From Leadership in General to Leadership in Education: Historical Overview

There are a lot of definitions of leadership like: “Leadership is taking people to places they’ve never been before” of Marie Kane (2013), Peter Northouse’s (2010) “Leadership is a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal”, “Leadership is the process of influencing the activities of an organized group toward goal achievement” of C. F. Rauch and O. Behling (1984), “Great leaders rally people to a better future” of Marcus Buckingham, John Kotter’s (2010) “The fundamental purpose of leadership is to produce useful change, especially non-incremental change”, and “Leadership is successfully creating positive change for the common good” of Todd Sorensen et al. (as cited in Summerfield, 2014, p. 251).

So, leader works to achieve a common goal, one that is jointly conceived or, at least, jointly agreed on, he influences rather than dictates throughout the process, imparting a respectful and unifying approach, and the results represent an improved current state. And summarising them all Leadership is a process of improvement of current state by sharing his ideas with his followers. And as vital part of it, educational leadership emerged.

Educational leadership as a concept was founded as Edmonds (1979) stays by Frederick Taylor in his management theory, which advocated formal managerial control. At the literature about efficacy of school in late 70s and 80s of the last century, the role of management and administration of schools rose and evolved to the leadership. Administrators became instructional leaders whose job was to set high academic expectations for students and actively monitor their achievements (Hallinger & Murphy, 1986). Although discussions between Bolman and Deal (1994), Foster (1989) and Leithwood (1992) about the importance of leadership versus management have alternated over the years, a consensus is emerging that says both are integral for school communities. The result is that educational leaders today need to successfully prioritize and balance these roles (Cunningham & Cordeiro, 2003).

Nevertheless, educational leadership was studied more in terms of leadership style of principal in school context, distributive practices, or connection of different cultures. For instance, the studies around the Asia Pacific context mainly concentrated on the behavioural part of the leader compatible with the value system which prevails, that is, the perception of principal in terms of transformational/vision-based leadership style, ethical orientation, implicit knowledge illuminated by leadership reflective space, and democratic and transformational leadership by developing social sharedness. Kang and Printy (as cited in Sinha, 2013, p. 141) pointed that the shared vision and cultural values make a democratic systems work effectively. The role of social context in the shaping of system as democratic seems to be dependent on the perceptions which the school leadership together with its units perceived. Nevertheless, Hsiao and Chang (p. 141) showed that the organizational learning acts as a mediator between transformational leadership and organizational innovation which significantly affects the democratic form of learning, making the process innovative and helpful for the policy making, root level reproduction and supportive for strong organizational/educational climate.

However, Wen and Hwang (p. 142) explored the application of Laozi’s thought on educational leadership and management. They applied historical method to help recognize the connection between the philosophy advocated in the work of Laozi or Tao De Ching and educational leadership describing its relevance in the contemporary world. The description about leaders as a believer of non-action, softness, humility, calmness and the elimination of desire together with the leader’s full realization of their potential was the thrust. The philosophy of Laozi is also very much related to the philosophy of Hinduism in Indian diverse context, where the emphasis on ‘‘Karma without any desire for the outcome’’ replay its conviction for powerful impact on the social framework. The work on the nurturant-task leadership also showed that the followers romanticize their leader as nurturing father but task oriented (Sinha, 2013).


Bolman, L. G., & Deal, T.E. (1994). Looking for leadership: Another search party’s report. Educational Administration Quarterly, 30(1), 77–96.

Cunningham, W. C., & Cordeiro, P. (2003). Educational administration: A problem-based approach. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Edmonds, R. (1979). Effective schools for the urban poor. Educational Leadership, 37(1), 15-24.

Foster, W. (1989). Toward a critical practice of leadership. In W. Foster (Ed.) Critical perspectives on educational leadership (39-62). Washington, DC: The Falmer Press.

Hallinger, P., & Murphy, J. (1986). The social context of effective schools. American Journal of Education, 94(3), 328–55.

Leithwood, K. A. (1992). The move toward transformational leadership. Educational Leadership, 49(5), 8-12.

Sinha, C. (2013). Conceptualizing educational leadership: does exploring macro-level facets matters? Asia Pacific Educational Review, 14, 414-150.

Summerfield M. B. (2014). Leadership: A simple definition. American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy, 71, 251-253.


2 thoughts on “From Leadership in General to Leadership in Education: Historical Overview

  1. For sure, Professor Gogas did not leave cold not only the students from School Leadership, but also from Inclusive and Multilingual Education cohorts. I am happy to know so many people got interested in leadership, especially in educational leadership. In your post, you discussed different types of leadership, including vision-based style. I became really attentive to this style, which unlike many frequently cited kinds of leadership such as transformational and charismatic, put much emphasis on sharing common goals and vision. Personally, I find this especially meaningful and applicable for group work. I believe people work better together only when they understand and see the vision. What about you? Which kind of leadership do you consider to be the most effective when working in group?


    1. Thank you, @shynarchiq, for your comment. As for me, I prefer most transformational leadership, because this kind of leaders disseminate the ideas to their followers and inspire them. Transformational leaders actually think of their allies, they help to see the real picture of what is happening and to change the situation in the future.


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