Contemporary School Leadership Theories

Subject: Leadership Styles
Pages: 6
Words: 1921
Reading time:
8 min
Study level: PhD

More recent theories on leadership take from the established theories from the past and enhance them to fit the present context. Many leadership models have been formulated, and are still being fine-tuned. Kouzes and Posner (2007) are examples of theorists who are vigilant in enhancing their constructs of leadership and most recently, have come up with the Five Leadership Practices. According to Kouzes and Posner (2007), people seek several traits in a leader they can follow willingly. Their research has yielded evidence that when effective leaders followed these five basic practices, they become successful in achieving the results they want from their followers. The leaders said they challenged, inspired, enabled, modeled, and encouraged their followers.

Leaders constantly challenge the established process and improve on the areas in the process that need it. They never cease searching for opportunities that challenge them to change, grow and reach greater heights. Hence, they are willing to take risks and learn from whatever mistakes they fall upon (Kouzes and Posner, 2007). They are not afraid of change and are willing to get out of their comfort zones to choose the best options.

Leaders inspire a shared vision with their followers.

They communicate their vision well enough for their followers to understand clearly, and together, they see an uplifting and ennobling future (Kouzes and Posner, 2007). Leaders enlist more people to share such a vision by appealing to their values, interests, hopes, and dreams (Five Practices of the Exemplary Leader, n.d.)

Leaders are also enablers. They are good at encouraging people to act on their own by providing them with the tools and methods to solve their problems. Leaders foster collaboration and among their members (Kouzes and Posner, 2007). When the followers are trusted to fulfill tasks delegated to them, they feel confident and capable to do more for the team.

Leaders have to be good models, most especially when the going gets tough. They should exhibit an attitude and behavior of positivism that their followers can emulate.

Leaders set examples consistent with their values. They are not afraid to stand for their beliefs. To encourage their followers, they create opportunities for their followers to experience small wins with the hopes of eventually gaining bigger ones (Kouzes and Posner, 2007).

Lastly, leaders should encourage their followers’ hearts by recognizing individual contributions and celebrating team accomplishments (Kouzes and Posner, 2007). Such a positive response further motivates others to work even harder.

Another model of leadership established recently is Fullan’s Components of Leadership.

Fullan (2004) proposed that to be an effective and successful leader, one should have moral purpose, an understanding of change, adeptness in building relationships, creation and sharing of knowledge, and ability to see coherence in complexity. These five components of leadership altogether ignite energy, hope and enthusiasm in the whole institution, and invite members of the organization to pledge their commitment to the leaders’ purpose. In effect, more good things happen for the institution, and bad things are lessened if not prevented.

A leader with moral purpose acts with the intention of making a positive difference in the lives of the people around him and in society in general. This is the key element in the sustainability of organizations. Anyone who works for an organization that makes them feel that their potentials are expanded and their individual goals are achieved will be likely to stay on. Moral purpose infuses an organization with passion and purpose since workers become eager to know the enabling purpose of their work (Fullan, 2004).

However, in a culture of change, even if one is motivated by moral purpose, a leader can still lose his way if he does not have an adequate understanding of change. “Moral purpose without an understanding of change will lead to moral martyrdom” (Fullan, 2004, p. 26) That is why a combination of a commitment to moral purpose and a healthy respect for the complexities of change would indeed help a leader to be more successful. Such would unearth even deeper moral purpose.

Fullan’s third component of successful leadership is an ability to establish harmonious relationships with diverse people and groups, especially with those different from themselves.

Clark (2008) discusses a study reported by Lamb and McKee (2004) that concludes that the most important keys to effective leadership are trust and confidence as well as effective communication. These employees are assured that they are in good hands and that there are safely on a journey aboard a tight ship run by an efficient captain. Such trust and confidence are won with effective communication prevalent in the organization. This is shown in three critical areas. One is in the area of helping employees understand the organization’s overall strategies. Another is in helping employees understand how they can contribute in meeting the organizational goals and objectives. The last area where effective communication must take place is in sharing information with employees how their group is performing in relation to the organizational objectives.

The component of creating and sharing knowledge inside and outside the organization should be a commitment true leaders uphold. This will be possible in an atmosphere where harmonious relationships exist since using information to gain knowledge is a socially motivated process. People will not voluntarily share knowledge unless they are obliged to do so, or feel some moral commitment to do so. Leaders become conduits of knowledge, as they generate and increase it inside and outside the organization. Also, turning information to knowledge entails the establishment of good relationships since it is a very social process (Fullan, 2004).

Finally, as a leader being in charge of possibly chaotic change processes, he must be able to stand being in unfamiliar grounds to keep the creative juices flowing in his organization. Eventually, they seek coherence in chaos. “All of this complexity keeps people at the edge of chaos. It is important to be at that edge because that is where creativity resides, but anarchy lurks there too” (Fullan, 2004, p.5).

A controversial view of contemporary leadership is by French, Simpson & Harvey (2001). A leader is stereotypically known to possess positive qualities and capabilities. However, in a research reported by French, Simpson and Harvey (2001), a good leader is also equipped with ‘negative capability’. “The underpinning image of leadership is based on knowing and is manifested through activity, work and achievement. There is, however, another dimension of leadership, based on not knowing, on not doing, on being-done-to, and on being no longer in control of one’s own situation.” (French, Simpson & Harvey, 2001). This implies that a leader should be humble enough to admit when one doesn’t really know instead of putting up a façade of being all-knowing. This peculiarly human capacity to live with and tolerate ambiguity, of being content with half knowledge is quite a refreshing concept. “It implies the capacity to engage in a non-defensive way with change, without being overwhelmed by the ever-present pressure merely to react. It also indicates empathy and even a certain flexibility of character, the ability ‘to tolerate a loss of self and a loss of rationality by trusting in the capacity to recreate oneself in another character or another environment’ (Hutter, 1982, p.305).

Specific to school leadership, According to Findley and Findley, cited in Green (2005, p. 189) “If schools are to be effective ones, it will be because of the instructional leadership of the principal”

Harris (2003) delved into teachers’ perceptions on leadership and management. The findings of his survey distinguished the two concepts this way: “Leadership is giving the school direction, having an overview, setting standards and making tough decisions” while “management is concerned with setting up and managing systems” (p.4). One teacher summarized the majority’s perception as thus: “A good leader has vision whereas a good manager has organization for the establishment” (p.4). Another teacher eloquently said, “A headteacher is both a leader and a manager. Leadership is about development, vision and growth. Management is about attending to the status quo and ensuring that systems work” (p.4).

Mulford (2004) writes about school leadership for student learning. He conducted a qualitative research which focused on how leadership, school practices and student outcomes provides enlightening insights on how such factors affect the school’s attainment of its goals, specifically, student-learning. It identified factors essential for successful school reform, namely: distributed leadership, development and learning, context, and a broader understanding of student outcomes (Mulford, 2004). As the name implies, distributed leadership does not centralize decision-making powers on the head of the school but engages the inputs of teachers and the students. This promotes motivation for all to participate in the process, because it acknowledges that everyone is a stakeholder in the institution. Once a collaboration of decision-making is successful, then the whole school can see one vision for the school and agree on implementing its mission towards that vision. Then, everyone becomes open to more learning, thus, development takes place. Decisions made should not forget to consider the context from where the teachers and students are coming from. It should be customized to the institutional members’ backgrounds and culture. Lastly, effective educational reform should include not only academic excellence in the students but also development of their self-confidence (Mulford, 2004).

Leithwood & Riehl (2003) echo what the others have already established about school leadership. What resonated in their report are the words vision, direction, collaboration, empowerment, challenges and opportunities, development,. A good leader has a clear vision of where he is going and sets directions to others towards that vision. He collaborates with other people on ways and means to reach their goals and not focus the authority on himself. In doing so, he empowers them to be confident in their abilities and motivates them to welcome challenges and opportunities. Because of his positive influence, he gains the respect of everyone to follow his lead while pursuing a common mission for the growth and development of the school.

Cotton (2003) reviewed the research literature from the 70’s and 80’s and concluded that a strong instructional leader is essential to the success of students. From her research she identified 26 essential traits and behaviors that are common among successful instructional leaders. Cotton categorizes these traits into five areas; establishing a clear focus on student learning, interactions and relationships, school culture; instruction and accountability.

Hargreaves and Fink (2006) have seven principles for sustainable leadership that are characterized by depth, length, breadth, justice, diversity, resourcefulness and conservation. From the foregoing discussion on leadership and the state of the quality of education in schools, it can be said that there is a great need for change in the educational system in schools, and this is to be led by an effective change agent. Fullan (1995) believes that educators themselves are change agents. Such change agents must have or develop personal vision-building, inquiry skills, mastery and collaboration. Like everything else, having purpose and vision gives an individual meaning and motivation to work towards his goals. A personal purpose comes form within the person and exists independent of any group or organization he joins. Fullan expects educators to pursue moral purpose both as an individual and as a team. He states, “Especially in moral occupations like teaching, the more one takes the risk to express personal purpose, the more kindred spirits one will find” (1995, p. 14). Personal purpose should have a social dimension such as working effectively with others and developing better citizens out of students that connects to social betterment in society. Fullan also believes that personal purpose is the route to organizational change.


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