top of page

7 Questions on Leadership with James Dalziel

Name: James Dalziel

Title: Head of School

Organisation: NIST International School

James Dalziel is currently the Head of School at the NIST International School in Bangkok, Thailand.

Over the past 30 years he has taught in a variety of traditional and non-traditional educational settings from outdoor education centres to open custody correctional programs, and within national and internationals school settings.

James has worked at the Canadian International School and the United World College in Singapore and was the Director of Operations in Europe for the GEMS Educational Organization. He holds a Master's in Education from the University of Western Australia and a Master of Business Administration from the Helsinki School of Economics.

His doctoral research, also from UWA, focused on developing school culture and leading cultural change. His ongoing research has expanded into helping schools develop, refine, and communicate their guiding statements and then implement these into a structured and measurable set of priority projects.

James continues to be an active workshop provider, conference presenter, authorization team leader, and a member of various educational consultation groups. His latest work involves the development and delivery of “Being a Mission Focused School Leader” as part of the Academy for International School Heads leadership development series.

He is also an annual workshop leader with the Principal’s Training Centre delivering “Creating the Effective School”, a weeklong residential course for school leaders focused on enacting our school mission, vision, and values into our schools’ daily routines and practices.

James draws upon his experience as an Adaptive Schools facilitator and experienced workshop leader to create bespoke programmes for schools and educational groups.

James enjoys outdoor pursuits and has trekked, climbed, and suffered through much of the world's varied geography.

He continues to train intensely – why? No one knows, even him most days. James is a dairy farmer by birth, a welder and carpenter by trade, and an educator by choice. Most importantly, he is a loving husband to his wife Nancy and doting father to his children Claire and William.

Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!

I hope James' answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!


Jonno White

1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?

Adapting to change. One of the most essential models I have learned to use and apply is the Cynefin Framework. The model distinguishes between simple, complicated, chaotic, and complex issues.

The key for my was understanding that complex environments differ from complicated and simple ones in that the variables do not stay the same. In schools, and when dealing with humans in general, we are not the same people day to day. As a result, we need to acknowledge that what worked yesterday may not work today, and as leaders, we need to be flexible and adaptive in our responses.

This runs counter to our hopes that we can have formulaic responses based on best practice that will provide consistent results. When it comes to working with people, best practice is a starting point, but rarely provided that best possible human outcome.

2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?

Bribery, blackmail, and assassination - just kidding. I never sought to be a leader. I work hard, focus on supporting a purpose, and act with kindness, curiosity, and a belief that presumes positive intent.

The leadership or influence just happens. Sometimes it has been positional; other times, it is simply influential.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

I wake up early (4:30 - 5:00 AM) and move. Coffee, then a workout, mobility, or a long ruck walk starts the day. No matter what happens after that, I have moved and had some early morning sunshine and exercise.

The work day begins at 7:30 and ends when it ends with a hard stop at 7 pm. Rarely do I ever work past 7 pm unless it is a social function. I try to spend time with family in the evenings, either helping with homework or working out with them.

I start reading at 8:30 in bed (always fiction and nothing to do with work or my profession). Then I think I close my eyes but never remember as I'm asleep quickly by 9:30 most nights.

4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?

People are complicated, and we don't understand them - so stop pretending we have a perfect diagnosis for everyone's issues. I have recently been reminded that we can never fully understand or appreciate people.

We experience them only seeing the tip of their iceberg. being open to learning more about people, and being non-judgemental, and curious in seeking to understand their thinking and actions leaves marvellous possibilities for healthier and more productive and supportive professional relationships.

5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?

"Leadership is Language" by David Marquette. Many lessons, but the key was the distinction between time for thinking and dialogue and time for action. These two things need to be distinct.

You cannot thinks and discuss while you are also trying to implement and act. There needs to be a schedule (that is known to everyone) of when we talk and plan - and when we implement and act.

6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?

Have hobbies outside your work and profession ... and drinking, drugs, and sex are not hobbies. Living a richly diverse life helpsthe blow when something goes wrong in one area.

Healthy family, friends, social groups, volunteer projects, reading, fitness, and hobbies ensure that as things might go wrong in one area you can still point to success in others. Even after the worst (usually bizarre) board meetings, I can still recentre and reset around my success in other parts of my life.

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?

So many options here to draw from. Many of the stories I tell as a leader have to do with 'things just working out'.

I have come to realise that it's not luck, it's having a vision of what I want to achieve, with great clarity and detail, and then pouring positive energy into making it happen.

bottom of page