ERIC Identifier: ED406718
Publication Date: 1996-04-00
Author: Lashway, Larry
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Educational Management Eugene OR.
The Strategies of a Leader. ERIC Digest, Number 105.
Geologists tell us that every few hundred thousand years or so the earth's
magnetic field flips over; compasses that today point north will some day point
south. Something similar happens in school leadership, though the cycles are
measured in mere decades.
Ten years ago, principals were asked to become "instructional leaders,"
exercising firm control by setting goals, maintaining discipline, and evaluating
results. Today they are encouraged to be "facilitative leaders" by building
teams, creating networks, and "governing from the center."
Lynn Beck and Joseph Murphy (1993) observe that the metaphors of school
leadership have changed frequently over the years; no sooner have school leaders
assimilated one recommended approach than they are seemingly urged to move in a
WHAT STRATEGIES CAN LEADERS USE?
Such rapid shifts in
philosophy can be frustrating for practitioners, especially if they are
searching for the "one best way" to lead. However, a different perspective
emerges when contrasting approaches are viewed as complementary strategies
rather than competing paradigms.
As defined here, a strategy is a pattern of behavior designed to gain the
cooperation of followers in accomplishing organizational goals. Each strategy
views the school through a different lens, highlighting certain features and
favoring certain actions.
At present, school leaders can choose from at least three broad strategies:
hierarchical, transformational, and facilitative. Each has important advantages;
each has significant limitations. Together, they offer a versatile set of
HOW DO LEADERS USE HIERARCHICAL STRATEGIES?
schools have been run as bureaucracies, emphasizing authority and
accountability. Hierarchical strategies rely on a top-down approach in which
leaders use rational analysis to determine the best course of action and then
assert their formal authority to carry it out.
Terrence Deal and Kent Peterson (1994) refer to this as "technical
leadership," in which the principal acts as planner, resource allocator,
coordinator, supervisor, disseminator of information, and analyst.
Hierarchical strategies provide a straightforward, widely accepted way of
managing organizations, offering the promise of efficiency, control, and
predictable routines. However, Deal and Peterson also point out that hierarchy
tends to diminish creativity and commitment, turning the employee-school
relationship into a purely economic transaction.
Moreover, the act of teaching doesn't march to administrative drums. Joseph
Shedd and Samuel Bacharach (1991) note that teachers' roles are extraordinarily
complex, requiring instruction, counseling, and supervision of students who are
highly variable in their needs and capacities. Teaching involves great
unpredictability, calling for sensitive professional judgment by the person on
the scene rather than top-down direction by a distant authority.
HOW DO LEADERS USE TRANSFORMATIONAL
Transformational strategies rely on persuasion, idealism, and
intellectual excitement, motivating employees through values, symbols, and
shared vision. Principals shape school culture by listening carefully for "the
deeper dreams that the school community holds for the future." In the process,
they play the roles of historian, poet, healer, and "anthropological detective" (Deal and Peterson).
Kenneth Leithwood (1993) adds that transformational leaders foster the
acceptance of group goals; convey high performance expectations; create
intellectual excitement; and offer appropriate models through their own
Transformational strategies have the capacity to motivate and inspire
followers, especially when the organization faces major change. They provide a
sense of purpose and meaning that can unite people in a common cause.
On the other hand, transformational strategies are difficult, since they
require highly developed intellectual skills (Leithwood). Moreover, an exciting,
emotionally satisfying workplace does not automatically result in the
achievement of organizational goals (Deal and Peterson).
HOW DO LEADERS USE FACILITATIVE STRATEGIES?
and Paul Goldman (1994) define facilitative leadership as "the behaviors that
enhance the collective ability of a school to adapt, solve problems, and improve
performance." This is accomplished by actively engaging employees in the
decision-making process; the leader's role is not to solve problems personally
but to see that problems are solved.
Like transformational leadership, facilitative strategies invite followers to
commit effort and psychic energy to the common cause. But whereas
transformational leaders sometimes operate in a top-down manner (Joseph Blase
and colleagues 1995), facilitative strategies offer teachers a daily partnership
in bringing the vision to life. The leader works in the background, not at the
center of the stage.
Conley and Goldman say principals act facilitatively when they overcome
resource constraints; build teams; provide feedback, coordination, and conflict
management; create communication networks; practice collaborative politics; and
model the school's vision. Facilitation creates a collaborative, change-oriented
environment in which teachers can develop leadership skills by pursuing common
goals, producing a democratic workplace that embodies the highest American
ideals (Blase and colleagues).
However, facilitative strategies may create ambiguity and discomfort,
blurring accountability and forcing employees to adopt new roles and
relationships. Facilitation takes time, frustrating administrators who are
constantly being pressured to act immediately. It may create great excitement
and high expectations, unleashing multiple initiatives that stretch resources,
drain energy, and fragment the collective vision (Conley and Goldman).
HOW SHOULD LEADERS CHOOSE STRATEGIES?
Although much of the
current literature seems to advocate transformational and facilitative
approaches, the limited research evidence does not permit strong conclusions
about which strategy is "best" (Edward Miller 1995).
Some researchers urge leaders to use multiple strategies. Deal and Peterson
argue that effective principals must be well-organized managers and artistic,
passionate leaders. Robert Starratt (1995) says principals must wear two
hats--leader and administrator. As leaders, principals nurture the vision that
expresses the school's core values; as administrators, they develop the
structures and policies that institutionalize the vision.
We know relatively little about how principals make strategic choices, but
some basic guidelines can be inferred from the literature.
1. Leaders should use strategies flexibly. Thomas Sergiovanni (1994) suggests
that organizations, like people, exist at different developmental levels. A
school that has traditionally operated with strong top-down decision-making may
not be ready to jump into a full-blown facilitative environment.
2. Leaders should balance short-term and long-term needs. For example, Miller
cites research suggesting that principals who act hierarchically can often
implement major changes quickly but that shared decision-making, while
time-consuming, is more likely to gain teacher acceptance. Conversely, he notes
that teachers sometimes tire of shared decision-making and yearn for a
responsive principal who will simply consult them and decide. The leader may
have to choose between short-term teacher satisfaction and long-term
3. Strategic choices must serve institutional values. At times, attractive
ideas like empowerment must take a back seat to school goals. One usually
democratic principal says, "My responsibility as a principal really is to the
children, and if I see areas that are ineffective, I've got to say that we're
not effective here and that we have got to change" (Blase and colleagues).
4. The same action can serve more than one strategy. Deal and Peterson urge
principals to develop "bifocal vision" that imbues routine chores with
transformational potential. Bus supervision, for example, serves an obvious
hierarchical purpose, but it also presents an opportunity for greeting students,
establishing visibility, assessing the social climate, and reinforcing key
In short, running a school does not seem to require all-or-nothing strategic
choices. Effective leadership is multidimensional.
Beck, Lynn G., and Joseph Murphy. "Understanding
the Principalship: Metaphorical Themes 1920s-1990s." New York: Teachers College
Blase, Joseph; Jo Blase; Gary L. Anderson; and Sherry Dungan. "Democratic
Principals in Action: Eight Pioneers." Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin Press,
1995. 193 pages. ED 380 890.
Conley, David T., and Paul Goldman. "Facilitative Leadership: How Principals
Lead Without Dominating." OSSC Bulletin Series. Eugene, Oregon: Oregon School
Study Council, August 1994. 43 pages. ED 379 728.
Deal, Terrence E., and Kent D. Peterson. "The Leadership Paradox: Balancing
Logic and Artistry in Schools." San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1994. 133 pages. ED
Leithwood, Kenneth. "Contributions of Transformational Leadership to School
Restructuring." Paper presented at the annual meeting of the University Council
for Educational Administration, Houston, October 29-31, 1993. 58 pages. ED 367
Miller, Edward. "Shared Decision-Making by Itself Doesn't Make for Better
Decisions." The Harvard Education Letter 11, 6 (November/December 1995): 1-4.
Shedd, Joseph B., and Samuel Bacharach. Tangled Hierarchies: Teachers as
Professionals and the Management of School. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1991.
232 pages. ED 354 586.
Sergiovanni, Thomas J. "Building Community in Schools." San Francisco:
Jossey-Bass, 1994. 219 pages. ED 364 962.
Starratt, Robert J. Leaders with Vision: The Quest for School Renewal.
Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin Press, 1995. 219 pages. ED 354 962.