At our latest World Cafe conversation, little was directly said about leadership and its function in learning, leading to some follow up questions. What could leadership look like in 21st Century education? What role does a more traditional model of ‘leadership’ play? I placed quotes around leadership as I wonder what we understand by the word leadership. Management and administration seem more descriptive of the leadership in many public institutions but are not synonymous with leadership. Leaders occasionally do manage or administrate, so is it more important to consider that a leader potentially has several roles, including that of a servant?
Indirectly, the concept of leadership emerged in conversations. Comments were made about switching from institutional settings to alternative settings; breaking free from institutional modes and getting away from government “standards” or “numbers” to take control of and for our children. What does this suggest about leadership? Is it calling for a fluid leadership model premised on each person’s strengths within a community rather than counting solely on ‘experts’ removed from classrooms? I suspect we should re-conceptualize educational leadership to reflect the relational nature of learning. Adding technological layers and human buffers between the classroom and decision-makers is not the reimagining leadership I have in mind.
Leaders require personal confidence to step back and place trust in others to do the job at hand. Who in the community has skills and wisdom to steer the enterprise at a given time? When a leader says, “I don’t know” it can be a sign of strength and courage, not weakness and timidity. Stepping back should not be confused with offloading jobs the leader does not want. Leaders have to follow through and allow those, able in the moment, opportunities to succeed and risk failure while affirming their worth. In this manner, leaders serve the community, its goals, and its members. The servant-leader is as necessary today as at any time in human history regardless of the nature of community and the institutions it serves. Servant-leadership and consensus require courage and spirit from leaders and followers, based on communal values shared by each member, not merely a privileged few..
Community and the institutions that serve them, including schools, can reimagine leadership. Reimagined leadership will allow more than one hand to guide the ship. Without shared vision and service from all, those ships will sink under the weight of misplaced and misunderstood accountability. In bureaucracies, accountability is an external force of regulation and monitoring. Accountability, as a shared and understood communal value, calls on both followers and leaders to accept and fulfill responsibility. One aspect of servant-leadership will be to model leading in the role of a follower as each person takes on purposeful and respectful roles.