Developing Leaders

Much of the literature on school leadership uses many of the following words to describe how leaders can develop the leadership of others within organizations or schools.

Leaders should:

-empower others

-share leadership with others

-distribute leadership to others

There are many more commonly used phrases, but these are the top three that come to mind. To me, they have a slightly condescending tone at times, meaning that the LEADER is “evolved” enough to recognize “worthy” employees to empower, or with which to share and/or distribute HER leadership to them as a way to develop them as leaders. As I was preparing to be a leader, I never expected this pervasive and seemingly paternalistic tone to be as prevalent as it really was when I entered an assistant principal position, being trained by my district on how to “empower” the teachers to develop their leadership.

I’d like to offer an alternative perspective. Much of the basis for the leadership program in which I was prepared was from the writings of Mary Parker Follett, a political scientist who was a social worker much of the time by “trade” in the 1920’s. In her writings, she discussed a horizontal type of leadership, where people within an organization led because at that moment, it was their job or task to do so. Her theories acknowledged the need to honor the strengths of all workers and continuously work to integrate tasks and ideas across an entire organization. Therefor, a worker’s orders were created by the work itself, not by the titled “leader” of the organization (Graham, 1995). Therefore, I would simply argue that developing leadership in others often revolves around creating a culture that honors a horizontal leadership structure instead of one that’s vertical. Properly training teachers and staff to complete their tasks in the process of educating children, acknowledging that with their tasks, they simply have leadership and are the masters of their tasks. In a recent reflection paper, one of my Leadership students, in responding to why he’s in a Leadership program, indicated that he has recognized that in the calling of teaching, we are in fact leaders, and he wants to honor that part of his calling to a greater extent to impact student development and learning. School leaders, by encouraging their teachers and staff to look at the leadership within themselves and by giving them the freedom to be the leaders at their tasks will help them grow as leaders.

Leadership is not something that is to be given from one person to another. It’s a trait that with the right encouragement and guidance can emerge from all of us.

Graham, P., ed. (1995). Mary Parker Follett: Prophet of management. Harvard Business School Press.



Filed under Experiences I Wasn't Prepared for as a School Leader

2 responses to “Developing Leaders

  1. Tiffany, I read your post with great interest. I like the concept of lateral interpretation of leadership, which I can see does happen on occasion and see the huge benefit; however, I believe that because of the system of the organizational structure of education, and its institutional hierarchy which exits beyond any power and or control, we are unable to change permanently to linear leadership as a whole.
    Wonder if we could ever transform the institution to do so in its policies and/or practices as a whole?
    Thanks for sharing your post and deepening my thinking.

    • Denise, I know what you mean. That hierarchical structure is so embedded into us that even through all best intentions, I still had teachers who would blindly follow me because I was their boss. The only way I have seen long term institutional change occur has been through long-term, subtle but consistent attention to these matters one leader at a time. The sanctions and consequences of NCLB, Common Core, etc, don’t seem to allow the kind of time needed for this to happen.

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