"Sharing the Glory." By M. Donald Thomas and William L. Bainbridge. Leadership. January/February 2002.



M. Donald Thomas and William L. Bainbridge


"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; fortunately, there are some so foolish as to "take on the woe of a people."

Complexities of 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 organization, forces and events that surround it . Leadership has a setting, a historical framework, a wholeness of meaning and a diversity of influences.

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 leaders have values that are congruent with the groups they lead, or when their values are different. Some claim leadership is possible only when values are similar; others say leadership cannot occur unless values are divergent. Those who argue for similar values say 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. You cannot have followers if your views and your values do not coincide with those of your 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 about whether leaders are manipulative or sincere. Some state that the act of leadership is always manipulative, that leaders know where they are going and manipulate others toward their 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.

Some truth about 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 that leaders possess and there is no single educational program that will produce individuals who possess 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 goal 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.

Needed leadership qualities

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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 a minimal increase in financial support and better utilization of current staffs.

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 non-traditional 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. Technology is contributing to greater differences between rich and poor at the same time as it is 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.
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Faced with the difficult conditions outlined above, 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.

Application of personal competencies, such as skills in speaking, writing and delegation, may differ depending on the expectations of the clientele of the school system. For example, in certain communities parents have greater expectations regarding the quality and detail included in oral and written feedback on student progress than do parents in other communities.

Application of technical competencies depends on the job description and nature of the position in educational leadership-whether the person needs to have expertise in school finance, testing, human resource management or another specialty.

Personal competencies include:

*Ability to listen effectively-understanding both content and feeling.
*Ability to validate the accuracy of information received.
*Ability to speak frankly and clearly and to speak directly to the issue.
*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 research.
*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 purposes, to establish a vision, to inspire confidence in schools.

Technical competencies are demanded in:

*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.

Imperatives of leadership

Fred M. Hechinger once said 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 consent."

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.

Winning victories for mankind

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 yours.

At the Euro-Education '96 conference held in Denmark, 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 that 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.

Glory in the final chapter

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.

M. Donald Thomas is chairman of the SchoolMatch advisory board. He is a former superintendent of schools in Salt Lake City, and served as educational accountability advisor to the governors of South Carolina, Tennessee and South Dakota. The Horace Mann League honored him as "Educator of the Year" 1997.

William L. Bainbridge currently serves as President and CEO of SchoolMatch and as a Distinguished Research Professor at The University of Dayton. He is the former superintendent of three school districts in Ohio and Virginia, and former assistant to the Ohio superintendent of public instruction.