The seven principles of sustainable leadership

by Andy Hargreaves and Dean Fink


Many school principals are concerned about what might happen to their school when they move on. Will all of their careful plans for change come to fruition, or will everything ‘fall over’ as soon as they leave? This article by Andy Hargreaves and Dean Fink (Educational Leadership, 61(7), 2004) challenges the notion that leadership needs to rely on one person to drive changes through. They argue that leadership sustainability is needed for change to be meaningful and to have lasting effect.

From their research, Hargreaves and Fink show that most school leadership practices create temporary, localised change but little lasting or widespread improvement. However, they note that there are exceptions to this rule and present a series of short leadership stories that describe the actions of those who leave a lasting legacy.

From interviewing leaders who have thought hard about how they might implement deep, broad, and long-lasting reforms, Hargreaves and Fink have identified seven principles that, together, define leadership that is sustainable. One reviewer noted, “Reading this article reinforced something an ex-principal once said to me, ‘the sign of a good leader is one who can leave the school and the great things started will simply carry on’.”

Reflective questions

These reflective questions might guide you in your reading of this article:

  • Focus on your own current leadership practices. Do any contribute to sustainable leadership in your school?
  • Could you identify one thing you would do differently in your leadership practice after reading this article?
  • In the conclusion the writers say, “Most leaders want to accomplish goals that matter, inspire others to join them in working towards those goals, and leave a legacy after they have gone.” If you were to dream about a legacy you could leave behind in terms of school leadership, what would it be?


Hargreaves, A., & Fink, D. (2004). The Seven Principles of Sustainable Leadership. Educational Leadership, 61(7), 2004.

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