Imperfect Leadership in Action

A practical book for school leaders who know they don’t know it all

By: Steve Munby , Marie-Claire Bretherton


Or purchase digital products from our partners:


Products specifications
Attribute nameAttribute value
PublishedMarch 2022
Size222 x 182mm

Written by Steve Munby and Marie-Claire Bretherton, Imperfect Leadership in Action: A practical book for school leaders who know they don’t know it all is designed to help leaders pursue imperfect leadership as something to be celebrated and as a foundation for success.

Foreword by Andy Hargreaves.

Hero headship is out. Imperfect leadership is in. This book is designed to help leaders develop and embrace an imperfect leadership mindset as a foundation for growth and development.

In his first book, Imperfect Leadership: A book for leaders who know they don’t know it all, Steve Munby uses the word ‘imperfect’ to describe his own leadership style. This is not something he apologises for; he feels imperfect leadership should be celebrated. Too often we are given examples of leaders who are put on some kind of pedestal, lauded as superheroes who have it all worked out and are so good at what they do that nobody else can come close.

But imperfect leadership is the antidote to this flawed perception.

In Imperfect Leadership in Action, Steve has teamed up with Marie-Claire Bretherton to delve in more detail into a broad range of themes under the umbrella of imperfect leadership. Writing with sparkling clarity, the authors explore the approach’s key principles and share engaging exercises and inspiring case studies which give voice to a wide range of experiences from across the education sector.

The central message is that we can use our imperfections as a springboard for leadership development by asking for help, investing in self-reflection, focusing on building teams – and by trying to be a better version of ourselves tomorrow than we were today.

The book provides numerous prompts for self-reflection, and also includes a chapter on leading in times of change (such as the COVID-19 lockdowns) and how the principles of imperfect leadership turn out to be equally applicable in times of crisis.

Suitable for all those in or aspiring to leadership positions in education.

Picture for author Steve Munby

Steve Munby

Steve Munby has spent his whole career in education, first as a teacher and then as an adviser and inspector before moving into leadership. Between 2005 and 2017 he was chief executive first of the National College for School Leadership in England and then of Education Development Trust, an international education charity. He is now a self-employed consultant and speaker on leadership and on system reform.

Picture for author Marie-Claire Bretherton

Marie-Claire Bretherton

Marie-Claire Bretherton trained as a teacher before becoming a head teacher in Lincolnshire, where she led three very different schools to secure improved outcomes for pupils, including in the most challenging of circumstances. She is now Deputy CEO of Waterton Academy Trust.


  1. Thank goodness this is not another book about superhero headteachers dashing over the hill to turnaround ‘failing’ schools. Rather, this is a refreshing addition to the literature on school leadership which everyone worth their salt knows is an imperfect business, fraught at the edges and full of personal and professional challenges. But this is very much an uplifting read. Through rich case studies, the book offers authentic voices from leaders who are comfortable admitting when they are wrong, listening to staff and developing others. As one Principal put it: ‘I regard myself as a bungalow and I try to appoint skyscrapers.’ Steve Munby’s and Marie-Claire Bretherton’s central argument is that effective leadership hinges on self-awareness and being in tune with one’s context. The book’s strength is that it focuses on how this is possible. Packed full of useful advice, prompts for reflection and exercises to try, this is a highly practical guide for leaders at all stages of their career. There are stories of bright-eyed leaders bowled over by great ideas who found that these rarely translate into quick fixes. The widely endorsed Lesson Study, for example, didn’t work out as the leader of one Academies Trust anticipated despite her amazing PowerPoint slides and proposal to governors. It was a willingness to listen and seek feedback from staff, along with a commitment to study the intervention in more depth, that helped this leader and colleagues move forward together. Other stories illuminate the importance of empowering others, making public promises, showing a combination of power and love, developing future leaders and showing up with hope and pragmatism. The authors suggest that these are the external manifestations of a leader who has good self-awareness and is comfortable about adapting to changing contexts. Developing an imperfect leadership mindset is not seen as a sign of weakness or settling for low standards. Rather, the book’s theme is for all leaders to become better versions of themselves by reflecting on their mistakes, questioning assumptions and applying what they are learning in a more effective way. Few would disagree.

  2. Imperfect Leadership in Action is a refreshingly candid and inspiring reminder of the importance of leadership character, and of the worth of investing in its development through the many reflective activities and exercises that are included. The engaging writing style and rich examples make this book a very worthy follow-up to Imperfect Leadership.

  3. The next generation of leaders in education – whether in schools, multi-academy trusts or national organisations – will be so much more successful for reading this readable book which matches theory with fascinating personal stories and cameos. I wish it had been written when I started out as a leader, or later when I was wondering whether or how I could go on as one. Today’s leaders can now have it at their side and wise leaders will refer to it on a regular basis.

  4. Imperfect Leadership in Action is a remarkably useful and deeply human book. With wisdom and authenticity, Steve Munby and Marie-Claire Bretherton invite leaders into a space of self-discovery, reflection and growth. Every education leader can benefit from these empowering mindsets, practical frameworks and inspiring examples.

  5. Authenticity, integrity and inspiration are words I have often used when describing Steve Munby. This book is rich in all three. For me, it is the book on school leadership – and that is also thanks to the pragmatism, generosity and insight of Steve’s co-author Marie-Claire Bretherton.

  6. Imperfect Leadership in Action is probably the perfect sequel to Imperfect Leadership. The latter encourages education leaders to humbly strive to become better leaders, not for perfection, but for service to education. The former, as the title implies, shows these leaders in action. From the pens of Steve and Marie-Claire, this book brings the experiences of imperfect leaders to readers as case studies for learning. In the book, one can find stories of the joys, frustrations, successes and struggles of education leaders in various situations. Readers will probably see some of themselves in these stories – and will gain much from reflecting on and responding to them.

    Imperfect Leadership in Action is a wonderful gift to school leaders who would like to reflect on and improve their own leadership in practical ways, encouraged by the understanding that the lonely path of leadership need not be that lonely after all.

  7. Who would have thought that a book called Imperfect Leadership in Action would contain countless more ideas about how to be an effective leader than any ten books that promise to make you a great leader? Every one of the eleven chapters can be treated as a stand-alone set of lessons, examples and guiding questions to help you deal with a vexing issue, and to become ever better. Use this book alone and with others and you will be immediately rewarded with ideas, confidence and readiness to act. It is a treasure trove for dealing with the most difficult issues you will face.

  8. This book is about the mindset of leadership. It is written with disarming honesty and humility, and is full of integrity. It offers a series of incredibly helpful tools, reflections and ways of thinking which is a little bit of a goldmine for leaders. It does not offer or advocate complacency in imperfection – rather it sees imperfection as a strength and as an opportunity to learn and grow as a leader. In the words allegedly inscribed on Mother Teresa’s wall, the book’s wisdom is its dictum: ‘Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough; Give the world the best you have anyway.’

  9. Recognising one’s imperfections is a hallmark of great leadership, and openness to learning from other people’s experience is a condition for any leader’s growth. Professor Steve Munby’s mantra that ‘being an imperfect leader is not a skill set, it is a mindset’ is powerfully illustrated in his latest book, co-authored by Marie-Claire Bretherton.

    Drawing on the thoughts of a wide range of successful (but self-defined ‘imperfect’) head teachers and CEOs, they illustrate the dispositions and behaviours that help leaders to be less negatively self-critical in striving to learn from mistakes and become better versions of themselves as they shape organisational culture and foster the self-belief of others.

    Readers will be refreshed by the candour, humour and pragmatism of this book, which serves as both a mirror and a route map.

  10. After so many years of us being encouraged to aspire to heroic leadership, Steve Munby’s first book Imperfect Leadership was a game changer. It showed that anxiety, disappointment and self-doubt aren’t weaknesses; they are essential parts of the inner landscape of the most self-aware, humane leaders. This new book with Marie-Claire Bretherton takes those insights to a new level, providing a practical, empowering and uplifting handbook to rejuvenate our own leadership insights and finally kick imposter syndrome into touch.

  11. To produce two books focusing on imperfect leadership seems to be making a point, and there is indeed a message in the title. Steve Munby, joined this time by Marie-Claire Bretherton, builds on his first book and looks at how imperfect leaders manage real situations in schools. Both authors are successful in their field and are held up as examples of excellent practice, so the openness with which they admit to doubts is a powerful message to others that no one gets it all right and that perfection, though often demanded by others, is rarely achieved by anyone.

    People will recognise their own leadership successes and dilemmas in the case studies – and this reflection of reality is one of the book’s many strengths. We know that there are no easy answers to the many challenges that face school leaders, but too often we don’t encourage the skills or allow school leaders the space and time that they need in order to find the best possible solutions. The practical suggestions in this book, together with the examples of others, address this directly and effectively. Imperfect Leadership in Action will be a constant and reassuring guide for many in our schools.

  12. The whole concept of imperfect leadership is one that has resonated with leaders across the education system since Steve Munby published his first book in 2019. I have spoken with many school and trust teams who have been inspired by the notion that we learn more from what we get wrong than we do from that which we get right.

    This new book, a follow-up written in collaboration with Marie-Claire Bretherton, takes the thinking a stage further by asking the practical questions that lead to better implementation in different settings. Marie-Claire is one of the education system’s best collaborators and school improvers and her personal reflections add weight and insight to Steve Munby’s excellent thinking.

    Imperfect Leadership in Action should form part of every school leadership team’s library. Whether you read it as an individual leader – curious about the notion of imperfect leadership – or as a member of a team wrestling with challenges that we face today, I cannot recommend the book highly enough.

  13. In Imperfect Leadership in Action, Steve and Marie-Claire offer wise, honest and compelling reflections on leadership. The personal case studies are powerful and persuasive and make the book hard to put down. They share great stories of lives devoted to finding better ways of making more of a difference. All in all, it is an inspiring book but also a very practical one with so many ideas to help refine and improve leadership that it is impossible to close it without learning and aspiring to do better.

  14. I predict that any head teacher or senior leader reading this will experience two very powerful emotions. Firstly, a sense of relief that it’s okay not to be perfect and to make mistakes. We all talk about being open to self-reflection and learning from our mistakes, but this book makes it so much easier to do. Secondly, a sense of connection or empathy. There is no sugar-coating of the day-to-day realities of leading a school, which means the narrative understands our world and becomes our friend. These two very helpful aspects of the book are combined with a brilliant articulation of what the authors describe as ‘the imperfect leadership mindset’ – a series of internal and external foundations for successful leadership.

    If you want a book that resonates with you, lifts you up and gives you hope and optimism about the future, then look no further. Imperfect Leadership in Action is a real gem.

  15. Imperfect Leadership in Action is a book you won’t put down. It is a practical, evidence-based guide that is brimming with great leadership advice. Steve Munby and Marie-Claire Bretherton demonstrate wisdom, authority and compassion in every page of this text. This is a must-read for leaders everywhere – it is, quite simply, a tour de force of a book!

Write your own review