Leaders need the X-factor

17th August 2007 at 01:00
Leadership is about improving the human condition about inspiring others to higher levels of motivation and morality

THE IDEA of "distributed leadership", which aims to ensure schools do not rely purely on direction from headteachers, may be difficult to implement because key players teachers are not convinced.

Teachers are cynical about the concept that leadership can be devolved in a school, according to Patrick Duignan, chair of educational leadership at the Australian Catholic University in Sydney, who was addressing delegates at the International Summer School of Leadership in Edinburgh earlier this month.

His research in the Catholic Diocese outside Sydney showed that people at different levels had different ideas of what shared leadership meant. He told the conference: "I made an unwarranted assumption because I thought shared leadership was simple. We use the same language but not everybody gets the same meaning out of it. It depends on your viewpoint. I believe it is the same with distributed leadership."

He suggested there was a "huge paradigm clash" because, by using the term "distributed leadership", it was assumed there was something to distribute to people. In fact, the concept was a contradiction in terms because it was based on the premise that "the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away".

Professor Duignan concluded: "I don't think you can distribute leadership you need to shift the language."

He preferred to use the term "stewardship of leadership", because it should be about growing and nurturing leadership in others, and developing the capacity for leadership at all levels, rather than distributing it.

The debate appears to have moved away from the concept of "charismatic" leadership to "distributed" leadership, but Professor Duignan's comments may move the argument on.

In June, HMIE published its own guidance on leadership for learning, making clear that the emphasis of the inspectorate was now on "distributed leadership". It defined this as encouraging leadership capacities in all staff, not just those at the top.

Professor Duignan stressed a spiritual dimension in strong or "authentic" leaders, as he described them.

"Leaders have something about them that improves the human condition," he said, citing the example of Nelson Mandela, the former South African president, whose example had "raised the bar for all of us".

It was leaders like Mandela and Mother Theresa of Calcutta that people in education should be focusing on as role models, he suggested, because of their influence in the formation of others. There was an "X factor" involved in the definition of capable or authentic leaders.

"First and foremost, capable leaders are capable human beings," said Professor Duignan. "They feel a sense of connection to something deeper than themselves. They are spiritual people, although not in the religious sense."

Leaders should ask themselves the question: "Do your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more?"


must stop behaving as if they are leading followers and start acting as if they are leading leaders;

should use their discerning eye to ensure their vision is more acute and wide open to talent and potential;

ought to generate a passion and commitment for aptissimi (the best possible talent) to broaden the net and deepen the pool of leadership capability in their school;

should ask themselves: "Do those who work with me grow as people? Do they become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become influential leaders?"


have a deep commitment to values;

raise themselves and others to higher levels of motivation and morality;

elevate the human spirit through conduct that is ethical, moral and compassionate;

are able to transform themselves and others to be more full human beings and, in so doing, make a difference and leave a legacy;

grow and nurture a depth and breadth of leadership in their system or organisation.

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