Applying Leadership Theories
Leadership styles are similar to teaching styles in that they require a certain amount of flexibility and adaptability; in reality, there is no singular ideal theory. In this way, the study of leadership and the management of the same, as shown by the previous discussion theories about leadership, are multidimensional. However, in reading through various studies on the subject, two come to the forefront as being more applicable than others: Transformational Leadership Theory and the Servant Leadership Theory since both stress the importance of communication and trust amongst administration, staff, and faculty.
Transformational Leadership Theory Transformational Leadership theory was developed in 1978 by James McGregor Burns, “who saw leadership as the motivation of followers to achieve goals that met individual as well as the changing needs of the organization” (Giles, 2006, p. 259). “Transformational leaders are visionaries, role models, and facilitators who prepare their employees to work in dynamic environment” (Hawkins, 2009, p 43). Burns later expanded his theory, by adding that “transformational leaders manage with morals, tenacity, selflessness and have good political skills” (Hawkins, 2009, p 43).
This leadership theory has continued to evolve over time with the changing of the world. A more modern take on transformational leadership theory in education would be as follows: “A transformational leader typically has a charismatic vision and personality and is able to inspire his followers to accept change at their school. This leader acts as a moral agent who raises consciousness about professional practices and values in the school. He encourages educational creativity and innovation and fosters a sense of ownership by motivating others to commit to his vision.
He does this by considering the specific needs of those who answer to him, thereby empowering them to change. (Cleary, 2011) Transformational Leadership Theory Flaws Although in theory a Transformational leader appears to encompass the mind set to lead a school district into the future, this study is also not without flaws. “Because environmental conditions are constantly changing, leadership must be able to manipulate the organizational culture to ensure the system’s ability to adapt to and survive in the environment through the evolution of new cultural assumptions” (Razik, 2010, p. 95).
Major problems arise when “assumptions” become almost impossible to predict in an expanded school culture. Schools now need to adapt to conditions beyond their control as mandates from the State are increasing at a rapid rate while funding is decreasing just as quickly from both a state and local level. Transformational Leaders who have expressed their goals and ideals and been have been able to put them into practice with the support and cooperation of the faculty and staff are now faced with watching those goals suddenly stalled by unforeseen circumstances that go beyond the theory of being able to adapt and change.
Any plans for the future become nearly impossible to implement under these conditions since the future, due to funding, is now so unpredictable. The practice of a unified vision under the realm of a well-liked and respected leader becomes non-existent when monies are limited, agreements become severed, and everyone views his or her concepts as being the most important to the needs of the district. The “consistency and constancy” that created the trust and unity amongst the administration, staff/faculty, and the community is no longer apparent, causing distention within the school organization (Hawkin, 2009).
Servant Leadership Theory Although similar to the theory of Transformational Leadership in its use of open communication between the faculty and leader, the Servant Leadership Theory concentrates more on the needs of the individual rather than the unified understanding of the needs of the district. Servant leadership theory was coined and defined in a 1970 essay, The Servant as Leader, written by Robert Greenleaf (Serrat, 2009). As cited by Hawkins (2009), Greenleaf explained “the servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first.
Servant-leaders must have a sense for the unknowable to be able to foresee the unforeseeable. Servant-leaders have a power for healing that strengthens the bond between leaders and employees, allowing for difficult issues to be addressed”(Hawkins, 43). Greenleaf created a new theory in which the needs of the individual within the organization are paramount to the needs of the leader. Greenleaf suggests, “servant-leaders are deeply committed to the personal, professional, and spiritual growth of each and every individual within the institution” (Hawkins, 2009, p. 47).
According to Hawkins (2009), servant leaders thoroughly analyze and build an understanding of what their employees and community stakeholders need in order to improve the well being of the entire community. A servant-leader encourages collaboration, trust, foresight, listening, and the ethical use of power and empowerment (cited in Borden, 2003 p. 12). Servant Leadership Theory Flaws Even though this leadership theory appears to be the chosen one for the administrators in this particular school district, certain situations and/or individuals create an atmosphere where putting the theory into practice becomes extremely difficult.
Not only is communication of the utmost importance, but putting aside egos and individual wants and needs for the good of the district is imperative. When personalities clash, and all involved have their own agenda, the district suffers. A function of this board of education, for example, is to lead, to maintain order in the district by overseeing that all involved are abiding by the rules and regulations. Once that board of education over reaches those boundaries, a sense of hostility and mistrust is left in its wake.
On the surface, while seeking to acquire open communication with one’s staff members and meeting the needs of each one is ideal, it is also unrealistic. There are too many hands in the mix, too many ideas to sift through, too many egos to soothe. Until the majority in the school district can leave behind altruistic needs and concentrate solely on the ultimate goal, the theory of Servant Leadership will not succeed. Being a Successful Leader Razik (2010) states, “No one theory has embraced all the necessary variables to define satisfactorily the complexity of the leadership role or to predict best-case leadership scenarios” (p. 3). An educational leader must foster a vision of learning that focuses on the school, the community, as well as teaching and learning.
The vision must be managed and evaluated constantly, by building effective interpersonal relationships based on the entire community’s needs. The educational leader must model integrity and show case ethics while understanding the political, social, economics and legal context that affect the educational system (Green, p. 14). “Effective principals and school administrators set the organizational direction and culture that influences their teacher and students performance” (ISLLC 2008, p. ). In order for principals/educational leaders to be effective they must be exceptional communicators and collaborators; without these skills leadership will fail. Effective communication and collaboration will help the educational leader “establish a climate of trust and mutual respect in which individuals feel empowered to be creative and offer suggestions for the enhancement of organizational goals” (Green, 2009, p. 3). If there is not trust and mutual respect in the educational organization the visions can not be obtained and students success will not be achieved.
An educational leader must foster a vision of learning that focuses on the school, the community, as well as teaching and learning. The vision must be managed and evaluated constantly, by building effective interpersonal relationships based on the entire community’s needs. The educational leader must model integrity and showcase ethics while understanding the political, social, economics and legal context that affect the educational system (Green, 2009, p. 14). The leader plays various roles of directing, coaching, supporting, and delegating as individuals and the group mature and become able to perform activities.
Group maturity depends on individual maturity (Razik, 2010, p. 88). As with any study put into practice, the key is past experience, the realization and agreement of what worked and what did not, and the ability to reach an agreement on the most efficient and beneficial way to move forward. Although by opinion, there is no leadership strategy without flaws that would guarantee effectiveness, Transformational and Servant Leadership theories, due to their stress on communication and trust amongst those involved with the vision and goal for the school district, appear to be the best starting point.