students might feel rest assured by school leaders who demonstrate “how they are truly, genuinely and intentionally committed” to caring about learners in schools and improving the learning journey for children.

Leading Sustainably
School leaders are responsible for changing lives by changing education. They should lead in authentic ways that can be sustained. Sustainable leadership is about leading others toward consistent, actionable, impactful, and long-lasting change. Sustainable leaders focus on making decisions that are rooted in strong moral and ethical principles and values and are committed to ensuring social responsibility. (2) They are mindful of how they interact with others, present their ideas, and share their thought processes through open dialogue with others. They galvanize and mobilize efforts for school improvement. They reset standards and reshape the tone. Schools today require principals, vice principals, middle leaders, teachers, parents, and students to be sustainable leaders, all serving vital roles in helping schools continue onward and upward. (3)


Take The Leadership Challenge: Tomorrow Starts Today
I encourage school leaders to think about what this means to them and how they might incorporate authentic and sustainable leadership in their work to help their learning community thrive. Are you ready to take on a new leadership challenge?

I invite you too! If asked to “sit at the table” and join a meeting to share your insights, expertise and/or experiences …consider whether you are the right person and ask yourself how you will do so. Because how you decide to “sit at the table” … will speak volumes about your leadership. It might shape decisions, actions, and future outcomes. The way you choose to “sit at the table” today might impact who “sits at the table” tomorrow. Happy sitting!

Powerful Communication Poll: Center for Creative Leadership (4)


Citations and Footnotes

(1) Year of Sustainability.  accessed on November 15, 2023

(2) Liao Y. (2022). Sustainable leadership: A literature review and prospects for future research. Frontiers in psychology, 13, 1045570.

(3) Özkan, P. (2022). School Principal as An Environmentally Sustainable Leader, Journal of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, 6(1)

(4) Leadership Skill Poll. Center for Creative Leadership accessed on November 15, 2023


Dr. Fatima Bailey is the Chair of the Department of Teacher Education at SEA. She has over 25 years’ experience in education. In the early years of her career, Dr. Bailey worked in Pre-K-12 education as a director, school principal, vice principal and teacher in the UAE and US. She has led planning, development, and implementation of hybrid educational activities across multiple institutions. She was instrumental in achieving CAEP accreditation for Zayed University, and in exceeding accreditation KPIs. Dr. Bailey also serves as a mentor in the Ta’Alouf Program for Career Based Teacher Development at the Al Jalila Foundation.

Dr. Bailey served as an advisor on projects such as the Zayed University Provost Leadership Task Force, the NQA QFEmirates Handbook and Framework, and the UAE Ministry of Education Teacher Licensing System. Dr. Bailey is the recipient of the Gordon Allport Prize for Outstanding Papers on Intergroup Relations, Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues. Research interests include: action research, grounded theory, thematic analysis, collaborative autoethnography, innovative leadership, agile leadership, culturally responsive leadership, communities of practice, remodeled, best and promising practices, hybrid teaching and learning, trauma informed pedagogy, innovative pedagogy and digital andragogy.

1 Comment

  1. Such an insightful article for educational leaders today! Thank you! It has been a privilege to learn from and with the leaders of Sharjah Educational Academy!

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