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Inspired Leaders vs. Imposed Leaders: Which are you?

School Leadership | Leaders

School Leadership | LeadersGo to any bookstore and you will find multiple shelves stacked with books that focus on nothing else but leadership. One might discuss how to become a leader, another how to remain a leader and another try to describe what is a leader in the first place.

Not to be outdone, I would like to offer a simple definition of leadership (not my own, but I have no recollection where I heard it) and discuss its implications for school leadership.

The definition reads: Leadership is the ability to take a person or group of people do a desirable place that they could not or would not reach on their own. Simple enough, but there is an important distinction to be made. I see in the above statement two very different types of leadership. One I will call Imposed Leadership and the other Inspired Leadership.

There is a very significant difference between taking people to a place they would not reach on their own and to a place they could not reach on their own. To explain the difference some point to the difference between a baseball manager and a football coach. To the casual observer there seems to be a very marked difference between the two leadership styles. The baseball manager seems to be there only to hold the pieces together. Pretty much all they seem to do (remember, I said to the casual observer) is to set the lineup and the pitching rotation to maximize each player’s strengths, and maybe here and there to make a strategy decision. On the other hand, the football coach is seen as the heart and soul of the team. He sets the tone of play, the philosophy of the team and controls every play from beginning to end. It’s almost as if a baseball manager could miss a few weeks and no one would really feel the difference, whereas a football coach’s absence would be felt after a few minutes. (To further illustrate this point, think of where they sit. A baseball manager may be sitting on the bench, tucked away in the dugout, while the football coach is front and center on the edge of the field of play.) The baseball manager seems to be there because the players, on their own, would not reach their desired destination. Their substantial egos would get in the way of clear thinking and effective planning and lead to general chaos. The football coach seems to help a team reach a destination they could not reach on their own. In other words, he makes them greater than the sum of their parts.

The leader who facilitates the success of his team, but does not enhance that success, is an imposed leader. To a great extent he or she is only there because the team members could not get their act together. Many times, this type of leadership is a result of the weakness of those being led, and the value of such leadership is thus rarely appreciated. However, if the leader is seen as one who not only allows each follower to reach their potential, but actually enhances that potential, he or she displays inspirational leadership. This type of leadership becomes a symbol of the team’s new-found strength and is always valued.

As school leaders we often fall into the category of imposed leaders. We’re just there to facilitate effective running of the school. We set schedules, curriculum, school calendars, manage the building, and try to get the best possible teacher into the classroom. But are we inspired leaders? Do those who we lead see us as one who will assist their personal and professional growth beyond where they could grow on their own? In the end result, only through inspired leadership does real and lasting change take place. And, only through inspired leadership can school heads find satisfaction and meaning in their work.

3 Responses to Inspired Leaders vs. Imposed Leaders: Which are you?

  1. Robin says:

    Would be great if there were positions open! I have a MA in Educational Leadership and am unable to find a job. It is interesting that for positions which call for professional development (part of the MA) many places do not recognize that this MA is for that particular job. In the state of Montana I have applied for several positions, but they say I am not qualified even for an interview. More knowledge on the part of those who do the hiring is needed. A professional developer for those who hire professional developers (ha ha).

    • Karmi says:

      Wishing you the best of luck! We definitely need people who have a real interest in educational leadership in our schools.

  2. Ken Timpe says:

    Karmi, thank you for your post on leadersiip.

    I have worked extensively with business leaders, and more recently with educational leadership. In fact, I have identified 16 leadership groups that have an impact (or need to have an impact) on student performance. This Leadership Framework includes Leaders from the Educational Sector, Public Sector, and Private Sector. Everyone is a Leader, and everyone has a leadership role to play.

    It’s called “Active Engagement–a strategic solution to increase student performance, and reduce the high school dropout rate.” It is designed to create a teaching and learning environment where everyone is engaged–actively engaged–not just a few students. It is a solution that is “slightly larger” than the problem.

    You call leaders “inspired”. I call them “engaged”–actively engaged. My definition of leadership is: “The ability to take others from where they are now, to where they need to be.” This can only happen in school if we elevate our education system to the same level as our social system, our political system, economic system, legal system, and all the other systems that make this country great.

    At present, education is a second tier system. We must take our education system from where it is now, to where it needs to be. Leadership is the answer.

    Visit Active Engagement in Education (K-12) on Linkedin.

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