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.

What is Leadership?

It seems to me that a good opening discussion revolves around defining leadership.  There are many differing definitions, some of them good and some of them, well, you get the picture.

For me, the best definition of leadership comes from John C. Maxwell.  In his best selling book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership (1998) he writes that “Leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less.”  In the updated version (2008) he has revised it to read “The essence of leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less.”  In either case, the important factor is leadership as influence.  In both editions of the book, Maxwell provides excellent examples of leadership as influence.

So what does this mean in the area of educational leadership?  First, it means that school leaders must acquire the art (and yes, I believe is is an art) of influence.  Please understand that I do not believe that influence and coercion to be synonyms.  Influence is not bullying people to see things and do things your way.  Influence is communicating vision and passion to a point where it is contagious and people buy in and work together for a common good.

Tomorrow’s schools need leaders!  More on that later!