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Types of Effective Leadership Styles in Schools

In researching various leadership theories, I’ve found that not only do many of the theories overlap, but the theorists’ work does as well.  This is to be expected, as no one leadership style or theory can work in isolation, and no leader can align with one style to utilize in all situations.  Therefore, it is essential that today’s leaders recognize and incorporate elements from various leadership styles to apply to unique situations in leadership positions.

What is Servant Leadership?

Servant leadership has become a common term among educational and business leaders over the past decade. The term, however, was first created in Robert K. Greenleaf’s essay, “The Servant as Leader” in 1970. In his essay, he states:

The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions…The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature.

Servant leadership focuses on the responsibility of the leader not only to ensure the success of the organization, but also a responsibility to his/her followers and stakeholders. This includes:

  • acting in an ethical manner,
  • putting others first, and
  • showing sensitivity to others’ concerns.

The servant leader will also assist subordinates in professional growth and empowerment, as well as building a supportive community environment.

This philosophy speaks to leaders who consider the needs of their followers first—especially in education. It inspires us to balance the needs of followers with the desire to lead, and encourages us to treat others with respect, altruism, fairness, and honesty.  In addition, it requires a leader to build community and lead in an ethical manner.

2 Other Leadership Styles in Education

In addition to servant leadership, there are a few current leadership theories that have either evolved from or are closely aligned with servant leadership.

Authentic Leadership

Teacher Evaluations: The Conversation Has ChangedClosely aligned with servant leadership is authentic leadership.  Northouse stated in his book Leadership Theory and Practice that authentic leadership encompasses both the intrapersonal domain, which focuses on the leader and his or her self-concept and self-knowledge, and the interpersonal domain, which is more relational and created by leaders and followers together (Northouse, 2013, pp. 205-225).

An advantage of authentic leadership is that it is developmental and can be nurtured in any leader. It has a definite moral dimension. However, critics of the process feel that it is still in the formative stages of development and that it is not clear how authentic leadership affects production or positive outcomes for the organization.

Ethical Leadership

Often used interchangeably with servant leadership, ethical leadership focuses on that which is fair and just to others. Particularly, ethical leadership focuses on acting with integrity, fairness, and ethical practices. Ethical leadership also entails knowledge of policy and social justice, as well as district culture.

In addition, a leader must be aware of all moral and legal consequences of decision-making and strive to practice inclusive leadership with an emphasis on cultural diversity. Scholars through the years have supported the role of reflective practice by educational leaders, and this is encouraged in this domain of leadership as leaders strive to become more self-aware and serve as role models of ethical leadership.

Why Servant Leadership is Effective in Schools

While often used in business models, servant leadership specific to school administration can contribute to the success of the school district. It is well known that one responsibility of the school superintendent is to nurture the vision, mission, and culture of the district. Further, research has supported the idea that greater involvement from a wide variety of stakeholders increases the buy-in and ultimately the success of the mission and vision of the district. A superintendent who practices servant leadership maintains priority on the needs of his/her stakeholders and is committed to the success of the corporation.

Another benefit of servant leadership it that it is designed to create leadership opportunities among the disadvantaged.  Greenleaf states that it is his hope that the disadvantaged, following education in service leadership, will “return to their roots and become leaders of the disadvantaged”. He further discusses the merits of leaders rising from the ranks of the disadvantaged to lead their people on a path to an improved life.  This is applicable to school leadership, as no school district is immune from poverty among its children. Instilling servant traits in our children is a responsibility that not only benefits our schools, but our communities as a whole.

Greenleaf’s research on servant leadership encourages us to focus on the needs of those in our organization rather than attempting to motivate them to produce greater results.

Do you believe servant leadership is an effective leadership style in schools? Why or why not?

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