Questioning Leadership: New Directions For Educational Organisations

Year: 2015

Author: Lakomski, Gabriele, Eacott, Scott, Evers, Colin

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Leadership has not always been considered the prime candidate for explaining the organizational performance of schools. Indeed, the decades from the 1950s to the 1980s were characterized by the prominence of systems theory that served as the explanatory paradigm in educational administration. This is best exemplified in Wayne Hoy and Cecil Miskel’s book Educational Administration: Theory, Research and Practice that was the core textbook for the field. Its emphasis, true to systems theory, is the assumption that organizational phenomena can be explained by reference to the various interrelationships that determine an organization’s functioning, including schools. While leadership was important, it was constrained and determined by other organizational features. A leader’s agency was thus located within the context of a quest for a science of organizations, making possible law-like generalizations. This in turn led to the quest to find out what all leaders have in common.

Since the 1980s, a change of emphasis has taken place that focuses more directly on leadership, and the leader, as the dominant cause of desirable organizational outcomes. The evidence for this change is readily seen in the emergence of new academic education journals with “Leadership” in the title. Furthermore, established top tier educational administration journals such as the British Educational Management and Administration saw fit to amend its title to include Leadership. Within universities, this change is also evident in that job descriptions and promotion criteria include “Leadership” as a required category. Research in educational administration has shifted to an emphasis on leadership and student learning outcomes, and leadership training and standards are prominent in practically all organizations. What has receded into the background are structural features that affect organizational functioning, making way instead for agent-oriented perspectives, as found in many current theoretical accounts.

This symposium seeks to restore the balance in explanation by exploring the importance of organizational and, more broadly, institutional factors that provide both the context for leadership and exercise their own constraints on organizational performance. As such, Questioning Leadership places itself in the critical tradition initiated by Lakomski’s book Managing without Leadership (2005) that examines the very foundations of leadership and advocates less leader-centric ways to understand and manage organizations. Since 2005 there has not been another collective piece of work of this kind.