The magic of leadership

Bringing out leadership stories

For Ciaron MacMahon, the magic of leadership is ‘being present’ for others in everyday interactions and then bringing out everyone’s leadership stories.


As superintendents, principals, deputy heads and heads of a range of school sections and departments, leadership is what we practise on a daily basis in our interactions with others. Its magic is to be discovered in what can be accomplished, and what we can help others create. When we witness it, it stirs within us a certain awe, and creates an imagery for us of mythical nuance and presence.

Being present as a leader

However, the reality of leadership in everyday life is simpler and more ordinary, with the magic of leadership to be found in ordinary, everyday intentions, conversations and rapport. Being present for and with colleagues and other members of the school community has a certain magical quality. The power of intentions, conversation, and rapport should not be underestimated in the context of leadership and are tools which serve their master well. For one who has both a theoretical knowledge and practical experience of school leadership, conversation, rapport and leadership walk hand in hand. Leadership has its own nuance, and the affinity formed using a language of both body and words, are the drivers that attract and influence others to follow.

The conversation of leadership

Leadership is a conversation that has a unique language of its own. Similar to the use of metaphors, it contains “words and phrases that already have entire stories attached to them inside our brain” (Paul Smith

The magic of leadership is the bringing to life of everyone’s leadership story.  Effective school leaders recognise this and the magic they create is guided by this “intention” to bring out the story in others.



Leadership that lacks clear intention, is similar to possessing a compass and not paying attention to the direction of the needle. The compass needle gives us direction, and is constant in pointing us somewhere.  It is not forceful or coercive, however and it does not tell us how to get to our destination. Leadership navigation is similar, and has to be predicated and underpinned by helpful clarifying intention before the effect can be noticed by others.

Bringing out leadership in others

Intention is the compass needle of leadership practice. If your intention is to bring to life everybody’s leadership story, and if your conversations and interactions with others reflect this intention, then these are the special effects that bring forth the magic of leadership and make it real. Intention strengthens and supports purpose, and when we know what we want to accomplish, our leadership compass assists us in taking the steps to accomplish these goals. Inviting others to share their leadership stories along the way can sustain and enrich goals when placing them in an organisational context. Journeying together with common intention is the key to successful outcomes for any expedition.


If your intention is to build the leadership story in your school, then, your intention should be to maintain, support and resource those that you work with in bringing to life their leadership story. It is this benign presence that acts as the wand for leadership practice, and facilitates the magic. It is leading, but it is also simultaneously allowing others to lead. The narrative you use in building this story is always respectful, agile and flexible, and invites others to add to the story, and does not confine and restrict the listeners to one ending.

The school story

As school leaders, it should always be our intention to create and tell the school story, which we also must realise belongs to others too. It is a story we are all involved in and it is ever evolving and changing, and even though sometimes the actors and storytellers we include, may not be readily identifiable as leaders, the magic of leadership in a school context is that, there is always a place for everyone to be a leader.

Often, just as in the telling of any story, it can be the least likely heroes that carry the day.


Ciaran McMahon is the former Principal of Scoil Bhride, Tullamore, Co. Offaly, Ireland, and is now a Centre for School Leadership (CSL) mentor to newly appointed Primary School Heads in Ireland.

As well as being a qualified mentor, Ciaran is also an independent qualified coach for established school leaders.

Ciaran can be contacted at



FEATURE IMAGE:  by 14995841 from Pixabay

Support Images:   by StockSnap & Andreas Glöckner from Pixabay