Leading and Managing in Education Essay

Leading and Managing in Education


There is no arguing the fact that leadership studies rank among one of the most popular research field in modern business and management literatures. Elmuti, Minnis and Abebe (2005) observe that leadership has become the focal point of many academic research projects, a primary component of business school curricula and a popular topic of many best selling books. However, despite these tremendous research and academic efforts directed towards it, leadership still remains a ‘hazy concept’ and agreement upon what constitutes and characterise effective leadership still appears very far-fetched (Elmuti,  Minnis and Abebe, 2005).

It has been argued that one of the major contentious issues that have clouded leadership conceptualisations derives from the debate on whether leadership is a skill and/or behaviour that can be learnt or an inherent trait only ‘born-leaders’ possess. This debate has, to a large extent, shaped the varying and sometimes contrasting opinions of leadership. However, defining leadership as the “framing of meaning and mobilization of support for a meaningful course of action” (Gronn, 1996:8); Gronn suggested that irrespective of the conceptions of leadership adopted, the central themes that cut across the different understandings of leadership include: influence and identification. Gronn explains that ‘influence’ involves ability to affect an individual’s or group’s wellbeing, interests, course of action, policies or behaviour, and this effect is considered legitimate by the individual or group subjected to it. He observes that recent literatures on leadership have come to the agreement that leadership is a form of direct or indirect influence. Identification, on the other hand is said to reflect the leader-follower emotional connection, indicating that the leader is the person whom followers, for whatever reasons, will identify with, he/she is seen as their source of inspiration, direction and who represents that ‘deep seated aspirations and hopes’ (Gronn, 1996, p.9).

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While it is quite easily said that leadership involves influencing others and presenting them with a source of direction and inspiration, the process by which leaders earn the right and ability to influence and direct others is not that clear. Over the years, several leadership theories have sought to explain the connection between leaders and followers and how this connection is established and maintained. Several different theories have attempted to explain what constitute effective leadership or put differently, how effective leaders are made. In this race, multitudes of leadership theories have been propounded and popularised. The earlier leadership theories sought to explain what traits and/or characteristics differentiate leaders from followers, contending that leaders were ‘born’ and not made, but subsequent theories examined other actors that shape leadership, such as situational and environmental factors as well as skills and behaviours. Van Wagner (2008) argues that most of the leadership theories that have been propounded fit into one of eight major groups.

These groups of leadership theories include the ‘great man’ theory which sees leadership as inherent and in-born traits that cannot be learnt and leaders as heroes who were destined to rule. Trait theories, almost similar to ‘great man’ theories, contend that people inherit certain traits which make them effective leaders, and as such, theorists in this school of though tend to identify personality traits that enhance leadership abilities. Contingency and Situational Theories both suggest that no one particular leadership style is effective in all situations. These theories argue that situational and environmental variables shape and affect leadership abilities. The primary difference between these two set of theories is that while situational theories tend to emphasis how situational factors affect leadership style and effectiveness; contingency theories take a broader view subsuming leader capacities and abilities as well as other situational and environmental variables.

Behavioural leadership theories see leadership as a set of behaviours that can be learnt with time and sufficient training, while participative leadership theories suggest that the leadership is most effective when the leader’s course of action and decision making takes into account the opinions and inputs of the followers. Management theories of leadership see the leader-follower relationship as a form of economic exchange, where the subordinate is rewarded for meeting pre-agreed goals set by the leader. And lastly, relationship theories focus on the emotional connections between leaders and followers. Leadership within the confines of this theory is expected to inspire and motivate followership and to encourage followers to go the extra mile through charisma, motivations and individualised considerations. These last two leadership theories are exemplified by the Transaction and Transformational leadership theories respectively, and they appear to be the dominant perception of leadership in the twenty first century (Van Wagner, 2008).

The huge challenges faced by leadership in the business world, notwithstanding, leadership in educational settings have been shown to far more daunting, due to the peculiarity of the educational sector, and the relative scarcity of research and literatures in this field. Frankel, Schechtman and Koenigs (2006) rightly observed that schools are particularly more challenging to lead due to a myriad of factors. Among these factors are: protections of tenure at the collegiate level, interference of political stakeholders, especially in public schools, faculties and departments that are mostly unwilling to follow direction from others and the unreasonable demands of the community in both public and private education settings (Frankel, Schechtman and Koenigs, 2006, p.520).

Highlighting the peculiar challenges of leadership in higher educational institutions, Spendlove (2007) opine that the “complexity of the university, its multiples goals and traditional values” (p.407), creates a unique combination of factors that makes leadership difficult and ambiguous. Influenced by Cohen and March’s (1974) description of Universities as “organized anarchies with high inertia, unclear technologies and problematic goals”, Spendlove concludes that “leading academics can be likened to “herding cats” (Spendlove, 2007, p.407). However, pointing out that the main thrust of any education settings lies in the same independent though, creativity and autonomy that makes leadership difficult in this settings, Spendlove concede that the traditional top-down leadership conceptions would most likely be unsuitable for an educational settings; and as such, the search for a leadership theory that best fits education settings is important.

In response, this paper intends to discuss two leadership theories, evaluating their applicability to education. The theoretical claims of the theories will be evaluated and their relevance in education highlighted. The consequence or result of adopting these leadership models in education would be appraised. To achieve this purpose, the rest of the paper will be structured thus: the next section will present and discuss the two leadership theories. The theoretical underpinnings of these theories will be presented ad evaluated. Subsequently, the applicability of these theories to education will be appraised and finally, the result of successful application of these leadership models to education will be evaluated. Studies that have investigated the role and result of each of these leadership models in education will be reviewed and a conclusion will follow.

Leadership Theories

While the distinction between leadership and management has never fully being articulated, it suffice to say that while management involves the efficient and effective maintenance of an organisation’s current activities to achieve optimal goals, leadership is concerned with influencing others to achieve desired goals, and sometimes even more. Management is somehow concerned with maintaining the status quo, while leadership is creates the vision for change and a path towards achieving that vision. Thus, a leader achieves its objectives by influencing others to act (Spendlove, 2007). Efforts to understand the process through which the leader influences others have given rise to a multitude of theories. While several leadership theories have been propounded over the years, none seem to be able to completely explain the leadership process. However, in recent times, there appears to be a shift towards understanding the relationship (connection) between leaders and followers and how this relationship affects the leadership process. Transformational and Transactional leadership theories both propounded by Burns (1978) and subsequently fine-tuned by Bass (1985) appears to provide a more robust, functional and effective understanding of the leadership process. The rest of this paper shall discuss the theoretical underpinnings of the duo of transformational and transactional leadership models, the applicability of these models to education and the result of their application to education.

Transformational Leadership Theory

According to Nguni, Sleegers and Denessen (2006) the foundations for what has become the transformational leadership model appears to have been originate from the early work of Downtown (1973) who first contrasted transforming leaders from transactional leaders in explaining the difference between revolutionary, rebel, reform, and ordinary leaders. However, the concept first took in the works of Burns (1978) who distinguished between the type of leader-follower relationship that exists in transformational and transactional leadership styles.  As explained by Nguni, Sleegers and Denessen (2006), Burns (1978) suggest that the distinguishing factor in transformational leadership is the ability of the leader to appeal to the emotions and values of the follower creating a relationship based on trust, loyalty and understanding.

The transformational leadership model assumes that subordinates will readily follow a leader that inspires them; that a person with great visions and passions can achieve the extraordinary and that the best way to lead a people into achieving a goal is by injecting enthusiasm and energy into the goal. As such, transformational idea of leadership expects a leader to be capable of creating exciting visions and objectives, to be able to convince followers that the goal is worth achieving and is achievable, to live up to the high moral standards and personal integrity required to create and maintain trust and loyalty, and to be concerned about the welfare and affairs of the subordinates, in and out of work (Bass, 1990; Pillai, Schriesheim and Williams, 1999; Rafferty and Griffin, 2004).

Obviously, because of the popularity of the transformational leadership theory, its theoretical base has been severally reviewed and is continually modified as new studies create better understandings of the theory. However, Bass (1985, 1999) identified four sub-dimensions of the transformational leadership model. These include: charisma, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, and individualized consideration. Discussing these sub-dimensions of the transformational model, Rafferty and Griffin (2004) observe that the term ‘charisma’ has been severally defined and appears to mean different things to different people. They noted that Weber (1968) suggest that charisma is composed of five different components including: “an extraordinarily gifted person; a social crisis; a set of ideas providing a radical solution to a problem; a set of followers who are attracted to the exceptional person and believe that the leader is linked to transcendent powers; and the validation of the leader’s extraordinary gifts through repeated success”, and explain that the transformational model concept of charisma is limited to only the third component highlighted above (a set of ideas providing a radical solution to a problem).

Charisma is said to be the most general and important component of the transformational leadership model. Further, Rafferty and Griffin opine that the underlying theme in charisma, as it applies to transformational leadership, is the importance of articulating a vision. Transformational leaders must be able to effectively conceive and present their visions and ideologies as this enhances goal clarity, task focus, and value congruence and has been shown to improve subordinates satisfaction with their leader. (Rafferty and Griffin, 2004, p.332). Inspirational motivation, on the other hand, is the affect the intellect and emotions of followers. Explaining the importance this construct to the transformational leadership, Bass (1999) posit that a leader displays charisma and inspirational motivations when he/she “envisions a desirable future, articulates how it can be reached, sets an example to be followed, sets high standards of performance, and shows determination and confidence” (p.11).

The concept of individualised concern has been said to distinguish transformational leadership from any other leadership theory. In articulating the model, Bass (1985, 1999) state that individualised consideration occurs when a leader is concerned about the development of his/her subordinates, when the leader attends problems and concerns of individual follower and responds appropriately to their needs. Lastly, Intellectual stimulation involves activities and leadership behaviours that increase subordinates’ interests in and awareness of problems. It also involves behaviours that encourage and help followers to think ‘outside the box’ and find innovative solutions to problems. It should be stated that Pounder (2001) suggested that the theoretical basis of transformational leadership has not been entirely evaluated, and as such its basis can be modified or increased with new research findings. He added Integrity, Innovation, and Impression Management as sub-dimensions of the transformational leadership theory that should be further explored

Transactional Leadership Theory

Unlike the transformational leadership model, transactional leadership theory is based on the assumptions that people are motivated to work by reward and punishment, that organisations achieve optimal outcomes when there is a clear chain of command, there is a clear goal to be achieved and each member knows his/her role in achieving this goal, and that the sole purpose of the subordinate is to do what the leader expects and be rewarded or fail and be punished, as such, once people agree to do a job, they cede all authority to the leader (Pillai, Schriesheim and Williams, 1999; McAulay, 2003). McAulay adds that the major theme of the transactional leadership model is ‘clarification’; the leader creates a clear vision of the objective and clarifies the role of the follower in achieving this objective. The subordinate is then motivated through reward for good performance and punishment for failure.

As identified by Bass (1985) and clarified by several authors subsequently, the transactional leadership model is derives from three major theoretical bases: contingent reward, management by exception-active and management by exception-passive. The contingent reward construct is the major theme in transactional leadership. It refers to the exchange between the leader and the follower with both aiming to satisfy his/her self interests. The leader rewards the follower contingent on satisfying agreed upon objectives. Thus, the leader gets the work done and the subordinate gets rewarded. However, in this model of leadership, as said earlier, the leader only directs the follower along the path to a goal, achieving the goal becomes the sole responsibility of the follower. This is called management by exception. In its active form, the leader continually monitors the followers’ activities ad takes corrective action when the subordinates fails to meet set standards, while in its passive form, the leader only takes corrective action when things have gone wrong or the set standards are not met (Bass, 1999; McAulay, 2003).

Transformational and Transactional Leadership Theories Compared

From the foregoing, the point of convergence and divergence of the two models of leadership becomes apparent. The meeting point of the two theories is that both models of leadership involves motivating and rewarding followers, while their major differences lies in the motivation reward process. Rafferty and Griffin (2004) observes that contingent reward applies to both transformational and transactional leadership models. In both models, followers are rewarded for good performance. However, Goodwin and others (2001) observe that negotiation of rewards for good performance is a transactional process, while rewarding followers based on their performance is a transformational process. However, while transactional leaders encouraged followers to achieve optimal goals and maintain status quo, transformational reward process encourage subordinates to reach for the extraordinary, to go the extra mile.

Again, both transactional and transformational leadership models involve establishing a relationship (sometimes called a contract) with subordinates and followers are encouraged to maintain and be loyal to this relationship. However, the transactional model typifies economic relationship (contract) where each party seek to achieve his/her objective. The subordinate gets the agreed reward for achieving set goals, while the leader gets the work done. In contrast, transformational leadership exemplifies social relationship (contract), where both party seek to set aside personal objectives for the collective goal. In sum, both models of leadership seek to achieve the same goal, but through different approaches. As such, while transactional leadership is known to improve organisational effectiveness and enhanced productivity, transformational leaderships achieve better organisation citizen behaviours, better commitment and better satisfaction with the leader

Transformational and Transactional Leadership Theories in Education

The concepts of transformational and transactional leadership has been extensively researched in non educational settings and enough evidence documented to support not only the suitability of these theories but also the improved performance, better productivity, improved job satisfaction and organisational citizenship behaviour that business organisations experience as a result of adoption of these leadership theories. For example, Pillai, Schriesheim and Williams (1999) indicate that transactional leadership improves organisational effectiveness, job satisfaction and commitment; while transformational leadership improve, directly and indirectly, organisational citizenship behaviour, job satisfaction, commitment and satisfaction with leader. Podsakoff and others also suggest that the influence of transformational leadership on commitment to organisation and organisational citizenship behaviours is mediated through trust, perception of fairness and loyalty.

However, as stated earlier on, research on the application of these leadership theories in educational settings has been few and far between, although the efforts in the field of educational management has been on the increase in recent times (Leithwood and  Mary, 1992; Nguni, Sleegers and  Denessen, 2006). It has been argued that leadership in education comes with peculiar challenges, due to the obvious differences between educational settings and the for profit organisations. Leaders in education have been quick to point out the differences between their industry and the business world, noting that education management comes under several varied influences, ranging from interferences and influence from political stakeholders externally, to the unwillingness of staff members and academics to follow direction from others, internally.

Frankel, Schechtman and Koenigs (2006) further note that the values and objectives of educational institutions are at variance with that of business organisations. While, leadership in education is driven by humanistic and sometimes altruistic mission to develop students in each generation and contribute to social good, effectiveness in the business world is measured in terms of returns on investment and other economic metrics. Apparently, with this variance in objectives, leadership models that work in for-profit organisations might not be that effective in education settings. Fortunately, this does not appear to be the case with transactional and transformational leadership models. It has been argued that the theoretical basis and claims of these leadership models appropriately fit in well with leadership in educational institutions.

As Leithwood and Mary (1992) rightly pointed out, for example, anecdotal evidences point to the fact that transformational leadership is both ‘facilitative’ and ‘consensual’ in nature. Facilitative in the sense that members of the organisation are ‘intellectually stimulated’ and ‘inspirationally motivated’ to think about problems in innovative and creative ways, to develop innovative solutions to problems, and to create workable and exciting visions. Also, the consensual nature of transformational leadership implies that each member sets aside his/her self interests for the general good. Everyone is regarded as equals and decision making is not left to the leader alone. Bringing this analysis down to education, Leithwood and Mary observe that this facilitative and consensual nature of transformational leadership is manifested when teachers are helped to find greater meanings in their work, to meet higher levels needs through their work and to develop innovative and enhanced instructional capabilities. The consensual nature of this leadership model allows teachers and other school staff to make the most of their collective capacities, especially in solving school problems and/or in charting the course for change and development.

Transactional leadership is also appropriate and applicable to the educational settings. The transactional leadership model encourages clarity of purpose and direction and these are obviously required in educational institutions. This model of leadership, as explained above, is based on the ‘exchange of services’, such as teaching, for various kinds of reward. Here, the leader sets the pace, creates a vivid picture of what needs to be done and how to do it and then delegates the jobs to subordinates, who get rewarded in exchange for achieving the set goals. As such, transaction leadership help clarifies what needs to be done to reach a desired outcome. This clarity of purpose and the promise of reward is said to increase teachers’ confidence and motivations. The primary difference between the motivations achieved under the two concepts of leadership is that while transactional leaders encourage school staff members to achieve the minimal requirement for success and productivity, transformational leaders will encourage them to do the extraordinary, build collectivity, team spirit, mutual appreciation and understanding. As such, Leithwood and  Mary (1992) suggests that transactional leadership is suited for optimal functioning of a school, while transformational leadership is required to stimulate innovation, improvement and advancement.

Several studies have documented the positive results of adopting transformational and transactional leadership models in educational settings. Research on transformational and transactional leadership in education was first initiated by Leithwood and his colleagues in the early 1990s (Nguni, Sleegers and Denessen, 2006). In one of the very first research into the results of transformational leadership in education, Leithwood and Mary (1992) assert that “the collective action that transforming leaders generates empowers those who participate in the process. There is hope, there is optimism, there is energy. In essence, transforming leadership is a leadership that facilitates the redefinition of people’s mission and vision, a renewal of their commitment, and the restructuring of their systems for goal accomplishment” (Roberts, 1985 quoted in Leithwood and Mary, 1992, p.9). Leithwood and Mary noted that their studies into transformational leadership in schools reveals that transforming leaders achieve three fundamental goals: helping staff members develop and maintain a collaborative, professional school culture; fostering teacher development; and helping teachers solve problems together innovatively and more effectively.

Explaining these three goals of transformational leadership in schools, Leithwood and Mary observe that in the collaborative school culture created by transformational leaders, school staff members talk, observe, critique and plan together. As such, norms of collective responsibility and continuous improvement are established, and teachers are encouraged “to teach one another how to teach better” (p.10). Also, teachers are said to be better motivated when they are involved in creating a school mission they feel strongly committed to, and when the leader can create clear, explicit goals that are ambitious enough to be challenging but realistic. It is also argued that transformational leadership stimulate school teachers to engage in new activities beyond the classroom, to think and act innovatively and creatively, and to put forth that ‘extra effort’. It therefore improves collective problem solving and teacher creativity.

In sum, Leithwood reports that his several studies have confirmed the positive effect of transformational and transactional leadership models in education settings. He reports that Leithwood and Jantzi (1991) in line with Deal and Peterson (1990) demonstrated considerable relationship between transformational leadership and teacher collaboration. Another study, Leithwood and others (1991) demonstrated significant relationship between constructs of transformational leadership and teachers’ own reports of changes in both attitudes towards school improvement (commitment) and altered instructional behaviour (job satisfaction). This study also reported relationship between transactional leadership and teacher motivations, though the demonstrated relationship less significant compared to transformational leadership.

Taking these studies carried out by Leithwood and his colleagues as a point of departure, several other researchers and evaluated and demonstrated the relationship between transformational and transactional leadership models and a number of factors. For example, Pounder (2001), Smart and others (1997) and Cameron (1981) investigated the link between transformational/transactional leadership and organisational effectiveness in educational settings, especially in higher education institutions, while Nguni, Sleegers and Denessen (2006) went further and deeper, evaluating the link between these models of leadership and teachers’ job satisfaction, organisational commitment and organisational citizen behaviour in primary school settings.

Pounder (2001) noted that most studies investigating the results of transformational/transactional leadership have often reported desirable organisational outcomes often measured in terms of subordinates’ job satisfaction and better perception of the leader. In contention, he argued that these factors do not, in anyway, automatically translates to organisational effectiveness, as such, emphasised the need to investigate the link between these leadership models and organisational effectiveness in educational settings. Pounder (2001) agrees that organisational effectiveness in education is a very difficult construct to define, due largely to the peculiar nature of leadership in education. Counting on Ramsden (1998) studies, Pounder noted that leadership in education, especially in higher educational institutions, require leaders who are capable of managing competing priorities, and suggested that leader in higher education institutions is “about tensions and balances” (p.284). Drawing on Kotter (1990) and Ramsden (1998), Pounder (2001) further stressed that leadership in education requires “leaders capable of producing change, aligning people and motivating them”, while at the same time ensuring that the organisation stays on target and within budget. From this argument, Pounder asserts that defining what organisation effectiveness means in educational settings, is therefore difficult.

However, Pounder (2001) noted that in an earlier study evaluating transformational and transactional leadership models across Hong Kong universities, Pounder (1999) identified five criteria for measuring organisational effectiveness in educational organisations. These are: production-efficiency, which measures the extent to which a leadership model concerns itself with the quantity or volume of what is produced in an organisation and at what costs; cohesion, which measures staff morale, interpersonal relationships, team work and sense of belonging; information management-communication, which measures the effectiveness and accuracy of the distribution of information required by members to carry out their jobs; and planning-goal setting efficiency, which measures how a leadership model affect the ability to set goals and objectives and systematically plan for the future.

From his analysis, Pounder (2001) pointed out that the emphasis on the control of, and the focus on school staff members’ activities and performance that is characteristic of transactional leadership, positively influence the planning-goal, productivity-efficiency and information-management communication components of organisational effectiveness. In contrast, the concern for staff morale, interpersonal relationships, teamwork and sense of belonging that defines the ‘cohesion’ component of organisational effectives is the main focus of intellectual stimulation, inspirational motivation and individualised support that the transformational leadership model emphasizes. This analysis indicates that the application/adoption of any or both transformational and transactional leadership theories will result in improved and enhanced organisational effectives in any educational settings.

Taking this analysis one step further, Nguni, Sleegers and Denessen (2006) evaluated the link between transformational/transactional leadership and a host of variables: teachers’ job satisfaction, organisational commitment and organisational citizen behaviour, specifically in a primary school setting and in a developing country. The authors contend that evaluating the relationship between these leadership models and ay single one of the variables above does not completely evaluate the effect of the leadership models in education. The study indicated that both models of leadership significantly influence the variables measured, though differences exist in the magnitude and direction of these influences. Nguni, Sleegers and Denessen noted that their study result demonstrated that the different components of transformational leadership had strong to moderate positive effects on value commitment, organizational citizenship behaviour, and job satisfaction, while transactional leadership had a weak positive effect on value commitment, organizational citizenship behaviour, and job satisfaction, but strong positive effect on commitment to stay. This study further strengthens the contention that both leadership models are applicable and useful in any/every educational setting.


Leadership has been described as a difficult concept to define and explain, and this difficulty appears to be more pronounced in education. The difficulty in explaining leadership derives, largely, from the complex interrelationship between the leader and the lead and how this relationship influences both parties. In the education industry, this difficulty is further pronounced because of the peculiar nature of educational institutions where creativity and independence is the norm. In explaining leadership, several leadership theories have sought to present the best understanding of the concept, and presents guidelines on how leaders can become more effective at leading. However, recent or ‘new leadership studies’ appear to be dominated by the transactional and transformational leadership theories.

Transactional leadership is based on an economic exchange model, where the leader creates a vivid picture of what has to be done and how to go about doing it, and the subordinate gets rewarded for meeting this performance target or punished for failure. Here, subordinate’s self interest is the primary source of motivation. The leader leaves the subordinate to carry out the tasks and only intervenes when the subordinate derails. Transformational leadership, on the other hand, involves higher order motivation. The leader inspires the followers to live above self interest, to be creative, innovative and intelligent. The leader builds a team of mutually understanding and appreciative subordinates, such that the commitment to the group, trust and loyalty that is established motivates members to attempt the extraordinary.

Both models of leadership have been shown to be applicable and useful to every facet of the educational settings. Studies carried out in primary schools, colleges and universities have linked both form of leadership to teachers’ job satisfaction, commitment to job, improved instructional abilities, organisational effectiveness and organisation citizenship behaviours. These studies have shown that these leadership models are not only applicable to education; they are in fact required to maintain, develop and move educational institutions into a better future.


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