Since arguably the 1990s there has been a distinct turn in research, scholarship and professional discourses towards ‘leadership’. This turn has been so successful that we no longer talk of ‘educational administration’ or ‘educational management’ and anyone aspiring to just about anything aims to be a ‘leader’. It has become somewhat of a negative comment to be labelled a ‘manager’ or ‘administrator’. The goal is ‘leadership’ and being a ‘leader’.
This is the context that I take up in a recently published piece Beyond the hype of ‘leadership’ published in Perspectives on Educational Leadership. This is the latest in an argument that I began to tease out here. In the most recent paper, I argue that:
- ‘Leadership’ was proposed as a means of getting beyond the bureaucracy. Despite the proliferation of adjectives such as ‘distributed’, ‘participatory’ etc, I contend that many ‘leadership’ discourses actually reinforces organisational roles.
- If ‘leadership’ equals change, as is often argued, and change is everywhere, then why do we need ‘leadership’? Also, if we accept the argument that change is everywhere then ‘leadership’ is everywhere and arguably of very little use.
- While we have an acceptance of ‘leadership’ existing up front, we tend to identify where it took place after events. This raises some questions about what it is we talk about when we use ‘leadership’.
I argue that ‘leadership’ is a product of its own invention. The uncritical acceptance of ‘leadership’ in mainstream literatures, research and professional discourses is highly problematic and needs to be challenged – or at least engaged with. Without such dialogue and debate, ‘leadership’, that somewhat illusive and yet hyped solution to the woes of the social world simply does not live up to the hype.
I am not the only person who has asked questions about ‘leadership’, nor will I be the last (at least I hope not). My larger concern is that while the seduction of ‘leadership’ has overtaken much of the educational discourses, contemporary research, professional learning and practices have educators so busy trying to be ‘leaders’ and demonstrating ‘leadership’ that we have forgotten to sit back and ask ourselves what does ‘leadership’ really mean and how is it connected to the purpose/s of education.