Management vs. Leadership

Placing leadership development and renewal at the forefront of school change by Paul McGowan and John Miller

Could it be that in our haste to change schools, we've relied on management and administration rather than leadership?

School administrators have managed school reform by trying to do all they are directed to do. Yet are they truly creating opportunities that could move their schools toward long-term sustainable improvement? All good intentions aside, are we doing the wrong things really well?

School change is not a simple addition, subtraction or multiplication problem. Rather, it is a perplexing equation permeated with variables such as higher expectations, common standards, parent involvement, technology, integrated curricula, assessment, professional development, funding, teaching methodologies, and facilities. Each of these variables is influenced by legislative mandates, national reports, education research, state departments of education and professional education associations.

School reform has been shaped by the idea that if we simply create common standards, improve the curriculum, hire better teachers, test everyone and stir in dollops of funding, legislation, and time, student learning and achievement will automatically improve.

The dynamic of meaningful school change is more complex than extra curriculum, tests, time and money. The primary factor underlying the disappointing results of our reform efforts is our inability to recognize and invest in the necessary local leadership capacities and capabilities.

Rethinking Leadership

At a September 1999 gathering at Columbia University's Teachers College, Harvard Professor Richard Elmore suggested we could help to reform public education by admitting we do not know how to bring about such a transformation on a broad scale. "The dirty little secret is we're asking people to do something we don't know how to do," he said.

His insight makes school change inherently a leadership challenge. We cannot just manage or administer our way through school change for its complexity requires a process of adaptive learning at the school, district, state and federal levels.

We propose a new design-one that develops educational leaders who can cope with conflict, set direction, align resources and inspire stakeholders. It is a leadership effort that empowers all stakeholders to create long-term vision, define and clarify problems and opportunities, create and commit to improvement strategies and, finally, take action.

Such leadership requires courage, commitment, risk and empathy. It builds on concentrated dedication and constructive participation. There can be no safe harbors for school change leaders.

Doing It Right

John Kotter, author of What Real Leaders Do, reminds us that when the pace of change in organizations speeds up, so does the need for leadership. The same is true in education. Unfortunately, we have done little to increase the needed leadership skills.

Consider Peter Drucker's observation: "Management is doing things right, leadership is doing the right things. The problem is that we have a lot of managers doing the wrong things very well."

Effective leadership from school administrators is more critical than ever. This leadership, moreover, must be local. That's where true leaders can help people cope with change, set direction, deflect fear and criticism, engage all stakeholders and inspire people to construct more effective strategies for true school improvement.

In creating a new perspective, we suggest following the differentiation between management and leadership as defined by Abraham Zaleznik, who is an emeritus professor at the Harvard Business School:

* Administration/management tends to focus on maintaining existing relationships and order, using proven ways of doing things, working within what people think is desirable and, of course, working harder and longer.

* Leadership is about taking risks, striking out in new directions, creating visions, tapping imaginations, changing the way people think about what is desirable, creating excitement about working with children and communities, building new relationships and structures and changing the existing cultures.

At the local level, public education systems too often train, reinforce and expect its superintendents and principals to be administrators and managers, but not leaders. The skills, competencies and capacities differ markedly.

While management skills are necessary aspects of the school leader's job and some time must be devoted to managing resources and people, management skills and time are no longer sufficient to meet the escalating challenges and demands.

How do we develop local leadership in such a highly decentralized system? How do we convince people to invest precious time and money in leadership development when there isn't enough time or dollars to implement all the mandated requirements and programs?

We can overcome these challenges by making a commitment to placing leadership development and renewal at the forefront of school change efforts and by recognizing that leadership requires different skills, qualities and behaviors than management.

Grounding Our Efforts

The critics of public education excel at finding fault, yet rarely offer realistic plans or next steps for improvement. With that in mind, we offer three principles to ground our proposed school leadership effort.

* Be willing to understand and promote leadership development at a systemic level but be able to act at a local level.

We must raise awareness and understanding among all local stakeholders about the importance of leadership and build their commitment to investing in systematic leadership development. This will require increased understanding and appreciation of how leadership relates to student learning and achievement as well as the education culture, funding, legislation and union constraints.

* Base efforts on the understanding that leadership development differs from management development.

People can be appointed to positions of management and authority, but they must earn leadership positions. We cannot improve leadership in public education by simply teaching everyone better management techniques or by giving them more knowledge.

A key step in leadership development is helping superintendents, principals and school board chairs understand who they are, what they believe, what their vision is for the future, what values they hold dear and how their behavior affects others.

This critical aspect of leadership change involves working from the inside out. We cannot teach people the effective leadership qualities of courage, commitment and empathy, but we can develop the kind of organization culture and systems that encourage and support these qualities.

Secretary of State Colin Powell remarked, "Leadership is the art of accomplishing more than the science of management says is possible."

* Customize leadership development of individuals and teams to be effective at the local level.

Customization should be thought of in the terms of action research: Gather data on existing leadership capabilities, capacities and challenges; analyze the data; brainstorm possible strategies; identify strategies to implement; and then implement them.

The critical questions are: Is there a clear and compelling vision for the future and the goals to get there? Is there a critical mass of stakeholders sold on this future direction and committed to achieving it? Are there systematic processes and clear strategies for achieving the vision and goals? Are there mechanisms in place for monitoring progress, promoting organizational learning and making modifications to the plan? Are there agreed-upon outcomes? Is there a shared commitment to the collaboration and support that engages the talents and participation of the workforce, parents, community and students?

The answers to these questions can guide where you should direct your leadership development and resources at the local level.

Form and Substance

Most school districts or schools have a statement of mission, vision and values or, even better, a fully developed strategic plan for improvement. Unfortunately, they often provide form with little substance. The work of leadership is to ensure that these statements have real meaning, that there is commitment and passion behind them and a daily pursuit to achieve them.

One of our favorite quotations about leadership comes from John Seaman Garns, who was president of the International New Thought Alliance during the early years of the 20th century: "Real leaders are ordinary people with extraordinary determination." The same is true in education. When we uncover skills, knowledge and behaviors necessary to complement that determination, we need to help people develop them.

Leaders are not just spokes in the wheels. They are the hubs. The time has come to move forward from intent to impact through the commitment of resources and practices to develop and support leaders focused on authentic school reform.

Paul McGowan is the founder of Education Associates, P.O. Box 2120, Ogunquit, Maine 03907. E-mail: PSMcGow@aol.com. John Miller is a former elementary school principal and Boston-based consultant.