"Global Perspective on School Leadership." By M. Donald Thomas and William L. Bainbridge. Educational Research. January 2001.


M. Donald Thomas and
William L. Bainbridge

Lectures: Educational Leadership and Change
Nova Southeastern University

"A leader is one who, out of madness or goodness, volunteers to take on the woe of a people. There are few so foolish; hence the erratic quality of leadership in the world."
--John Updike


Educational leadership can be madness or it can make a contribution to improving our schools. It can be a frantic effort to fix everything or it can be concentration on a few important items. It can be a futile exercise of power or it can empower individuals to help themselves. In the face of dramatic social change, a troubled sea of governance conflict, and excessive demands being made on schools, it can be said that one who aspires to educational leadership must either be mad or a supreme egotist. The need for educational leaders is an urgent worldwide condition; and fortunately there are some so foolish as to "to take on the woe of a people."

A. Complexities of Educational Leadership

Educational leadership can be understood by a study of leadership

literature. Such a study will also help us to understand the complex nature

of leadership.

In this world, the history of educational leadership will never be

complete. There will always be a final chapter to be written. Nevertheless,

there is general agreement that understanding leadership is extremely

complex. Simple models (events make the man, charisma, a man for all

seasons, the great man theory, etc.) do not adequately explain the individual

or the character of leadership. Leadership must be examined holistically and

in context with history. It should not, however, be examined in isolation

from the organizations, forces and events that surround it. Leadership has a

setting, a historical framework, a wholeness of meaning, and a diversity of


One theory suggests that social evolution requires three forms of

leadership; the formation of ideas, the articulation of those ideas, and

finally, the building of those ideas. Our own American Revolution saw this

triumvirate at work when the ideas of John Locke were articulated by the

patriots and then built by Franklin, Washington, and Hamilton. It may be

that the sounds of violence and radical change are needed before the builders

can appear to be moderates. Often a period of turmoil and conflict is

followed by one of cooperation and quiet progress.

There is also a debate as to whether leadership occurs best when the

leader has values which are congruent with the group he leads or when his

values are different. Some claim that leadership is possible only when

values are similar; other say that leadership cannot occur unless values are

divergent. Those who argue for similar values state that leadership is

accepted when the leader is trusted and seen as the model of the group.

Those who argue for different values say that leadership is the process of

changing group values. Their position is that leadership cannot exist

without change.

Here again it may be possible that both are needed. The leader must

articulate the values of the society, but at the same time have some personal

values that go beyond his followers. Leadership is possible only if one has

followers. One cannot have followers if his views and his values do not

coincide with those of his followers. But leadership is also the process of

going beyond the status quo, exploring new ideas, and creating new forms. In

education, leaders must be in tune with the values of their communities to

hold their jobs. They must also contribute something from themselves to earn

their pay.

Scholars have also argued as to whether leaders are manipulative or

sincere. Some state that the act of leadership is always manipulative, that

the leader knows where he is going and manipulates others toward his

objectives. Others claim that when leaders believe and are committed to

their purposes, leadership is sincere. Sincerity is defined as the act of

believing one’s own propaganda.

There is no perfect model for examining leadership. There are no exact

criteria. It may be that leadership is so complex that, at best, we can only

obtain clues, study a variety of styles, and partially understand it. We can

feel it when it occurs; we know when it is not there.

The complexities of leadership are such that conclusions are dangerous.

There is no overwhelming consensus on how leaders became leaders and how they

influence the direction of society. There are, however, some things about

leadership with which most students of the concept will agree. These

-------truths may help us to better understand leadership.

1. Leadership is situational and varies with individuals and events. The

situation usually helps to make the leader and at times, the leader happens

to be in the right place at the right time. Harry Truman is a prime example.

2. There is no single way to prepare leaders or to prepare for leadership.

Leaders come from every segment of society and have a variety of styles.

There is no set of characteristics which leaders posses and there is no

single educational program which will produce individuals who posses

leadership qualities.

3. A leader is someone who has followers. Without followers there is no

leadership act. The leader usually helps others to attain the goals of the

group. He leads them to where they wish to go. If no one is going anywhere,

there is no need for a leader.

4. Leadership has ethical implications. Even the best intentions may have

adverse consequences on others. Sometimes doing what one considers right

hurts other people. At the same time inappropriate leadership acts may have

beneficial effects. The leader must always consider the moral validity of

what is done or not done. In the acts of people, the ethical dimensions

are always present.

5. The study of historical figures helps us to understand leadership.

Socrates teaches us how to take the hemlock; Martin Luther King Jr. and

Gandhi teach us passive moral resistance; and Thomas Jefferson instructs us

on the imperatives of education.

B. Leadership Issues for the 21st Century

As we enter a new century, the issues that face educational leaders are

as complex as ever. Educational leadership is more difficult now than it has

ever been. For those of you who aspire to take on the woe of a people, here

is what you will be confronted by:

1. Decreasing financial support for public education with stronger support

for alternative educational structures: charter schools, open enrollment,

vouchers, choice (within and outside of public education), and home schooling

(one of the most rapidly developing alternatives to public education).

2. Increased demand for accountability for both academic improvement and

preparation of a highly educated work force. You are to accomplish this with

minimal increase in financial support and better utilization of current


3. Increasing expectations to better educate children of a more pluralistic

and troubled society. You will be faced with more special education

children, more children whose primary language is not English, and a greater

number of children who come from nontraditional families – all of which

require money.

4. Increasing conflict in the governance of education as more and more

pluralistic interests are expressed. Conflicts will develop over the cost of

educating special needs children, over appropriate curriculum, over safe

buildings, over choice plans, over separation of powers, over teaching

methods, and dozens of other possible conflict areas.

5. Pressure to use more and more technology to improve the quality of

education. At the same time, technology is contributing to greater

differences between rich and poor as it is also influencing pedagogy and

worldwide communications. The cost of technology for schools, however, will

force the majority of schools to play catch-up for decades to come.

C. Needed Leadership Qualities

Faced with these difficult conditions, what do educational leaders of the

future need in order to be successful? The qualities needed can be divided

into personal competencies and technical competencies. Personal competencies

are demanded by the nature of society and technical competencies and are

demanded by the nature of the position of educational leadership.

1. Personal Competencies

Ability to listen effectively – understanding both content and


Ability to validate the accuracy of information received.

Ability to speak frankly and clearly and to speak directly to the


Ability to be positive about life, about self, and about one’s work.

Ability to understand and to articulate learning processes.

Ability to keep current, to synthesize knowledge, and to utilize


Ability to receive satisfaction and reinforcement from one’s work.

Ability to motivate self and to inspire colleagues.

Ability to try new ideas, take risks, and encourage others to do so.

Ability to articulate purpose, to establish a vision, to inspire

confidence in schools.

2. Technical Competencies

Professional and Ethical Leadership

Information Management and Education

Curriculum, Instruction and Learning Environment

Professional Development and Human Resources

Student Personnel Services

Organizational Management

Interpersonal Relationships

Financial Management and Resource Allocation

Technology and Information Systems

D. Imperatives of Leadership

Fred M. Hechinger once stated that effective leaders "lead by example, by

force of ideas, by devotion to fairness and justice." Abraham Lincoln said

that "no man is good enough to govern another man without the other’s


Educational leadership in the future will take what Herman Kahn called

"the quantum leap into a society based on people and not things." Rather

than from positions, leadership will emanate from knowledge, from wisdom,

from the ability to persuade, and from a personal commitment to fairness and

justice. Leadership will be established "through the consent of the

governed," from a basis of ethics, ideas and persuasion. The imperatives of

the this kind of leadership are obvious:

1. The appreciation and protection of democratic principles.

2. The protection and extension of basic human rights.

3. The adherence to ethics, equity, fairness and justice.

4. Knowledge of best practices, effective pedagogy, brain development and

other educational research.

5. Adherence to the exemplar principle.


Horace Mann wrote that "one should be ashamed to die until he has won

some victory for mankind." Henry Kissinger said, "the task of the leader is

to get people from where they are to where they have not been." If we are to

win some victories for mankind, we must move people from vested interest to

the public good, from bigotry to tolerance, from hostility to peaceful

co-existence. The only vehicle to do that is education and that challenge is


In the Euro-Education ’96 conference held in Denmark on May 22nd-24th,

the Danish Minister of Education stated it well. "Education," he said,

"provides the social knowledge enabling all of us to personally participate

in our democracy and a sustainable development of society."

To lead in education, you need to express idealism and practicality. An

idealist is one who sees the goal, but who is also willing to provide

solutions to the concrete problems which prevent the attainment of the goal.

Victory is not achieved by rhetoric, it is attained by getting your hands

dirty, by hard work, by support for teachers, by confrontations with hostile

forces, and by occasionally facing the possibility of taking the hemlock.

Educational leaders have always been positive people – almost missionary

in their belief in the perfectibility of the human race. They never wavered

in their strong understanding of the efficiency of schools and education.

They have had faith in the purposes of schooling. School leaders have

emulated Pilgrim’s Progress in their zeal to provide an effective education

for each boy and girl, no matter the obstacles or the difficulties. Their

mission was indestructible, even as many lost their jobs, were stalemated by

powerful political forces, or were hampered by the lack of resources.

Being an educational leader is difficult. It is complex. It is rarely

honored in song and book. But when the final chapter is written, it will be

education and educational leaders who will have contributed most to the

protection of democracy, to equity, to justice and to human dignity. If you

are willing then to take on the woe of a people, to lead by the force of

ideas, and to govern through the consent of the governed, you will be honored

and respected as an effective educational leader. You will share in the

glory of knowing that you have made a difference and will be praised in the

volumes of educational history to be written in the future.