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Theories of Leadership in Schools




Schools organizations are involved into reform, change, and improvement efforts and process stemming from a desire for renewal, gaps in performance results, advancements in knowledge, mandates, and other societal deficits where responsibility has been delegated to schools (Evans, 1996). According to Fullan (2000) and Mai (2004) the problem for school organizations seeking to effectively improve or change centers on what behaviors, strategies, or structures contribute positively to organizational learning and renewal in a way the produces the capacity for sustainability in order to make a positive difference for students.

Foster (2001) discussed that while the majority of past theories on school leadership have focused upon the capabilities of one individual, this accepted belief of a solitary leader is now being challenged as traditional models of leadership and organizational change are being analyzed. Thus, instead of viewing leadership as a role for one person, leadership is now being redefined as a practice shared among many individuals (Harris, 2003). Distributed leadership involved with creating joint responsibility for leadership activities. Interesting is the focus on shared learning and developing leadership capabilities. Shared leadership is used as synonym for democratic leadership, and collaborative leadership. Practitioners use it to create effective school leadership, or improving schools, or to study leadership.

Building leadership capacity means broad-based, skillful involvement in the work of leadership. There is a need of significant number of skillful teacher leaders who understood the shared vision in the school, and are able to carry it out. Also the work involves reflection, inquiry, conversations and focused action – professional behaviors that are an integral part of daily work. Understandings and skillfulness involve more than the knowledge of an innovation. The skillfulness focused is those skills of leadership that allow other teachers to capture the imagination of their colleagues, enable them to negotiate real changes in schools and negotiate any conflicts that arise in organization (Harris and Lamber, 2003). In order to build leadership capacity for school improvement the U.K. Open University suggested the following main characteristics: Surface, clarity and define values, beliefs, assumptions, perceptions and experiences ; inquire into practice; construct meaning and knowledge; frame action and develop implementation plans.

The Cyprus Educational System is open to a wide range of influences, which create the need for change and improvement. The strategy of the Ministry of Education in Cyprus is to proceed with the Educational Reform Program in order to fully achieve the goal of an all inclusive, democratic and human school, which embraces all students equally and provides education to each and every pupil according to his/her needs. Educational Reform was launched in January 2005, following a report by a Committee of seven academics which identified the weaknesses of Cyprus Educational System and the areas in need of reform. UNESCO’s Report at the end of 90’s come to the summarized conclusion that “The administrative system of governing and monitoring of the Ministry of Education and Culture remains strictly centralized, bureaucratic and inflexible.” The main goal is to restructuring of Ministry of Education and Culture by modernize the organizational structure for all the departments.

School Reform, Change and Improvement

A lot of efforts about improving education have become national and international in scope, beginning in 1983 in USA with “A Nation at Risk” and recently “No Child Left Behind” federal legislation, (2001). Elmore (2002) explains that is not enough to focus solely on these new reform standards requirements. Continuing school improvement for all students’ achievement will need to develop and sustain a school climate where everyone is committed to learning and everyone is accountable for pupil achievement. Sheppard (2003) proposed that school leadership is critical for improving pupil achievement. Leithwood and Riehl (2003) according to their research findings concluded that leadership has a significant effect on student learning, curriculum and teacher instruction. Some researchers like Hallinger and Heck(1998) suggest that school survival today is depending of the effective leadership that can guide schools through the challenges of improving student achievement.

Fullan (2001), Lunenburg and Ornstein (2004) support that effective leadership at all levels of the educational system is critical. Also organizations cannot flourish on the actions of the top leaders alone. They suggested that schools need many leaders at many levels. Neuman and Simmons (2000) discussed that leadership is the job of the whole educational community, and learning becomes the focus and primary value for every member. Whilst the quality of teaching strongly influences levels of pupil motivation and achievement, it has been consistently argued that the quality of leadership matters in defining the motivation of teachers and the quality of teaching in the classroom (Fullan, 2001; Sergiovanni, 2001)

Recent studies of effective leadership have described that authority to lead can be dispersed within the school in between and among people (MacBeath, 1998; Day, Harris and Hadfield, 200; Harris, 2002). Leadership is actually separated from person, role and status and is primarily concerned with the relationships and the connections among individuals within a school. Distributed, shared or teacher leadership is well developed and grounded in research evidence. Distributed Leadership implies a redistribution of power and re-alignment of authority within the school. Main goal is the creation of the conditions in which people work together and learn together. By giving authority to teachers and empowering them to lead leadership is emergent rather than as a fixed phenomenon.

Literature review about Leadership consists of a number of leadership theories, styles and approaches. The most of these theories on school leadership have focused on individual capabilities. Recently this believes are challenged because of organizational changes and reform in our educational system. Leadership is now being re-defined as a practice distributed among many individuals (Harris, 2003).

I believe that today the concept of distributed leadership is receiving much attention and growing empirical support (Spillane, 2006). The focus is oriented not upon the characteristics of the leader but upon creating the climate for shared learning and developing leadership capabilities. Spillane and Diamond (2007) discussed that distributed leadership is used as a synonym for democratic leadership, shared leadership, and collaborative leadership. In many cases distributed leadership is used to create effective school leadership, others use it for improving schools, and some for leadership research.

In order to contribute to the necessary transformation of our schools, school improvement demands’ learning that is encourages lifelong personal and social experience. The teacher needs to feel that not only can she/he believe in school improvement, but that she/he is making her/him own contribution, and is involved in the improvement process. Improvement is something no-one would want to avoid, like good food. We argue that school improvement must be related to the re-examination of the purposes of schools in the future. The globalization of economic activity has transcended national boundaries and has created unprecedented social relations mediated through global economic practices. School improvement strategies need to move away from organizational issues and take more account of the voices of those most involved – the young people themselves as well as their teachers.

Today in many countries like USA schools and states emphasize on school reform and improvement by consider those factors that influence the implementation and sustainability of improvement efforts (Sergiovanni, 2006; Hall and Hord, 2006). According to the writers school improvement initiatives demand resources like additional personnel, time, money, staff development, instruments and space. For example Sergiovanni (2006) suggested that schools must institutionalize the allotment of resources to provide for the longevity of the school improvement initiative.

Another main resource element necessary for school system is the school culture. School culture influences the degree to which an improvement initiative is successfully implemented (Jazzar & Algozzine, 2006).

Leadership Practices of Effective Head

Fullan (2003) examined that principals are often the key to school improvement efforts and also he identified barriers to improvement often noted by school heads. It is important when school improvement and reform initiative is implemented from the state level, building managers must be able to encourage and motivate their staff to successfully implement the initiative. (Leithwood, Louis, Anderson, and Wahlstron, 2004). School head is a key element for school improvement efforts regardless of system – imposed barriers such as not clearly identifying the head’s responsibilities and lack of leadership training provided for school principals.

Most important step for improvement implementation in schools is the creations of supporting culture environment for change. Heads need to establish such cultures in the following situations:

  1. In developing of policies and procedures which facilitate the improvement process.
  2. By establishment of patterns so that individuals can work together as they strive for improvement.
  3. By focusing on collaborative relationships with numbers of staff and other administrators.
  4. By teacher development and learning activities focused on the improvement initiative.
  5. By assessment of the procedures in order to evaluate and monitor improvement sequences of actions.
  6. By discussing any success according the improvement implementation.
  7. By motivate staff members for their success as they engage in improvement.

The literature on effective leadership emphasize on those essential characteristics for leading school improvement. Especially Kouzes and Posner (2002a) have conducted research on the practices and skill of effective leaders by identified five practices and ten corresponding commitments that all leaders demonstrate. Kouzes and Posner (2000) practices are presented by Balcerek (1999, p.4) in a table of leadership model.

Ten Commitments of Leadership



Model the Way


Find your voice by clarifying your personal values


Set the example by aligning actions with shared values

Inspire a Shared Vision


Envision the future by imagining exciting and ennobling possibilities


Enlist others in a common vision by appealing to shared aspirations

Challenge the Process


Search for opportunities by seeking innovative ways to change, grow, and improve.


Experiment and take risks by constantly generating small wins and learning from mistakes.

Enable Others to Act


Foster collaboration by promoting cooperative goals and building trust.


Strengthen others by sharing power and discretion

Encourage the Heart


Recognize contributions by showing appreciation for individual excellence.


Celebrate the values and victories by creating a spirit of community

Leadership Capacity in School Organization

Today teachers need initiatives to develop, learn, practice, evaluate, and debate in order to successfully change practice necessitating supporting leadership for change (Hargreaves and Fink, 2004). Change leaders focus on the development of teacher’s knowledge, skill and learning within a professional community and worked on changing the content in order to create new settings conducive to learning and share (Fullan, 2000b).

In a school organization, the formal role of the leader was typically the head, but successful leaders in the leadership of change realized that sustainability of improvement was found in collective learning and the development of leadership capacity within colleagues of the school (Lambert, 2005a). Sergiovanni (2005) emphasize on head responsibility on serving as a leader of change by building and cultivating the leadership capacity of others in school. It is important for successful heads to focus on building leadership capacity in a number of good leaders within the school organization who could sustain improvement. By establishing the conditions for developing the skills, knowledge, and abilities of others during the change process, the leader enriched the school’s efforts for renewal and advanced the improvement process (Mai, 2004). Effective school heads during change envisioned an expanded view of leadership in order to sustain meaningful long lasting changes.

The school change process support that leadership was not viewed as the individual role, but rather as an organizational concept that leads to school improvement. Leadership is found within the culture of a school organization that promoted the advancement of the capabilities of many members to lead. Lambert, (2003) described that leadership accepted collective responsibility for school improvement and leadership capacity was realized when a school staff is participate in dialogue, and reflection to achieve student performance goals.

Leadership capacity support schools in moving beyond the implementation phase of change towards sustainable improvement. Teacher’s leadership and effective leaders plan for sustainable leadership focus on culture of initiative and opportunity within the school (Hargreaves and Fink, 2003). Leadership capacity provides others with opportunities, resources, training, and support structures for collective learning with accountability. Leadership capacity is about learning communities promoting leadership for all participants share and understood the contributions made by each member toward the school purpose (Lambert, 2005b).

Theories of Leadership

Leadership historically has been defined in different ways by various writers on leadership. Authors who write about leaders emphasize on personal skills and characteristics of individual in specific roles within the organization. Some others authors focus on leadership by determining functions, which performed by person in the organization. Leithwood et al (1999) and Yukl (2002) agreed that some definitions about leadership are more useful than others, but there is no complete definition. Harris (2002) and Leithwood (2001) discussed distributed leadership as an alternative to traditional leadership models. According to Owava and Bosset (1997) leadership flows through the networks of roles that comprise organizations and is based on the deployment of resources that are distributed across the network of roles, with different roles having access to different levels and types of resources.

Most of the theories included their meaning in key words like “followers”, “authority”, and “decision making”. Measures of personality have been shown to correlate with ratings of leadership effectiveness. Leadership exists within a single person and a situation. Leaders are also involved in managing the culture by establishing strategic direction, communicating that direction and defining the organizational vision and values.

The National College for School Leadership (NCSL, U.K) in 2003 identified eight models of leadership: Instructional, transformational, moral, participative, managerial, post-modern, interpersonal, and contingency leadership (Bush and Glover, 2003).

Successful leadership is when the influence brings about the behavior and results that were intended by the leader. Effective leadership is when successful leadership results in functional behavior and the achievement of group goals. Knowledge, personal qualities or charisma of the leader and the manner in which authority is exercised are variables for leadership. Elements that made leaders successful in the twentieth century may not be the same elements needed in the future. Leadership needs to be continually studied and investigated in order to be more effective and successful. Yukl (2006) described that leadership effectiveness is differ among researchers based upon the researcher’s definition of leadership.

Self-Evident Theoretical Approach

The “Great Man Approach” is the first theory of leadership, also called “Self-Evident Theory”. Glasman and Glasman (1997) identified this theory, which assumed that leaders are born and not made and that instinct is more important than training. The criteria for selecting leadership characteristics in this model are still confusing and unclear.

Trait Theory

Stogdill (1948) conducted a meta-analysis of 124 empirical studies between 1904 and 1947. By using correlation statistics, he compared specified traits of successful leaders with those of unsuccessful leaders to define if those traits were prerequisites for effective leadership. He concluded that leadership could not be explained simply in terms of an individual or group; rather, it must take into account the interaction of the leader’s traits with situational variables. The review failed to find evidence a person must possess a particular set of traits to become a successful leader, which is the basic assertion of the trait approach.

Yukl (2006) cited further research supporting Stogdill’s findings by claiming the reason for the lack of evidence linking traits to leadership success was due to poor research methods. Trait theory was based on the assumption that individuals possessed certain physical characteristics, personality traits, and intellectual abilities that made them natural leaders.

Behavior Theory

This theoretical approach analyzes leadership behaviors and how they correlate between them. The emphasis was shifted from investigating what effective leaders are, to investigating what effective leaders do (Lunenburg and Ornstein, 2004; Yukl, 2006). By the 1950’s behaviorist theory assumed that leadership behaviors exercised in one situation did not necessarily transfer to other situations. Yukl discussed that behavior research has concentrated on two categories: 1) examination of leadership activities and duties and 2) examination of effective leadership behaviors.

Since 1939 three Universities were involved in research of f leadership behavior. At the University of Iowa researchers identified three styles of leadership: democratic, authoritarian, and laissez-faire connecting with leader’s decision-making. Those three leadership styles are still common place in the literature and discussion among practitioners in the field of educational leadership (Razik and Swanson, 1995).

Also at the University of Ohio Fleishan (1953) developed questionnaire to measure how often a leader used these behaviors sorting by categories. A questionnaire composed of 150 items was completed by samples of civilian and military individuals to describe the behavior of their leaders. The study identified two dimensions of leadership: 1) consideration and 2) the ability to initiate structure (Mouton and Blake, 1984; Stogdill and Coons, 1957).

Consideration was defined as the level to which a leader exhibits expressions of trust, respect, warmth, support, and concern for the welfare of subordinates (Lunenburg and Ornstein, 2004, p.150). Initiating structures was defined as the level to which a leader concentrates on organizational performance goals, organizes / defines tasks, establishes channels of communication, develops relationships with subordinates, and evaluates work performance (Razik and Swanson, 1995, p.42). The two categories were independent of one another. No correlation was found between a leader’s uses of one type of categorical behavior with that same leader’s utilization of the other type of categorical behavior. The University of Michigan (Likert, 1967) attempted to identify the correlation between a leader’s behavior, group process, and group performance. Leadership studies concluded that effective leaders are both task- and relationship-oriented (Razik and Swanson, 1995).

Lunenburg and Ornstein (2004) have a different opinion with previews writers because they have not considered the effects of situational factors like differences in tasks completed, of the group, and differences in the environment. These issues are connected to the actions that must be performed by the leader and consequently on the appropriate leadership behavior to be used in the given situation.

According to the Ohio and Michigan studies the initiating structure is similar to task-oriented behaviors, and consideration is similar to relation-oriented behaviors. Important role of teachers, counselors, and other school staff exercising leadership roles are distinctly different from the traditional leadership role of the head.

The questionnaires from Ohio State University are modified and have been used by different researchers in many survey studies. According to that research evidence the results were not satisfied for most criteria of leadership effectiveness (Bass, 1990; Fisher and Edwards, 1998; Yukl, 2006).

The findings were inconsistent for the relationship between consideration and subordinate performance. Research revealed subordinates are more satisfied with a leader who is at least moderately considerate. Especially between 50’s and 80’s a huge amount of studies about effective leadership behaviors are concluded with effective leadership connecting with school goals and concern for relationships.

Situational Theory

Yukl (2006) argued that situational approach covers the social characteristics of the organizations and how they influence the type of leadership exhibited. Main important for this theory is that distinguishing characteristics of the organizational members are more important to leadership than personal traits (Glasman and Glasman, 1997; Lipham, 1973; Wildavsky, 1985). Yukl explained that there are many variables like the nature of the work performed, the type of the organization, and the features of the organization’s peripheral elements.

Studies for situational approach have been divided into two subcategories. According to the first subcategory leadership processes are compared in various types of managerial positions, organizations, and cultures. The second type of research emphasizes on leadership effectiveness by specific various aspects of the situation that have a bearing on the leaders’ attributes. Those approaches concerning aspects of leadership applying to some situations, but not others, are called contingency theories.

Contingency Theory

Contingency approaches specify the situational elements that describe the relationship among leader’s traits, behaviors, and performance criteria. Contingency approaches include four sets of concepts: traits of leaders, characteristics of the situation, behaviors of the leader, and effectiveness of the leader. Lunenburg and Ornstein (2004) described that contingency theory it depends on the interaction of the leader’s personal traits, behavior, and factors in the leadership situation. Fielder (1967) argued that leaders could improve their effectiveness by modifying the situation to match their style of leadership. During his study discovered important interactions, between leadership styles and situational variables. Fielder suggested that leaders could improve their effectiveness by modifying the situation to suit their style of leadership.

Four contingency approaches of leadership are reviewed: The LPC Contingency Theory, Path-Goal Contingency Theory, Situational Leadership Contingency Theory, and Leadership Substitutes

Contingency Theory.

LPC Contingency Theory: Fiedler (1967) generalized the LPC contingency theory to analyze leadership through examination of the situation, the organizational members, and its tasks. The LPC contingency theory describes how the situation affects the relationship between leadership effectiveness and a trait measure defined the least preferred coworker (LPC) score. LPC score is defined by asking a leader to select one past or present coworker with whom the leader could work least well, and rate this person on a scale of varying adjectives such as friendly or unfriendly and efficient or inefficient. The total of the ratings on these bipolar adjectives scales is the leader’s PLC score. The score identifying if the leader behavior are more relationship or task motivated.

Path-Goal Theory: House (1971) emphasized on the leader’s ability to motivate subordinates to reach goals, the rewards associated with reaching goals, and the importance of the goal. House proposed that leaders need to examine the situational variables and then apply one of the four leadership styles (supporting, participative, directive, or achievement oriented), the one that was more close to the situation. Bolman and Deal (1991) and Golman et al., 2002 discover that effective leaders have a repertoire of styles and the leader’s effectiveness is based on his/her ability to frame the situation so that he/she can use the style most suitable for the task in the context.

House (1996) reconstructed this theory by modernizing the conceptions of subordinate motivation and abilities, and task characteristics as situational elements, and expanded the outcomes to include subordinate satisfaction and work unit effectiveness, but not leader traits. To be effective, leaders engage in behaviors that add to the subordinate’s environment in order to increase subordinates satisfaction and work effectiveness.

House and Mitchell (1974) described another leadership behavior, participative leadership. Participative leadership seeks advice from organizational members and considers their opinions and suggestions in the decision making process. Yukl (2006) described that participative leadership involves various decision making processes allowing other members of staff, besides the leader, some influence over the decision. Participative leadership used to encourage democratic principles or to enhance effectiveness of the organization.

Leithwood and Duke (1999) suggested another reason for generalizing participative leadership in schools, the site-based management (SBM) approaches. Access to SBM for decision making is given to any legitimate stakeholder in the school based on their expert knowledge, their democratic right to choose, and their critical role in implementing decisions.

Murphy and Beck (1995) suggested SBM metamorphosis takes one of three forms; administrative-controlled SBM, professional-controlled SBM, and community-controlled SBM. Main important goal for administrative-controlled SBM is to pass authority to the local school administrators to make decisions on the budget, personnel, and curriculum for the best use of resources for the students’ benefit.

Teacher-controlled SBM is generalized to make improvement in determining how money will be spent, selection of the curriculum, and choosing personnel. Educators participation in the decision making process will give them ownership in the decisions during implementation and leads to improved effectiveness (Clune and White, 1998; David, 1989).

Community controlled SBM are concerning with the accountability of parents and the community. Parents and other community members have a majority of the input when deciding upon the curriculum so it will reflect their values. Leithwood and Duke (1999) stated an equal participation SBM does exist in the form of side councils that have decision-making power. Everyone works together to make the best school decisions possible.

Situational Leadership Contingency Theory: According to Hershey and Blanchard (1977) the level of the worker’s maturity determines the task and relationship behavior for the leader. A worker of high maturity has both the ability and confidence to do a task, whereas a worker of low maturity lacks ability and self-confidence. At the other side Barrow (1977) believed maturity is a combination of many elements and the procedure used to weight and combine them was questionable. Yukl (2006) underlined Hershey and Blanchard’s theory made positive highlights of leaders to be adaptive and flexible in their behavior. Situational leadership theory emphasizes on leaders to be conscious of opportunities to increase the skills and confidence of workers.

Leadership Substitutes Contingency Theory: The theory according to Kerr and Jermier (1978) makes a distinction between substitutes and neutralizers, which are two different kinds of situational variables. Substitutes include all the characteristics of the worker like task, or organization ensuring the worker will clearly realize their roles, know how to do the work, be highly motivated, and have work satisfaction. Examples of substitutes would be the exceptional ability of a worker, an intrinsically satisfying task, and a cohesive work group within the organization. Usually when workers have prior experience, they already have acquired t he skills and knowledge to accomplish their tasks. If workers are motivated by their work because is according to their interests, the leader may not need to motivate them.

Neutralizers are any characteristics of the organization that block a leader from acting in a specific way or that cancel the results of the leader’s actions. Example is the lack of interest of workers toward rewards. In many situations there so many neutralizers that it is difficult for a leader to succeed. There are two ways to make the situation more favorable for the leader either remove the neutralizers or make the leadership less important by increasing substitutes. According to Podsakoff, MacKenzie, Ahearne, and Bommer (1995) there is a low level of relationship between the leader and other members motivation of the organization affected by situation variables. Researches concerning substitute leadership theory based on some aspects of the theory, but other aspects have not been supported (Howel & Dorfman, 1986; Pitner, 1986; Podsakoff, Niehoff, MacKenzie, & Williams, 1993; Yukl, 2006).

Yukl (2006) discussed that the main contribution of substitute’s theory is to offer a different perspective on leadership by focus on leadership processes in groups and organizations. Main limitation of contingency theories is the lack of consideration of leadership processes that transform the way followers view themselves and their work.

School Effectiveness Research

School effectiveness and the related area of school improvement have been topics for an increasing body of academic research since the 1960s. School effectiveness research had its origins in the mid-1960s and early 1970s when a prevalent view in the research community, especially with regard to equality of opportunity, was that schools had little influence on children’s achievement that was independent of background and social context. In the late 1970s in the United States, Edmonds and, in the United Kingdom, Rutter responded by embarking on what was to emerge as the first phase of school effectiveness research. The two studies run independently by Edmonds and Rutter set out to investigate whether schools in their national contexts showed any effects when account was taken of the differences in their student populations. Their findings, arrived at independently, were similar: schools do make a small but highly significant difference to the life chances of their students. School effectiveness research studies undertaken during the 1980s focused on improving the methodology and replicating the resea

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