How Do You Achieve Your Potential?

by André Double

A question often pops into my thinking – how do we achieve our potential? Other questions follow. How much are we each individually capable of? How do we know what we are capable of as individuals? and, Why as individuals do we rarely achieve our true potential?

So what helps or hinders our ability to achieve our potential? And how can we, as international school educators, help others – less fortunate than us, to achieve their potential?

#1 Look for Luck / Make the Most When it Arrives

When Richard Branson’s Aunt remortgaged her house to buy the Manor House recording studio in the seventies, the Virgin Records label went from strength to strength. Without his Aunt’s support, the Virgin Group as we know it today, may not have been possible. In Great by Choice, Jim Collings talked about not only luck but the ‘Return on Luck’ (RoL). Seek out opportunities to help make you grow and get the best return on the good fortune you receive. Learning to be lucky is an art that gets better with practise.

As an international school leader, help spread luck and good fortune by: 

·Offering extended scholarships and school places to those less fortunate. 

·Allowing your school and its facilities to be used by the local community for its development. 

·Acknowledging our luck and good fortune and using it to support others. 

#2 Get the Right Leadership, Mentoring and Coaching

I have two educational mentors, Grainne O’Reilly and Chris Nash. Both are highly experienced school leaders who have supported and continue to support my leadership growth and development at every stage of its development. I also have an HR mentor in Warren Cook. Who are yours? What role do they play? Are they prepared to ask questions and give you feedback that is objective and from the point of view of a critical friend? 

As an international school leader, seek mentorship by: 

·Extending your professional networks and looking for areas of alignment with people and organisations that believe in what you do. 

·Asking questions to others and gaining valuable feedback from highly experienced leaders and educators. 

·Following educators, authors or researchers who extend your learning. People who are different to you and complement your weakness. 

As Principal of THE GLOBAL COLLEGE, Barry Cooper previously told me, “My own individual weaknesses became the job descriptions of those we are looking to hire”. 

#3 Internal (and) External Belief

Few people ever genuinely reach their potential without a solid belief in who they are and what they are aiming to do. At Leading Your International School, I am aiming to ‘Level Up International School Leadership’ – to demystify certain aspects of international school leadership and open up the pathway to principalship for all those who dare to dream of leading a school. For too long, in certain cases, school leadership and international school leadership have been the preserve of people who have walked a certain path. Finding people who believe in you as much as you believe in yourself is both affirming and in many cases life-changing. 

As an international school leader, promote your belief in others by: 

·Consistently supporting and reminding others of what they are capable of. 

·Using setbacks as purposeful learning experiences that support, grow and develop your staff into purposeful and ethical leaders. 

·Showing belief in all staff, all of the time, no matter where they are from, and what stage of their teaching and leadership journey they are on. 

#4 Resilience

Two years ago, I was part of an international school that was forced to close its doors in China. I could have bemoaned the situation and the circumstances and the fact that I was unlucky. I decided to turn that disappointment into an opportunity – and one that I have never looked back on since.

One of the key behaviours and drivers to help fulfil your potential is resilience. The current NPQH leadership model also fuses this with ‘fidelity’ – doing what you say you are going to do, with consistency. Being resilient as a school leader is an increasingly nuanced skill set, when governments, including my own UK Government, are flip-flopping decisions daily, causing an alarming lack of confidence in the economy and its future. To achieve your potential, you have to get up off the canvas – repeatedly.

As an international school leader, develop resilience in others by: 

·Acting with fidelity – meeting statements with actions. 

·Promoting professional risk-taking. 

·Modeling the necessary actions and leadership behaviours that support its development. 

#5 The Right Professional Development

In Guskey’s ‘Professional Learning with Staying Power (2021) we learned that despite the great proliferation in the amount, type and quality of Professional Development that is available to educators, much of it has a limited effect. To achieve our potential PD needs to be as purposeful for teachers and leaders as our lessons are for our students. Generic ‘whole-school’ PD approaches need to be extremely carefully considered against their perceived benefit.

As an international school leader, allow staff to get the most out of their PD by:

·Giving them a voice and choice in what they develop themselves in. 

·Providing as much leadership training and development as you can. 

·Focusing on an equitable approach to PD and its opportunities and supporting staff to apply for certain programmes. 

In Summary

Fulfilling our potential is challenging. It takes a great amount of hard work, luck along the way, courage to take professional risks and resilience to bounce back from disappointment. Supporting others to achieve their potential is a highly valued characteristic of the modern international school principal.

Questions to Aid Further Learning:

·What am I capable of? Who might be able to give me their honest opinion? 

·Am I currently set up for success in my current role to achieve my potential? 

·What barriers are preventing me from achieving my potential? How might I overcome these? 

·Who do I know that can support and mentor me, to help me achieve my potential? 

·What resources, good fortune and recent luck can I capitalise on?

·Is the personal and professional development I am currently involved in adding value to me? 


Collins, J., & Hansen, M. T. (2011).Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos and Luck-Why some thrive despite them all. Random House.

Cooper, Barry. (2023). THE THREE VS – VISION, VALUES, VIRTUES. Episode #2. Podcast by Leading Your International School. Episode available online at:

Guskey, T. R. (2021). Professional learning with staying power.Educational Leadership, 78(5).

If you are considering becoming an International School Principal, then why not sign up for our course in January – ‘Becoming an International School Principal‘.

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