Issues In Educational Research, 2(1), 1992, 45-55.

Leadership and change in schools

Chris Elliott
Department of Educational Administration
University of Alberta
Decentralisation of decision-making from central offices to school sites has been a world-wide trend in education in recent years. This trend has been followed in the reform of education in Western Australia in the late 1980s. This study reports on a school undergoing major voluntary restructuring in response to the Western Australian reforms. A key finding of this study was that the principal of the school does not need to display leadership in all of the frames suggested by Sergiovanni (1984), as long as that leadership exists among the multiple leaders of the school.


As Western Australian state education has undergone reforms that have seen a devolution of power from the Central Office to schools, the quality of the leadership in schools has become increasingly important. The research reported here was conducted during 1989 as part of a Master of Education degree completed by the author.

The study was of a school undergoing major voluntary restructuring in response to the reform of Western Australian state education. A second school, which had already implemented changes similar to those in the case study school, was used as a reference point for the first school. The changes that occurred in these schools were possible due to the devolution of power from the Central Office to schools and were of a similar nature to those that have occurred in countries all around the world. The reforms can be considered as part of the world-wide trend towards the devolution of decision making from central offices to school sites.

The research focused specifically upon the nature of the leadership behaviour that became manifest in the case study situation. A major finding from the study was that multiple leaders were found to emerge in the schools. Four models, which described the leadership behaviour observed in the study, were developed. These models describe how the shared leadership was manifested in one particular situation and offer insights into the possible sharing of leadership and application of participative decision-making.

The models imply the need for a principal to consider both structure and culture in the school environment. Shipman (1990) described this necessity and the need for principals to provide direction and empowerment. A principal seeking to renew or change an organisation must "lead, but encourage others to take initiatives" (p.147). This was found to occur in the reported study and is clearly reflected in the models developed. There are implications for practising principals in these findings, particularly in the light of current trends in education, world wide.

The conceptual framework

The focus of the study was the use of leadership. Leadership was defined as the guiding or showing of the way, or the showing of the method of attaining an object. Leadership was thus having to do with change. In operational terms, without change no leadership had occurred. Thus, only the observed behaviour that consisted of interventions that were aimed at the guiding or showing of the way of achieving an end were recorded as tactical interventions. The effect of such behaviour was also recorded, as the results of leadership actions were essential to the study.

A definition of leadership has proven difficult but there have been various degrees of agreement between different writers. Wynn and Guditus (1984) attempted to sum up the position when they stated that "leadership involves the initiation of new structures or procedures for accomplishing an organisation's goals and objectives ... [and] involves questioning and challenging" (p.28).

The ability to influence is the objective of a leader, and a wide range of "political, symbolic, participatory and bureaucratic approaches can be used to fit the situation" (Kiernan, 1989, p.2). However, leadership is not something that is attributed to individuals due to their formal position in an organisation. As was pointed out by McPherson, Crowson and Pitner (1986), "People are not considered leaders until leadership is somehow attributed to them.... Individuals perform well not because it is required ... but because they want to.... Leadership can not exist in the absence of people who respond to the leader" (pp.221-2).

Implicit in this statement is that all individuals have the potential to lead an organisation. In addition, influence has the potential to be more pervasive than authority. Authority has been described as 'uni-directional' and influence as 'multi-directional' (Conley, 1989, p.270; Everard, 1986, p.206)). Almost all schools would be strengthened by a power-sharing approach (Dart, 1986, p.l6) and "the conception that policy is the domain of administrators and pedagogy the domain of teachers is obsolete" (Schuler, 1989, p.2). Mutchler and Duttweiler (1990) further developed this point when they stated:

The research on effective schools indicates that the principals of effective schools include staff members in decision-making and problem-solving. Administrators of effective schools do not exercise educational leadership alone. Such leadership is often the collective task of the principal along with other members of the organisation. (p.2)

Methodology and the study framework

The reported study considered these concepts as they applied to a school undergoing a voluntary restructuring in response to the system-wide restructuring in Western Australia. Broadly speaking, the research was established within the naturalistic research paradigm as a "bounded case study" (Adelmen, Jenkins and Kemmis, 1976) in which the case was selected as an instance drawn from a class. Data collection procedures, including observation, interview, audio tape recording, field note-taking and document collection, were used so that a "tolerably full" understanding of the case could be achieved.

A primary need was to find a single frame of reference upon which to reduce the data in a way consistent with the phenomenon and the research questions. The selected approach was the single concept intervention and mapping categorisation technique developed by Hyde (1985), and Hyde's conceptual framework was adapted for the study reported here. The adapted conceptual framework is illustrated in Figure 1.

Figure 1: A conceptual framework for the analysis of leadership in a district high school.
(Adapted from Hyde, 1985)

The frame of reference was conceptualised as existing in a number of layers. The layers related to the initial and emergent leaders and were related to the leadership theory. The layers could be progressively peeled to reveal the detail existing and occurring in the layers below. The activities in each layer were explainable in terms of those overlaying it. The bottom layer consisted of the actual incidents occurring in the school. The data collection involved the observation of incidents at the school, and data reduction was assisted through the use of this conceptual framework.

The Leadership Setting was described from the perspective of the nominal head of the system, the principal. This layer had six categories and set guidelines under which the activities occurred. The second layer comprised the Leadership Scene, and described the emergen t leaders. These individuals were considered with regard to their personal traits, the contingencies that occurred, and their preferred leadership styles. These two top layers established the framework in which the observed activities of the case study could be explained.

The third layer, the Leadership Scenario, dealt with the interventions as they occurred over time. The adaptation of Hyde's (1985) framework occurred at this layer, to fit with the investigation of the leadership that was being studied. This layer had five levels. They were power base, leadership force, approach, strategy, and tactics. Like the framework as a whole, this layer was designed so that each of the levels could be understood in terms of the other levels.

Data analysis

The data were analysed using a three-step procedure: first, to identify the leadership styles and power bases used; secondly, to compare the leadership styles used with other participants' expectations of that leadership behaviour; and thirdly, to analyse the strategies used by the leaders.

As the first step, the observed leadership behaviour was analysed using the theory of Situational Leadership (Hersey and Blanchard, 1982) and the power bases used by the leaders were defined by using the work of Hersey, Blanchard and Natemeyer (1979).

As the second step of the analysis, the preferred leadership style for each leader was placed on the tight/flexible continuum developed by Handy (1985) and compared with the placement, on the same continuum, of the perceived requirement of the task and the subordinates' expectation of the leader's style. The placement of the influences on the continuum could only be approximate, but their relative positions were important. The greater the similarity between the placements the greater the degree of fit. Conversely, the greater the difference between the placements the poorer the fit. According to Handy (1985), effective leaders in situations of poor fit will modify their behaviour or the task to accommodate the situation and improve the fit.

In this study the actual observable, determinable leadership - termed tactical interventions - were recorded. Underlying reasons for intervention - termed strategic interventions - were proposed. The strategies used related to the goals, images and functioning of the school, to the power and functioning of sub- groups within the school, and to individuals' power positions.

When these strategies used by the leaders were analysed as part of the second step of the analysis, it was found that the leadership did change over time, as Handy (1985) suggested it would. The study proposed that the change in leadership behaviour occurred because the unease in situations was perceived, consciously or unconsciously, by leaders experiencing a poor degree of fit.

The categorisation of these strategies comprised the third step of the analysis and was completed by considering them to be the application of the leadership forces proposed by Sergiovanni (1984). Sergiovanni (1984) asserted that a principal, in order to aspire to excellence, must use each of the forces in the proportions suggested by a triangular-shaped model. The findings from this research suggest that this may not necessarily be the case.

Research findings: Four leadership profiles

The strategies used by the various leaders were each categorised according to Sergiovanni's (1984) Hierarchy of Leadership Forces, and a leadership profile for each was drawn. When the data from the research were categorised, it was found that one of the leaders identified in the study displayed a leadership profile similar to that described by Sergiovanni (1984) as being required for excellence. However, the other leaders had different leadership profiles. The profile similar to that proposed by Sergiovanni (1985) was called 'The Model', and is shown in Figure 2. The other profiles were termed 'The Guru', 'The Technocrat' and 'The Politician.'

Figure 2: 'The Model' leadership profile

'The Guru' profile is shown in Figure 3. The leader exhibiting this type of leadership showed relatively large proportions of cultural, symbolic and human levels of leadership. Such a leader spent large amounts of time espousing a vision for the school and stating and supporting the school mission statement.

Figure 3: 'The Guru' leadership profile

'The Guru's' actions were symbolic of the values and beliefs that were considered important in the school. This leader, who was the principal of the school, was a visionary who spent lots of time supporting, developing morale and involving others in collaborative decision making. Leadership in the educational and technical frames was shown by 'The Guru', but in small proportions. These leadership forces were delegated to others, predominantly to those who exhibited the leadership profile named 'The Technocrat'.

This leadership profile, shown in Figure 4, indicates the use of the three lower- level forces in Sergiovanni's (1984) profile - those described by that author as being required for a school to be 'competent'. 'The Technocrat' showed no use of leadership in the cultural or symbolic frames. Such leaders do not see a role for themselves in such leadership but desire to "get on with the job of teaching." The leader in the study exhibiting this profile was an experienced and very competent teacher who displayed educational, human and technical leadership in the relative proportions suggested by Sergiovanni (1984)

Figure 4: 'The Technocrat' leadership profile.

These leadership forces: educational, human, and technical, were used by the leaders with the profile named 'The Politician'; however, the leaders in the study used the forces in quite different proportions to that suggested by Sergiovanni's (1984) model.

'The Politician' leadership profile, shown in Figure 5, displayed leadership with a very high proportion of human level force being applied. Smaller proportions of educational leadership and technical leadership were observed, but no cultural or symbolic leadership. 'The Politician' was concerned with issues of personal power and of group power. Such a leader may be considered as a negative influence on a school, but this may not be the case.

Figure 5: 'The Politician' leadership profile.

In describing the types of behaviours that would fall into the human frame, Sergiovanni (1984) considered actions such as supporting, building morale and embarking on collaborative decision-making. He took no account of leadership actions relating to power. The study showed action relating to power to be important. In some cases, particularly with leaders having 'The Politician' leadership profile, leadership interventions involving power constituted more than half of their leadership acts. To ignore them would mean ignoring significant amounts of data.

As has been described, a number of leaders emerged in the case study school. The school appeared to be operating quite effectively, but with one exception the leadership profiles were quite different from those proposed by Sergiovanni (1984). However, it was found that when the leadership in the school was aggregated, that is, the leadership profile drawn by including leadership acts regardless of the identity of the leader, the result was a leadership profile, shown in Figure 6, that approximated the one suggested by Sergiovanni (1984) and that of 'The Model' shown in Figure 2. The difference between Figure 2 and Figure 6 is that the former represents the leadership of one participant, while the latter represents the aggregation of the leadership shown by all of the participants.

This was the key finding of the study. What was important was that there were a number of leaders in the school. The aggregation of the leadership that occurred as a result of the leadership action of a number of individuals, rather than the leadership of just the principal, was found to be what was important in the pursuit of excellence.

Figure 6: A profile for excellence: the aggregate of leadership.

Implications for the practising principal

The case study was conducted in a situation of great change, both external to and internal to the school. In such a situation, power relations, power positions and power relativities were in a state of flux. The disagreement and conflict that occurred could be expected in such a situation. The emergence of leaders such as 'The Politician' is a perfectly natural occurrence in a situation of great change. In the uncertainty of change situations, we can expect conflict and organisational politics to occur.

The acceptance of the proposition that a principal does not have to use all of Sergiovanni's (1984) forces in the triangular proportions has major implications for principals. The research by Vandenberghe (1988) and Hall (1988) found that multiple leaders existed in change situations and could actually enhance the change process. An acceptance of this can give a principal a major weapon in successfully managing change. The principal who accepts the existence of emergent leaders (who are permitted by their peers to exert power) can use this knowledge to advantage. Instead of ignoring or trying to suppress emergent leaders, the principal can encourage them and promote their personal and professional development.

If the skills and talents of these individuals are used by the delegation or sharing of power, principals can magnify their own power and improve the effectiveness of their schools. One of the principals in the study stated, "If I ran everything in the school I'd have a 20 horse-power school. But I delegate power and I've got a 120 horse-power school because all of our power is being used."

By using the multiplicity of skills and talents that exist in a school, excellence can really be aspired to. Emergent leaders have power because they are permitted to lead. Efforts to suppress such leadership are not only likely to be counterproductive and divisive, but will involve the application of effort in other directions rather than being directed at school goals. Educational leadership, human leadership, technical leadership and even symbolic leadership were shown by a number of individuals. However, Sergiovanni (1984) described the leader who showed leadership at the highest level of his hierarchy as the 'high priest'. Such a leader was described by Harrison and Maclntosh (1989) as a 'prophet' and a 'visionary' who is the embodiment of what the organisation aspires to. Of the two individuals in the study who exhibited this kind of leadership, the principal who had 'The Guru' leadership profile exhibited a greater degree of cultural leadership.

The complexity of leadership situations was commented upon by Harrison and Maclntosh (1989) when they stated, "A head teacher needs to be not only a visionary but also a technologist; not a simple prophet, but also a pragmatist" (p.8). These authors went on to state, "Change is more likely to be positive and to be successful where it occurs amongst a body of colleagues who as far as possible share a perception of the need for change and agree, broadly, on directions for change" (p.15). The principal aspiring to be the principal of an excellent school will need to share power, encourage the involvement of others, and show cultural leadership in the process.

The way that the leadership at the research site was shared is reflected in some of the current literature. The leadership profiles, as were drawn in this study, may vary from site to site according to situations and personnel, but there will be a number of leaders at any given site, and it is the aggregate of the leadership that is most significant. As indicated in most of the current literature on leadership, the task of the principal is to provide the direction and vision for the organisation, and to ensure that all who wish to participate in decision making have the opportunity to do so.


This paper has reported research conducted in Western Australian district high schools during 1989. The study was of a school undergoing a major voluntary restructuring and involved a high degree of participative decision making. Four models of leadership, which together characterised the leadership in the school, were developed. By combining the theory from a number of sources, the study provides a new perspective on the practice of participative decision making and of leadership as a shared phenomenon.

There are implications for practising principals arising from the study that are supported by literature produced since the study's conclusion. These implications revolve around what Schuler (1989) described as relating to empowerment, "the deliberate attempt to provide teachers with the right, the resources and the responsibility to make sensible decisions and informed professional judgments that reflect their circumstances" (p.1).


Adelman, C., Jenkins, D. & Kemmis, J. (1976). Rethinking case study: Notes from the second Cambridge Conference. Cambridge Journal of Education, 1(1), 139-50.

Hall, G. E. (1988). The principal as leader of the change facilitating team. Journal of Research and Development in Education, 22(1).

Handy, C. (1985). Understanding organisations. Middlesex: Penguin.

Harrison, C. & MacIntosh, M. (1989). Managing change. The head teacher's perspective. Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press.

Hersey, P. & Blanchard, K. (1982). Management of organizational behaviour (4th edn). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Hersey, P., Blanchard, K .H. & Natemeyer, W. E. (1979). Situational leadership, perception and the impact of power. Centre for Leadership Studies.

Hyde, N. H. (1985). The development of a structural model for the analysis of school-based curriculum development. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Murdoch University, Western Australia.

Kiernan, H. (1989). Team building: Connecting substance to educational leadership. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the National Council of State Inservice Education, San Antonio, TX, November 1989.

Mutchler, S. E. & Duttweiler, P. C. (1990). Implementing shared leadership in school-based management: Barriers to changing traditional behaviour. Paper presented to the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Boston, MA, April 1990.

Schuler, K. W. (1989, Nov.). An essential role of inservice programs in education: Empowerment and participation. Paper presented at the Second Annual Showcase of Excellence in Staff Development by the National Council of States for Inservice Education, San Antonio, TX.

Sergiovanni, T. (1984). Leadership and excellence in schooling. Educational Leadership, February, 4-3.

Shipman, M. (1990). In search of learning. A new approach to school management. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Vandenberghe, R. (1988). The principal as maker of a local innovation policy: Linking research to practice. Journal of Research and Development in Education, 22(1), 69-9.

Wynn, R. & Guditus, C. W. (1984). Team management. Leadership by consensus. Columbus, Ohio: Charles E. Merrill.

Author: Chris Elliott has worked in the WA Ministry of Education as teacher and deputy principal. In the period 1989-91 he studied for and completed his MEd at Edith Cowan University. His MEd thesis focused on school leadership in change situations and involved the testing of Sergiovanni's models on leadership. Chris is currently working on his PhD at the University of Alberta under the supervision of Professor Irwin Miklos.

Please cite as: Elliott, C. (1992). Leadership and change in schools. Issues In Educational Research, 2(1), 45-55.

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