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

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