Leadership Theory in Practice Across Organizations
As a doctoral student, one of the biggest eye-opening experiences for me was the application of leadership theory. Of course, after serving in a school leadership role for 12 years, I understood leadership theory in schools. But it was not until I began to analyze some of these theories with my peers (those in my EdD cohort) that I realized how many of these theories may apply to any organization. Therefore, leadership in the business, education, and non-profit sectors—just to name a few—is similar and may be adapted to suit the needs of the organization.
Through his writings on leadership theory, Michael Fullan emphasizes the enormity of the leader’s role in the dynamics of an organization. While leaders are continually learning and changing, perhaps the most important role of a leader is to influence those around them to also learn, change, and lead. This multiplies the effects of the change process. Throughout this process, the leader may need to assume the role of mediator or facilitator in order to encourage others to interact effectively and “change the context for the better.” (Fullan, 2010).
Leaders who have impacted organizations have done so through such traits as reflective practice, continual learning, a blend of humbleness and confidence, and recognizing and developing leadership in others. This aligns well with John C. Maxwell’s writings on positional leadership. Those leaders who are practicing at a positional level, or simply expecting those in their organization to follow them due to the position they have been granted, will likely not feel comfortable encouraging and empowering those around them to lead and influence change, as they might view this as a threat to their position. Those who have reached the people or pinnacle level of leadership may be more likely to encourage leadership traits of those within their organization, understanding that investing in those around them leads to greater results, as well as improved organizational culture. (Maxwell, 2011).
In practice, one of the most difficult tasks of the leader is appropriate delegation. Simply telling someone to complete a task is not appropriate delegation nor development of leadership in others. First, ask yourself: Is the task appropriately suited to the employee to whom you are delegating? Is there further training required? Are you delegating this task to develop the leadership qualities of the employee, or simply to get it off of your plate?
Applications for School Leaders
Some school corporations have initiated leadership cohorts for their classroom teachers. While some of these teachers may have aspirations to advance to a position of building leadership, many do not. They simply recognize the need for non-positional leadership among their peers. Participants attend sessions on leadership development and problem-solving techniques. The team may then be empowered with tasks and initiatives that formerly fell to the administration, such as planning district professional development, leading student PBIS programs, etc.
In districts that have developed leadership cohorts to the next level, teams are being utilized to analyze current school issues and develop possible solutions. Ultimately, these leaders will help influence and nurture leadership skills in those around them, capitalizing on Fullan’s multiplied effect of the change process. (Fullan, 2010).
Serving as a leader in any organization is challenging, to say the least. Imagine the possibilities when we learn to engage and empower those around us to become leaders within their own areas of expertise. This does not threaten our role as a leader, but rather encourages creative thinking, problem solving, and professional growth of those around us.
Fullan, Michael. Motion Leadership: The Skinny on Becoming Change Savvy. (2010).
Maxwell, John C. The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. (2007)