The development of Leadership Theory: A new journey

I have been gone from this blog for what seems forever.  In that time I have been very busy and I have been thinking (always a dangerous proposition).

In a nutshell, I have been working on a leadership theory for a few years now that I call Transitional Leadership: When They Know You Are Leaving.  All too often in today’s world, people who assume positions of authority are only going to be there for a relatively short period of time, they know it and the people in the organization know it.  So how do you lead and exercise leadership in that kind of environment?  I am arguing that this requires a very unique combination of skills and attributes that must be used in combination in order to move an organization forward.

I have always been concerned with the very high turnover of school administrators in the public school system.  A new principal or superintendent takes the helm, and chaos ensues for a season.  Sadly, it has been my observation that in most cases, it seems that the school or district takes one step forward and two steps back.  I believe that much of the “crisis” in education has at its root a general lack of sound leadership.  These were the thoughts that kept me up a night as I worked as an administrator, and now as a teacher of future administrators.

This journey began in early 2008 when I attended the promotion ceremony of one of my closest friends and brother.  He is a career officer in the United States Air Force and invited me to attend his frocking as he was promoted to Brigadier General.  As I was on the plane flying there, it occurred to me that the military experiences the same kind of turn over that we have in education.  Senior military leaders, both commissioned officers and non-commissioned officers, turn over every 24-36 months; and yet the mission goes on.  I began to wonder if there were organizational leadership lessons that we in education could learn from our counter parts in the military.  I was (and am) cognizant of the profound differences between American education and the US military.  And yet I still wondered if at the core there were applicable lessons.  After all, we were all taught that leadership is leadership, the arena really does not matter.  I discussed this with my friend and he graciously invited me to explore the ideas with members of his staff.  I took him up in his offer and have not been disappointed.  I returned twice and conducted nearly 2 dozen interviews with leaders from across the Air Force.  I began to discover that I was right, there were lessons we could learn in spite of the extreme organizational differences.  In one of my early interviews I stumbled across the perfect description for what I was doing.  A senior commissioned officer (who has since retired and is now an imminent scholar at a major university) said it was really like What Athens can learn from Sparta!  Perfect!  I asked him if I could “steal” this phrase and he willingly consented (Thanks Colonel!)  So…What can Athens learn from Sparta?  As I began talking, the answer became quite apparent, a lot!!  So now the development of the ideas begin.

My Brother has since been promoted again (he is now a Major General) and has moved on (He commands a numbered Air Force), but I continue to work with him (thanks Bro!) in developing this idea and theory.

This blog will be the record of this journey.  It is just starting and has already taken unexpected turns.  I’ll keep you posted.

2 thoughts on “The development of Leadership Theory: A new journey

  1. I have been leading a program that was grant funded. It ends this month with no resurrection in sight. So, I think I would add something about the staff leaving… I am the last one. And then when you know you are going, what then. It was difficult letting go of the staff. It will be even more difficult to let go of the idea of the work.

  2. Hi Pam, Understood! I am in a similar situation with a four year grant that I am a PI on. While I will still have a job, the future of the Institute we established with the grant is unknown. It really is a challenge that exists everywhere, and yet we still have to “get it done”. I am continuing to explore how effective leaders do that!

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