NATIONAL FORUM OF EDUCATIONAL ADMINISTRATION AND SUPERVISION JOURNAL VOLUME 27, NUMBER 2, 2010-2011 LEADERSHIP: IT’S NOT JUST A CHALLENGE, IT’S AN ADVENTURE James D. Laub University of Texas—Permian Basin ABSTRACTThe purpose of this article was to explore effective leadership characteristics andbehaviors that should be exhibited by superintendents, in an attempt to appreciablyimpact best practices. As the chief executive officers of school districts, superintendentsare ultimately responsible and accountable to students, faculty, staff, parents and allother stakeholders. Superintendents are the key element in the stability equation, andthe increased tenure of superintendents is essential to sustained educational reform. IntroductionH istorically, leadership has been equated with exercising power and control over subordinates within an organization. The scientific management movement in the early 20th centurywas heralded as the panacea for organizational effectiveness. At thattime, leadership theorists and practitioners were firmly entrenched inthe doctrine of efficiency. Subordinates were simply another “tool”,basically a means to an end. Several theories of educational leadershiphave emerged, with each theory producing volumes of literature andlegions of both proponents and opponents. Over the past decade, wellover 60 various classification systems have been developed to define“leadership” (Northouse, 2004). Leadership has been defined in termsof the power relationship that exists between leaders and followers.Bennis and Nanus (1985) postulated that throughout the years, ourview of what leadership is and who can exercise it has changedconsiderably. Leadership competencies have remained constant, butour understanding of what it is, how it works, and the ways in whichpeople learn to apply it has shifted. Leadership practice takes form inthe interaction between leaders and followers; leaders act in situationsthat are defined by subordinates’ actions (Spillane, 2005). 43
44 NATIONAL FORUM OF EDUCATIONAL ADMINISTRATION AND SUPERVISION JOURNAL Educational Leadership Strong and positive leadership owns a significant share ofresponsibility for effectiveness in schools. Sergiovanni (2005) wrotethat conventional wisdom tells us that leadership is about findingsolutions to problems, even in the best of circumstances, leadership isdifficult. Effectiveness in schools cannot be traced and attributed toany single dimension of organizational effectiveness. Leadershipchallenges and problems that hinder school efficacy occur daily,effective educational leaders learn to expect the unexpected – theymust rise to meet any challenge or problem that interferes with studentlearning and achievement. Challenges and problems come in manyshapes, sizes, and formats – every day begins anew. Superintendentsare much like mechanics, in that they both have a chest full of tools.Mastery comes from knowing which tool solves the challenge orproblem at hand. Thus, educational leaders must be open and considerall claims and theories, they need not necessarily replace existingtheories but challenge existing boundaries (English, 2003). The days of autocratic tendencies for school superintendentsare gone. The pace for change confronting organizations today hasresulted in a call for more adaptive, flexible leadership (Bass, Avolio,Jung, & Berson, 2003). Cooperative, participatory leadership shouldbe the “norm.” Superintendents wear many hats, are responsible for amultitude of functions, and are not immune from this challenges andproblems. Educational leadership is a multi-dimensioned position withschool administrators serving within educational, political, andmanagerial dimensions. Bennis (1997) emphasized that adaptiveleaders work with their followers to generate creative solutions tocomplex problems, while also developing them to handle a broaderrange of leadership responsibilities. School superintendents that do notinclude staff and subordinates in the decision-making and problem-solving processes are foolish and should keep their resumes up-to-date. However, school districts with severe problems can be “turnedaround” by dedicated, stable leadership (Farkas, Johnson, Duffet, &Foleno, 2001).
James Laub 45 According to Israel and Kasper (2004) with practice, time, skillproficiency, and developing wisdom superintendents in any schoolsetting can be instrumental change agents for the betterment ofschools. First and foremost, student success and achievement shouldcapture the superintendent’s notice; they must be institutionalvisionaries. Thinking outside the box and developing a “whatever ittakes” mentality, must be promoted and nurtured. The essence ofeducational leadership has been the ability to first understand thetheories and concepts and then apply them in real life scenarios(Morrison, Rha, & Hellman, 2003). Leadership has changed ratherdramatically as individuals recognize that what leaders do isdetermined, in large part, by the nature of those being led and theculture of the organization in which they work. As quoted by BobDylan, “the times they are a changing.” Effective superintendents muststay abreast of any changes or obstacles that interfere in the learningprocess and then have the fortitude to remove those obstacles. The status quo of educational administration must bechallenged by always allowing for options, possibilities andprobabilities when addressing systemic improvement (English, 2003).Educational theorists espouse numerous examples of what constituteseffective school district attributes. These attributes include: focus onachievement; shared vision and goals; high expectations; stakeholderinvolvement; and proactive learning environments. In a perfect world,every school district would be effective and every student in thatschool district would be successful. Regrettably, school districts do notdwell in a perfect world, but rather in a world of outdated educationaladministration theories. Kowalski (2005) reported that most stateshave plenty of people that have the credentials to serve assuperintendents, the problem is quality. Creating a caring, self-enhancing learning environment should be a participative jointendeavor between superintendents, subordinates, and stakeholders. Aspublic school districts move away from centralized decision-making,educational administrators must be competent to solicit input, analyzeinformation, and build consensus among all stakeholders (Barnett,2004).
46 NATIONAL FORUM OF EDUCATIONAL ADMINISTRATION AND SUPERVISION JOURNAL Points to Ponder • Parents do not hide the best students in the closet and send the rest to public school. Superintendents have the moral, ethical, and legal responsibility to provide every child in their school district with the tools necessary to achieve academic success, regardless of personal feelings. Students bring to school with them baggage that we may not be aware of - our job is to educate, not judge. • Bricks and mortar make a building; they do not make a school district. Humans and human interactions make a school district. As such, the primary goal for superintendents should be to establish a positive culture and climate within the school district. Superintendents serve as the conduit for the free flow and exchange of information; they must lead by example and set the tone. • Faculty and staff are there by choice, the students are not. Superintendents must have the courage and conviction to reassign and replace subordinates that are ineffective. Bottom line – schools are here to provide educational opportunities for the kids, not to provide employment opportunities for faculty and staff members. • Leadership is not a popularity contest; it is about doing what is right. Even in the face of adversity and unpopular public opinion, superintendents must remain focused. Educational leaders who are afraid of losing their job, by doing their job, does not deserve that job in the first place. Leadership equates to bravery, it is not for the timid or faint of heart. • Successful educational leaders may not necessarily the sharpest tools in the shed. However, these leaders are savvy enough to surround themselves with bright, energetic, optimistic subordinates. They place the right people in the right
James Laub 47positions and situations and then get out of the way. Effectiveleaders encourage subordinates are not afraid to train theirreplacement.• Change is a gradual, continual process, but it is a process thatmust be promoted, nurtured, and implemented. If you keepdoing things like you have been, you will keep getting thesame results. Remember, if you do not know where you aregoing, any road will take you there. Superintendents encouragecreativity and allow subordinates to fail – we learn from ourmistakes.• Control what you can, learn to realize that some situations areout of your control. Learn to pick your battles, you do not haveto win all the skirmishes in order to achieve victory and winthe war.• Delegate, realize that you are not Atlas and that you cannotsupport the entire world. No decision is better than a bad one.Empower subordinates and share the responsibility - do notoverextend, nor look for an immediate fix for every problem.As the adage goes, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at atime.”• Take care of yourself and learn to control internal andexternal stressors. As the superintendent your faculty/staff andstakeholders depend upon, and look to you for guidance. Beprofessional in all matters, educational leaders operate under amicroscope, others will notice the slightest change in yourbehavior, demeanor, mannerism, and dress.• Read Ayn Rand’s “The Virtues of Selfishness.” Write andjournal your thoughts for at least five minutes a day. Develop anetwork of professional peers and learn from them. Think onyour feet, you will encounter situations every day that you maynot have encountered.
48 NATIONAL FORUM OF EDUCATIONAL ADMINISTRATION AND SUPERVISION JOURNAL Concluding Remarks Public education needs effective educational leaders who arecourageous pioneers and trendsetters. The superintendency is not foreveryone; superintendents face a myriad of challenges. However,educators who are willing to meet those challenges have a strongdesire to do what is best for children, welcome aboard. Remember, it’snot just a job, it’s an adventure.
James Laub 49 REFERENCESBarnett, D. (2004). School leadership preparation programs: Are they preparing tomorrows leaders? Education (Chula Vista), 125(1), 121-129.Bass, B, Avolio, B., Jung, D., & Berson, Y. (2003). Predicting unit performance by assessing transformational and transactional leadership. Journal of Applied Psychology, 88(2), 207-218.Bennis, W., & Nanus, B. (1997). Leaders: The strategies for taking charge. New York: Harpers and Row.English, F. (2003). The postmodern challenge to the theory and practice of educational administration. Springfield, IL: Thomas Publishers.Farkas, S., Johnson, J., & Duffet, A. (2001). Trying to stay ahead of the game. New York: Public Agenda.Israel, M., & Kaspar, B. (2004). Reframing leadership to create change. The Educational Forum, 69(1), 16-26.Kowalski, T., & Bjork, L. (2005). Role expectations of the district superintendent: Implications for deregulation preparation and licensing. Journal of Thought, 40(2), 73-96.Morrison, J., Rha, J., & Helfman, A. (2003). Learning awareness, student engagement and change: A transformational leadership development. Journal of Education for Business, 79(1), 11-17.Northouse, P. (2004). Leadership theory and practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.Sergiovanni, T. (2005). The virtues of leadership. The Educational Forum, 69(2), 112-23.Spillane, J. (2005). Distributed leadership. The Educational Forum, 69(2), 143-150.