What Type of Leadership Do We Need in Education?

Time and again, what we need differs from what we want. What we need often requires a thoughtful consideration while what we want usually aligns with our immediate perception. In education, this seems to be the case as we press hard to see instant results. For instance, reform often focuses on curriculum with the notion that once standards are changed, quality automatically follows. In the process, we then forego other important factors necessary for the improvement that we seek. Even with the leaders we choose, we seem to prefer those who can deliver what we want right away. Consequently, we frequently end up with heads who will say what we want to hear and appear to do what we want done, but in the end, do not really change anything.

Back in 1978, James M. Burns, a presidential biographer, defined two types of leadership: transactional and transformational. The following are the definitions of these two (from Wikipedia):
Transactional leadership also known as managerial leadership, focuses on supervision, organization, and group performance; transactional leadership is a style of leadership in which leaders promote compliance by followers through both rewards and punishments. 
Transformational leadership is a style of leadership where a leader works with subordinates to identify needed change, creating a vision to guide the change through inspiration, and executing the change in tandem with committed members of a group.
Almost four decades later, Jamal Abu-Hussain, from the Al-Qasemi Academic College of Education in Haifa, Israel, reviewed research literature to examine which type of leadership is more effective for schools.

Leadership Styles and Value Systems of School Principals  
Abu-Hussain. Jamal* Department of Education, Al-Qasemi Academic College of Education, Baqa El-Gharbieh, Israel *Corresponding author: jamal_ah@qsm.ac.il   
Received November 19, 2014; Revised December 01, 2014; Accepted December 25, 2014 
The reforms conducted in the field of education are directed towards the changing manner of school management. The change is expressed in the transition from external supervision of schoolwork to the empowerment of school’s staff, with a change of the principal's and teacher's roles. It requires accountability from school’s principles and staff in providing results of teaching and effective functioning of the school. The goal of this paper is to review research literature in order to determine the most effective leadership model in the new conditions of school management. In order to attain this goal, a consistent review of literature was performed on the following subjects: leadership evolution; transformational and transactional leadership styles; the links between a leadership style and organizational variables; the relationship between value systems and leadership styles of school’s principles. Approaches, methods, models, and means are analyzed during the examination of leadership evolution. Many studies reveal that leadership behavior is an important predictor of its effectiveness. A comparative examination of transformational and transactional leadership styles gives evidence for preference of transformational style relative to its influence on organizational variables. The literary review indicates that transformational leadership essentially improves the functioning of school and teaching processes. The effect of a value system on leadership styles of school principals is examined. As a result, it is determined that principals with a moral value system lean more towards a transformational leadership style and principals with a pragmatic value system lean more towards a transactional leadership style. Thereby, the review shows that effective leadership can be provided as a result of searching for correlations between the value systems and leadership styles. 
Abu-Hussain found that, based on published research, it is "transformational leadership that essentially improves the functioning of school and teaching processes".  Transformational leadership apparently aligns with a moral value system while transactional leadership is pragmatic. This difference of course translates to how we may perceive effective leadership. At first glance, it is transactional leadership that delivers results right away. On the other hand, transformational may take a lot more time before it produces results.

Alex Hill and coworkers recently examined more than 400 school principals in the United Kingdom. The report, published in the Harvard Business Review, categorizes the school leaders into five types. The five types are actually named after known professions that typify the style of leadership.
  • Surgeons: "They quickly identify what’s not working and redirect resources to the most pressing problem — how to improve this year’s exam results."
  • Soldiers: "They’re tenacious, cost-cutting, and task-focused leaders who believe they need to trim back every ounce of fat and make people work harder."
  • Accountants: "They improve the school’s long-term financial performance and let teachers work out where to spend the extra resources."
  • Philosophers: "They spend as much of their time as possible with other teachers debating and discussing alternative teaching methods."
  • Architects: "They redesign the school to create the right environment for its teachers and the right school for its community."
"Surgeons", "Soldiers", and "Accountants" clearly have focus and these principals will work hard to deliver what we want, either high test scores or a balanced budget in education. These are transactional leaders. Though seem transformational at first, "Philosophers" actually are likewise transactional, because they only do the talk and say what everyone wants to hear, but fail to make any change happen. Only the "Architects" are transformational. 

The very nature of transformational leadership makes it difficult for us to appreciate how truly effective this type of leadership is. Hill and coworkers created the following graphs to show how much time it takes for us to see the good outcomes from principals who acted as "Architects":

During the time a principal is still in office, the "Surgeons" are showing high test scores. These are the principals who will go as far as removing weaker students from the school to focus on those who have higher potential so that test scores are going to improve. "Soldiers" like efficiency so schools under this type of leadership improve in terms of budget while moderately enhancing students' test scores. "Accountants" emphasize the financial side so it is not surprising that they improve the schools only in terms of their budget. The "Philosophers" initially inspire so it is also not surprising that test scores go up in these schools. The "Architects" lead to small improvements in both test scores and budget. Hill and coworkers are therefore quick to add that in our world where performance-based bonuses or merit awards are common, both "Surgeons" (since they deliver high test scores right away) and "Soldiers" (since they deliver efficiency as soon as possible) are much more likely to be rewarded and recognized. Yet, their effects are actually fleeting. This is obvious after these principals have left the school:

Only the "Architects" deliver better learning outcomes and higher school effectiveness in the long run. These are the leaders that we need yet most systems do not recognize their effectiveness. Rewards or prizes are transactional by nature, thus, "gaming the system" becomes the strategy. Unfortunately, this is not the type of leadership that really helps schools improve. Hill and coworkers actually end their report with something worth chewing:
...one Architect explained, “My measure of success is — are parents complaining more? And are we issuing fewer anti-social behavior orders (ASBOs) within our local community? If so, then parents are engaging more with the school and our community is improving.”
Transformational leadership can only be measured by how much we ourselves have changed for the better.