Educational Leadership: a Myth or a Reality?

imagesNX38VAUQDuring these holidays, I went to Pavlodar, to my home town. As far as you know, parents, relatives and other people are very interested in Nazarbayev University, especially in the major we are studying in (*because NU provides majors that are not common for Kazakhstani context). Being a student with the major in Educational Leadership, which is something inexplicable for my parents’ and relatives’ understanding, I was asked to tell “what the real Leadership is”. At this time I thought that I really needed Mr.Gogas classes… Today, when we had Mr.Phil’s class and talked about “the elevator pitch”, I remembered this situation when I also had only 3-5 minutes to persuade people that I am studying something really valuable. That is why I will try to use this blog as my “elevator pitch”.

Leadership is one of the most valuable, but at the same time one of the most complicated notions of a modern world. There is no common definition of this term. Every single person interprets it in his or her own way. As professor Gogas says: “Leaders are those who can lead!”. This quote can be improved by adding John C. Maxwell’s words: “A Leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way”. Thus, it can be concluded that Leader is a person who is given the power by people to lead them along the road which he or she considers to be the best way to achieve their common goal. It is hard to be the leader owing to the fact that followers are waiting when you (as a leader) show them the direction, provide them with guidance or give them inspiration. This pressing responsibility to make difficult decisions, to know and to do what is right for people, makes the leader to be dedicated to those leader-follower relationships.

Many people believe that leaders are born, not made. This theory first surfaced in the writings of early Greeks and Romans and is prevalent today among those who believe that leadership cannot be developed (Hughes and Bush, 1991). There is no doubt that some leadership qualities are innate, but most of the qualities are formed after years of practice and experience. True leaders are shaped through various trials, tortures and tribulations. For instance: Adolf Hitler, Martin Luther King Jr., Abraham Lincoln and others. No one can argue that life of those individuals was easy. However, there are two main ideas that are considered to be essential in understanding this phenomenon: 1) Leaders are important and 2) There is always leadership crisis of one kind or another (Heifetz et al, 2009).

Leadership crisis is one of the crucial issues in Educational sphere. The word education comes from the Latin word “educare”, which means “to lead out of” (Urbanski & Nickolaou, 2011). Thus, educators should be leaders by definition. However, this is only the theory which has never been practiced owing to the fact that society cannot accept it as a norm. It is confirmed that the goal of education is learning, and the vehicle used to achieve this goal is teaching (Lunenburg & Irby, 2006). The whole world believes that the emphasis of education must be put in teaching and learning. If these two priorities work in a proper way, the effectiveness of learning process is guaranteed and students are able to maximize their outcomes. However, educators are always perceived more as servants than leaders. There are many reasons why they have not assumed leadership roles in schools and education. I will tell about the three most common ones:

  • The first one is a confusion of the meanings of leadership and management. In order to exclude misunderstanding, leadership in education must be understood as “supervision”, while management as “administration”.
  • Secondly, educators were involved in hierarchal managerial authority system in order to deprive them of the opportunity to question the administration. Hence, any educator became a member of a vulnerable population.
  • Thirdly, the school structure now works against the development of educational leadership. Lack of power made educators be ever dependent on those who possess this power.

The crisis in educational leaders is considered to be one of the substantial problems of our time. There is no doubt that there are leaders among educators, however, they are pressed by the bureaucratic system and authorities who are not ready to share with their power. The mentality of citizens, historical background of a country and its economical, political and social conditions predetermine the speed of which leadership will be implemented. Unfortunately, Kazakhstan is not able to get rid of all elements of soviet system momentary, which definitely thwart the progress. The process will take some time. However, there is hope that the generation which is prepared by the Graduate School of Education at Nazarbayev University will be the future systematic reformers in Educational Leadership. They are supposed to contribute to educational development of their country successfully implementing knowledge given by true leaders (their professors), and to extend this line of leadership where leaders have:

  • a clear sense of purpose which is explained simply to the followers,
  • high expectations of results and vision of future success,
  • desire to learn and to be taught, and
  • cooperation among the members of the team who identify themselves as change agents.

Educational Leadership major is a compass that shows the right direction. And students of NUGSE are equipped with these compasses. However, it is always a personal choice to follow this direction or to move in the opposite one.


Heifetz, R., Grashow, A., & Linsky, M. (2009). The practice of adaptive leadership: Tools and tactics for changing your organization and your world. Boston: Harvard Business Press.

Hughes, M. and Bush, T. (1991). Theory and research as catalysts for change, in W.Walker, R. Farquhar and M. Hughes (eds), Advancing Education: School Leadership in Action. London: Falmer Press.

Lunenburg, F., & Irby, B. (2006). The principalship: Vision to action. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Cengage Learning.

Urbanski, A. & Nickolaou, B. (2011). Reflections on teachers as leaders. Education Week, 12(1), 1-9.

13 thoughts on “Educational Leadership: a Myth or a Reality?

  1. From my personal point of view, every person will describe, talk, and share with vital or unimportant information which is familiar and more close to him\her in modern society. This situation is about you Aliya. Let me little bit comment your article on psychological part. You started from the article about leadership, which demonstrates you always trying to be a good example to others. I have not done several researches to identify the meaning to be a good leader. However, I have read various articles during the first semester about the characteristics of being a good leader. All these traits I found from you: strong character, clear vision on your future plans, risk taking skills and positive attitude.

    p.s: you born to be a GOOD LEADER

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Dear Aidana,
    Thanks for your comment. I do really appreciate your opinion. It is very important for me!
    But I do not really think that I am good at leadership or something like this. On the contrary, I feel that I am lack of something, maybe – knowledge, even taking into account that this is my major.
    You are always trying to make some psychological analysis, which is not bad =))) As far as I remember, you have never been wrong… But, at this time, I think that you are mistaken… I have chosen this topic owing to the fact that this question bothers me a lot… I feel that many of you faced with the same situation…
    I am so happy that you perceive me as a personality who possesses such traits as strong character, clear vision, risk taking skills and positive attitudes. However, I am going to unlock the secret: the only thing that was taught by my mother is to work hard. This is the only trait I possess. I thank God that I had such mother, and will try not to forget everything that she gave me.
    To tell the truth, I am not that kind of person who can be an example to others… I am the one who you can rely on and ask for help any time… People around me make me who I am. As Carl Jung said: “The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed”. I’d like to thank real true personalities instead for transforming me =)))
    My progress depends on you…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Aliya, you started your post with your experience explaining this program to your friends and family, but didn’t really tell us about their reactions. Did you manage to explain it well to any of them? Did they seem to understand at all after you talked to them? I imagine this concept of educational leadership is one that is hard to explain, but perhaps easier to demonstrate. And that takes time. Three years from now, when you are implementing a reform initiative based on research and planning involving critical analysis skills and creativity, you’ll be able to call up your relatives and say, “Look… here is educational leadership in action!”

      Liked by 3 people

  3. Dear Mr.Phil, it was some kind of challenge. And no, I can only say that I partly succeeded in my “elevator pitch”. The problem is that my relatives are very skeptical about everything… not only Leadership in education.
    But your words inspired me a lot, thank you for this!
    If it’s God’s will, let it be so… Who knows? Who knows?
    Only God does =)))

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah! How many times I was in the same situation with my friends, relatives and even parents… Each time I felt like there was so much to say, however all my explanations ended up like: “We’re going to be future leaders in education” =D. Guess what was their reaction? “You mean teachers”, – they said.
      I would agree here with Phil – you may have a hard time trying to explain this issue and sometimes personal example may work better. At the same time, being able to convey this concept does not signify possession of leadership skills and qualities.
      Anyways, thank you for this informative post. Hopefully, by the end of the programme, both of us will be able to demonstrate a perfect explanation of educational leadership in just two minutes!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Dear Shynar,

        Thank you for your reply. I always appreciate your opinion and support.
        As for “you mean teachers”… yes, this phrase was also common for my relatives and friends, unfortunately.
        As far as I understood, the only chance for us to be understood is to become leaders! That is why, good luck to all of us! =)))

        P.S. Let your words about the “perfect explanation of educational leadership” become true… by the end of the programme =))) Amen…


  4. Thank you Aliya for this interesting thought.
    I also agree this is an issue that bothers lots of people in our school. Talking about educational leadership I reckon a conversation I had with Professor Faisal from Malaysia who taught Strategic Management to DBA students in Astana. An interesting thought was that in education, leadership has to go along with encouragement, which means that students should always feel the independence and be bold enough to be asking questions and taking initiatives (which is different at schools now, as teachers are “the only authority” for no one to question). If school kids are afraid of asking questions how can we ask them to “suddenly become leaders” in their University? That’s why, as Phil mentioned we, as “change agents,” might become those people to initiate reforms and do our best to change the education to the sphere educating “leaders” and “critical thinkers” able to contribute into the state development. In this case, our role is like a bridge helping our society to change.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Dear Dana,

      You are from Higher Education cohort, and I am very happy that this topic is very interesting for you too… Thank you for sharing with your personal experience (Professor Faisal).
      Finally, I realized that many people are aware about this problem, even foreigners… But, the strangest fact is that Kazakhstani people, even understanding and knowing this issue from the inside, feel comfortable to ignore it and what is more important – to continue doing the same things.
      Unfortunately, it seems to me that a lot more time is needed in order to come into the consensus… But what’s obvious to me is that the way to leadership will be thorny and challenging…


  5. Aliya, thank you for the interesting post.
    I agree that the Leadership notion is not clearly defined yet. For example, Scott (2008) claims that leader is a person who inspires, motivates and leads other followers. In other words, a leader has to motivate people, making sure that they’re all going in the same direction. However, Spicker (2012) agrees that leadership as an effective management requires the same qualities. I like the one quote of Spicker (2012): “The fervour of the cult of leadership makes it difficult to analyse the concept critically”. Sometimes, in practice, leaders and managers do the same work. Moreover, leaders can not motivate employees every day. Scott (2008) said the majority of leaders have the problem of bureaucracy.
    So, in my view, we should divide the responsibilities of leaders and managers in practice in order to have more effective results.


    1. Dear Sholpan,

      you are absolutely right! First of all, there is no common definition of leadership yet. However, in my opinion, this is not a problem any more because there are no alike leaders exist nowadays… The notion of leadership depends on those, who become the representatives of leadership. People possess different characteristics, which make them unique… No alike leaders – no common definitions!
      Also, the 21st century is a very contradictory one (you cited authors who published their works between 2008 and 2012) owing to the fact that people now are not able to recognize whether a person is a good leader or an experienced manager… That is why, it seems to me that it will be only right to say that we shouldn’t “divide the responsibilities of leaders and managers”, it must be one person who possesses the abilities of both…


  6. A very interesting and informative post! Thank you very much, Aliya! Because you touched the important points we all come up with these days.
    To my mind, those, to whom we are trying to explain what we are studying, think that we are studying nothing serious and gonna become ordinary teachers of schools. However, I don’t think we need to persuade them that our job is important, but just put plan into action. Actions speak louder than words! Good luck, everyone!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Dear Arailym,

      I fully agree with your opinion. It seems to me that all of us are waiting for this chance to be understood and recognized for our actions. But a lot of effort and trust must be put in order this dream will come true!

      I hope that we all will meet at the top of Olympus! =)))

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Interestingly, I had the same problem of explaining my major, when I went to visit my relatives. They were shocked and unaware of the function of my major “leading the higher education sphere”. I was bestrewn with dozens of questions. One asked if I am going to be a teacher at the universities. But the oddest question was from my uncle “why to lead/manage/control higher education at all?” (sorry, for translation from russian). I was a bit lost and felt under the tree, and couldn’t answer. I explained my specialty as I could, and explicated what job places I might get after the graduation. Unfortunately I couldn’t answer this odd question right away, I was so embarrassed. But after some talks, and other questions that revealed during the dinner meal, and my strong answers had changed my uncles’ attitude and mind towards my specialty. At finally, my uncle, who was previous attorney, said that he knows how the state governance works and operates. The corruption which reigns everywhere, will impede flourishing our economy, politics, and of course education. But if such responsible, honest and full of motivation young leaders, who are to change our citizens’ mind to better world without corruption, cheating, dishonest but pure accountability and transparency, then our future is saved. Of course my uncle wanted to challenge me with these dreadful questions. And to make me understand and remind what we are about to do, and encourage me that we can do it.


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