LEADERSHIP STYLES

Leadership styles and strategies vary from administrator-to-administrator and from state-to-state. The research outlines several, leadership styles that are prevalent in professional practices; however, the research cannot clearly identify one leadership style that stands out as the most effective and successful in today’s public schools. Safe to say, most administrators actualize a style that is a little-of-this and a lot-of-that at different times during the school day; they’re essentially the sum of their professional and academic training, and when it boils down to it, they’re eclectic in leadership style. Observably, leadership is as pliable as the administrators need to make it so as to insure a safe and engaging, learning environment! Deciding on what style works best is usually and consciously arrived at by trial-and-error processes in resolving conflict situations in schools; it can be that simple!

Relevantly, Gordon A. Donaldson, Jr. (2001) defines good leadership as the ability to “think, believe, and behave in a manner that satisfies emerging organizational needs, not simply their individual needs or wants” (p. 5). Based on today’s school operations, Donaldson (2001) views leadership styles that are created in the midst of time constraints and “on-the-fly,” decision-making. He points out those large formal meetings have limited, collaborative worth. Rather, he cites, important curriculum decisions are reached in departmental meetings.

Naturally, principals are required to use formal communication channels (i.e. public address system, memos, newsletters, etc.) to mobilize teachers, paraprofessionals, and students to achieve the school’s academic and behavioral goals. According to Donaldson (2001), however, important communications are usually informal; he writes:

Studies of effective leadership find that principals spend the majority of their time face-to-face (or ear-to-ear) conversation with staff, parents, and students…The natural networks of friendship and alliances serve as the best grapevine not only for communication of information but for sharing judgments about how to respond to that information. Although these forms of communication are often personally meaningful, they are often too rushed and too infrequent to constitute a systematic way for a leader to mobilize staff (p. 17).

Seemingly, the lack of teacher time and the large enrollments of schools now require principals to use more personal ways to detect potential problems and offer constructive criticisms to instructional staff and paraprofessionals. This common-sense approach is effective nowadays because school administrators have become mobilized entities, walking observantly around-the-building and visiting with staff and students.

In comparison, Stuart C. Smith and Philip K. Piele (1997) view leadership skills as those tangibles learned by an on-the-job experience and “a do-it-yourself project” (p. 38). Smith and Piele (1997) define leadership style by using the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory (MBTI) to determine style in 4, main categories: 1) introversion – extroversion, 2) sensing – intuition, 3) thinking – feeling, and 4) judging – perceiving. As a result, leaders can be categorically matched and a leadership style can be generally determined; however, its validity is questionable. Though theoretical and highly controversial, the MBTI is a quick snapshot of a person’s, leadership style. Smith and Piele (1997) explain the importance of style:

Knowledge of styles thus helps leaders recognize how they operate and how others are affected; in turn, they learn that the other person’s contrariness is really just a different style. Leaders may or may not be able to flex their style at will, but recognizing it will at least allow them to soften its impact on those around them (p. 49).

It’s true: Identifying one’s leadership style allows school administrators to view themselves and the weight of their decision-making abilities.

To complement their discussions on leadership styles, Smith and Piele (1997) address the importance of a leadership strategy. They define a leadership strategy as “a consciously chosen pattern of behavior designed to gain the cooperation of followers in accomplishing organizational goals” (p. 49). Specifically, Smith and Piele (2001) predominantly focus on three leadership strategies: 1) hierarchal, 2) transformational, and 3) facilitative.

Each has its advantages and limitations to consider. Hierarchal leadership is a traditional approach that is efficient and emphasizes decision-making and task-completion; however, it can be regimented and too constraining for some. Transformational leadership is designed to motivate and inspire its followers to follow an enthusiastic and dynamic leader; unfortunately, it can raise high expectations that can’t be realized in a school setting. And facilitative leadership empowers teachers and encourages them to discern and collaborate on schoolwide concerns; however, its design sometimes provides the stakeholders, the teachers, with too much discussion and too much latitude, resulting in frustration and inaction.

With everything to consider stylistically and strategically in leadership, that is why, in my view, most school administrators are not typecast into a single style. Understandably, in my view again, that is why most school administrators, either consciously or unconsciously, subscribe to an eclectic, leadership style!

It’s safe, and it becomes a matter of justified protectionism!

-Al Bruno

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