Nazi horror and the meaning of life

20th July 2007 at 01:00
Developing the leadership capability of all teachers has been flagged up by HMIE as a priority if Scottish schools are to achieve their potential for excellence. But how do we create an aspirational culture which enables all teachers to maximise their potential for leadership?

Remarkably, some insights drawn from the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps offer us some clues. Making such a connection hardly seems plausible. Yet, for prisoner 119104, the suffering led to powerful insights into the meaning of human experience, many of which have relevance to educational leadership today. The prisoner was Victor Frankl (pictured) whose book, Man's Search for Meaning, continues to be influential.

Frankl's experiences led him to the realisation that the fundamental motivating force in human beings is the will to find meaning in life. Those who find this sense of purpose are able to rise above adversity and distress and hold onto hope in even the most desperate circumstances.

However, many current approaches to leadership development assume a different perspective. Popular are frameworks which adhere more to Abraham Maslow's insistence that humans are motivated by innate needs, which he arranged in a hierarchy.

This has led to an assumption that development is about the acquisition of certain basic skills, ignoring a need for reflection on the higher needs of meaning and purpose.

The consequences are apparent: a relentless emphasis on content, theory and technique has done little to ignite teachers' passion and enthusiasm. Those who aspire to leadership are deluged and disillusioned by waves of new initiatives and other one-shot attempts at increasing motivation and quality.

We need to allow the inner life of the individual to be taken seriously. It recognises that the most successful organisations and the most fulfilled people are those who have a clear and purposeful sense of vision and live from a passionate commitment to the values they hold dear.

Jonathan Long


director, Columba 1400

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today