The contemporary roles of school leaders, and the misfit of csikszentmihalyi's dimensions of flow

Year: 2012

Author: MacNeill, Neil, Cavanagh, Rob

Type of paper: Refereed paper



Flow is a psycho-physiological consequence that may be experienced when a person successfully accomplishes a challenge that was considered difficult. In sport, Flow has an addictive quality, and if this consequential state were experienced in a school leadership context it would enhance school leader's resilience and motivation.

This research investigated school leaders' Flow experiences outside the school leadership role, and then compared those with their in-school experiences.


This research was conducted in four phases:

1. A literature search to reconnoitre the field of proposed investigation;

2. A small purposive sample (N= 8) was identified;

3. An e-interview was conducted over time with the school leaders; and

4. The resultant transcripts were analysed.


The deep-Flow experiences of the school leaders' out-of-school pursuits did not match the intensity of the mini-Flow experiences of the school leaders.

Second, the misfit of school leaders' Flow experiences against the dimensions of the Jackson and Csikszentmihalyi (1999) model is cause for concern professionally, and also in terms of research modelling. The major finding from this research was that in the case of school leaders, the sense of doing moral good, was a major catalyst for Flow experiences. This phenomenon has not been found elsewhere in the Flow literature.


School leadership exists in complex social situations that rely on a variety of players, which makes success difficult to identify in temporal and outcome terms. In loosely-coupled organisations like schools, group-Flow is extremely difficult to generate or identify. Most school leaders experienced mini-Flow, but it was conditional and they were often unwilling to celebrate because of a sense of hubris that seemed to pervade the professional practices of school leaders in this sample.

In terms of research, further studies are needed to establish a better fitting model that will identify the necessary and sufficient dimensions of Flow experiences for school leaders.