Educational Leadership Article Review

Excerpt from Article Review :

Educational Leadership

"When Leadership Spells Danger" (Heifetz, et al.)

The article by Heifetz and Linsky takes the position that part of the job of leadership in education is not just teaching, but also "…mobilizing schools, families, and communities" in order to effectively confront serious issues. The issues the authors talk about sometimes get pushed aside: student health, student achievement and student "civic development" (p. 33).

The kind of leadership that the authors emphasize involves finding a way for citizens to "face up to frustrating realities" like budgets that cannot be stretched further (requiring cutbacks), dropout rates that are unacceptable, poor achievement test scores, and "…the revolutionary aspiration of leaving no child behind and the programmatic design and funding of NCLB" (No Child Left Behind) (p. 34).

Why is leadership difficult and dangerous in an educational setting? For one thing, leadership is dangerous because "…you are rarely authorized to lead," Heifetz explains (34). From the president of the United States to a high school principle, no matter the level of leadership, people expect you to "stay within your scope of authority" and to follow a set of behaviors that they want you to follow. If you step outside the boundary of those expectations you meet resistance. As to difficulties in educational leadership, the authors report that when leaders push for" adaptive challenges" (changing the way teachers teach; asking staff to learn new strategies), they run into major roadblocks and resistance. Moreover, any "significant adaptive change" that makes the school or organization stronger and more effective may very well hurt those who "thrived under the status quo" (36). Hence, the resistance to adaptive challenges will always be there and it is the duty of the true leader (who may be just a teacher or counselor) to allow those progressive changes to have a chance to work for the betterment of all.

"Level 5 Leadership" (Collins).

Author Jim Collins writes in the Harvard Business Review that Level 5 Leaders have the ability to show both "deep personal humility" and "intense professional will" (Collins, 2001). Collins offers examples of leaders who have achieved Level 5; while some leaders are given great publicity for their efforts (like Lee Iacocca) a "mild-mannered, steely" leader like Darwin Smith of Kimberly Clark has brought his company to the position of worldwide leader in its industry. Smith has the personal humility -- he is "shy, awkward," and shuns attention -- but he has the "iron will" to redefine Kimberly-Clark's core business. A leader in education can be just as effective if he or she has the humility to balance a powerful professional will to succeed.

Collins spent five years researching the patterns that Level 5 leaders develop (in the process he had 22 research associates working in groups of 4 to 6 at a time from 1996 to 2000), and he learned that Level 5 leaders eagerly give credit to others when things are good and take the blame when things are bad. It's as simple as that and it is called humility. On the other hand, the intense professional will comes into the picture when the leader acts quietly, calmly, and is determined to inspire employees albeit not through charisma but through "inspired standards" (Collins, 2005, p. 1).

The author mentions that Abraham Lincoln was a classic case of Level 5 leadership (and for those who have seen the movie "Lincoln," Collins' assertion is proved); he "never let his ego get in the way of his ambition to create an enduring great nation" (p. 5). Moreover, the point of this scholarly article is that Level 5 Leadership is necessary to move an organization "from good to great," and another example of that kind of leader is Colman Mockler, Gillette's CEO for 16 years; he was "reserved, gracious" and gentle and "never lost his shy, courteous style" however he was tough and he proved himself by fighting off several battles with corporate raiders (p. 5).

"Q&A With Jim Collins"

An article in The School Administrator features a question and answer format with Jim Collins (the author who wrote the article featured in the previous page). Collins, who wrote Good to Great, a bestseller for over a year, is the person who authored "Level 5" leadership. Asked why school leaders have shown great interest in his book, Collins replied that the research method he used in gathering data on superintendents is one thing that has been well received. Moreover, he says that educators at all levels "yearn for consistency of momentum" but do not appreciate starting over when a superintendent only stays for two or three years.

What is the best use of his research, Collins is asked. He says that the "principles" are the most important part of the research but there is more research needing to be done. Also, he hopes educational leaders understand that they may be doing "…absolutely everything right," but all of sudden "some renegade political thing" happens and he or she is blown "…out of the water."

How does a school district find "greatness"? Collins answers that there are four essentially important pieces to making a great institution. One, it must be performing at an outstanding level; two, it must make an impact so significant that if it "went away" it would "leave behind a hole that would be very hard to fill." The third piece involves "resilience"; obviously schools are going to go through rough periods but they must "bounce back" and utilize the challenges as a "defining point to make themselves even stronger." And fourth, "longevity" enters into the picture; it has to be able to "…perform well for not just two or three years but for at least 15 or more."

As to the most "brutal facts" facing educational leaders, Collins names two: a) underfunding good programs" including underpaying good teachers; and b) schools too often are expected to be "all things to all kids"; they are expected to provide social services, to shape values, and to be "surrogate parents," which of course they never can be.

"Leading Through Learning…" Sparks

Dennis Sparks presents case that the leaders in education with constructive characteristics and positive attitudes tend to get the job done more effectively. It may sound old fashioned to talk about speaking with "kindness," respecting the opinions of others, and disagreeing with grace while at the same time being candid about one's viewpoints, but these are the qualities that a true leader needs to show while interacting with parents, students, and teachers / staff members (Sparks, 2009).

Sparks quotes P.M. Forni from Forni's book The Civility Solution: What to Do When People Are Rude: "Whether positive or negative, attitude is destiny… Positivity makes relationship better, and better relationships reinforce positivity" (p. 1). The kind of leader that promotes a positive attitude must also hold "…positive expectations" to emulate that positive attitude; there must be standards that are set very high and learning to live by those standards is the crux of what Sparks is getting at in this short article.

Being positive as a leader in the field of education means displaying a "generosity of spirit that assumes others are honest, trustworthy, and capable…" unless the evidence shows that others are not to be trusted (i.e., a person is not guilty of untrustworthiness unless it is proven).

Also, Forni believes that when a leader speaks with "compassion and kindness," it is a great example for others to follow. In other words, leadership is not just about power or making decisions; it is about kindness and civility. It is also about "speaking truthfully" with all people, including those from cultures that look at the world differently. A culture of honest, gracious leadership has no room for "sarcasm, disparaging gossip, and 'parking lot meetings'," according to Forni. Leading through learning means more than practicing the technical aspects of running a school or heading a department; it means "changing habits of mind and behavior" of others by being persistent in developing a "generosity of spirit" of your own to show the way.

"Stress, Politics Take Toll on Superintendents" (Kelley).

The American Association of School Administrators studied the facts surrounding tenure for school superintendents, and they discovered that in the largest school districts, superintendents hold their positions for "roughly three years" -- but looking at all school districts nationwide (including smaller ones) the average stay for school superintendents is more like seven years. The point of this article is to focus on why superintendents (the ultimate leaders in school districts) in large districts don't stay in their positions very long.

The results of the study reflect that stress and politics tend to get the best of the superintendents in large school districts. And the point is made that turnover after just three years "…isn't in the best interest of school districts" (Kelley, p. 1). Why is three years too short for a school superintendent? Theodore Kowalski (University of Dayton) says it is "…absolutely better for s district if a superintendent is there longer…[because] typically…

Sources Used in Document:

Works Cited

Andrews, Paul, et al. The 21st Century Superintendent.

Collins, Jim. (2005). Level 5 Leadership: The Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve.

Harvard Business Review. Retrieved December 30, 2012, from

Heifetz, Ronald A., and Linsky, Marty. (2004). When Leadership Spells Danger: Leading meaningful change in education takes courage, commitment, and political savvy. Educational Leadership.

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