This article is Part 7 of an 11 part series of reflections on Patrick Duignan's book, "Educational Leadership".
“The issue is not how friendly formal leaders should be with those who work with them, but how organisational members can work together professionally as a team to achieve the goals and objectives of the organisation.” (Duignan 2012, p. 38)
“Empowering others by simply trusting them to get on with their tasks underpins effective leader-staff relationships in ways that link strategic purpose to every day practice.” (Duignan 2012, p. 39).
Traditionally leaders of schools have ‘kept their distance’ from the staff that they lead and relate to them only through formal means. There are many issues in the daily running of a school whether student issues, staff issues, family issues or Board directives, that are not appropriate for a Principal to openly share with staff may have contributed to this style of leadership. Add to this the intense demands on the time of a principal and it is not surprising that many principals ‘lead from the balcony’ where they become observers more than participants in the school community.
The micro challenges addressed by Duignan involve leaders in relationships; relationships in leading and maintaining vision, relationships in teamwork and networks, managing staff relationships, accountability and performance and sensitivity in dealing with an ageing workforce, life and work balance and in dealing with the relationship challenges that leading change brings. Duignan proposes that leaders must engage openly with people to help them cope with these challenges (Duignan 2012, p. 56).
As a foundation to authentic relationships all personal and professional relationships must be based on the core values of the school - honesty, trust, respect, tolerance, empathy, and being open to critique. The articulation of these values through the co-construction of a vision should involve leaders consulting with and sharing the hopes, desires and expectations enshrined in the vision with the members of their community and establishing the foundations of an organisational culture that supports the aspirations of all stakeholders (Duignan 2012, pp. 53–55). This is relationship and community building.
When leaders build relationships they show that they value those around them. When leaders empower others by simply trusting them to get on with their tasks they build a culture of trust within which everyone feels responsible and accountable for the overall performance of their school community. If leaders are clear about the core values of the school, understand how these values and vision can inspire others, and they have created a culture of trust, then communication is likely to flow much better. This should build a workplace that is built on trust, transparency and open communication that is a healthy workplace.
Leaders however, are ultimately responsible and accountable for the overall performance of their school community so at times they will have to address issues of poor performance in staff. Duignan suggests that leaders should develop a more formative and developmental approach to accountability rather than a summative and punitive approach. In these cases leaders are dealing with complexity which requires a balancing of alternatives and wisdom in relationships.
For further exploration of the challenges of balancing ethical challenges of leadership see the blog on Leadership Challenges as Tensions.
Duignan, P (Unpublished). Leadership Presence and Influence Relationships: building collective efficacy and professional responsibility for quality learning and teaching in schools.
Duignan, P. (2012). Educational Leadership (2nd ed). Melbourne, NSW: Cambridge University Press.