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Everything old is new again

21 September 2014 by shartley   


Image source: Shani Hartley

Remixes, mash-ups, whatever the young people are calling it these days, leadership literature has nothing new under the sun.  Macbeath (2006) takes us back to morals, Kellerman (2007) returns to using the language of ‘leaders and followers’ after some of the literature had a stint at promoting everyone as a leader, Eacott (2011) has returned to Bourdieu for inspiration and Blackmore (2013) is looking at leadership through a feminist lens.  Albeit there are slightly new nuanced meanings of leadership hashed out in the process, the search for a holy grail of leadership continues.

This holy grail represents the easiest and most reliable path to greatness through leadership and change management.  However, this holy grail is a myth because there are so many factors at play in leading an organisation, particularly an educational organisation, that all variables cannot be accounted in a simple instruction manual or recipe.  They make some good guides to follow but they cannot be strictly adhered to because they do not represent the real world.  It’s like click-bait for blog posts – the ones most clicked are those that have an identified number of items in a list and use marketing techniques to suck you in.

The worst article I have read so far as part of my ‘Leadership for Learning’ course is Zimmerman’s (2004) climbing a mountain analogy.  I wanted to puke.  So I thought I’d give it a go myself.  We recently installed a new kitchen in our house so in 20 easy steps I’ll guide you through how replacing a kitchen is like leading a school through change.

  1. Make a decision that the old kitchen/paradigm/building/etc is not good enough anymore
  2. Convince others that this is the right/best thing to do
  3. Dream big – plan what the new kitchen/paradigm/building/etc will include
  4. Measure and cost – what is achievable?
  5. Adjust, compromise
  6. Have a plan drawn up
  7. If possible, hire additional workers to do what you can’t do yourself
  8. Rip out the old kitchen/paradigm/building/etc
  9. Suffer during the transition process
  10. Put in some hard yakka yourself (last school holidays I did 65 hours of painting in one week)
  11. Discover the unexpected hurdles and expenses, and changing parameters along the way (doors needed to be removed to fit the new large fridge, the oven doesn’t have a clock/timer!)
  12. Adjust, compromise
  13. Everything takes longer than expected
  14. Adjust, compromise
  15. Enjoy the shiny new things (the fridge really is lovely)
  16. Discover that not everything has improved from before (there’s less storage space!)
  17. It seems there are a few bits and pieces which never seem to be finished off
  18. Settle into the new kitchen/paradigm/building/etc
  19. Turn your attention to the next area in need of a revamp
  20. Return to Step 1


Blackmore, J. (2013) A feminist critical perspective on educational leadership. International Journal of Leadership in Education. 16(2), 139-154.

Eacott, S. (2011). Leadership strategies: re-conceptualising strategy for educational leadership. School Leadership and Management, 31(1) 35-46.

Kellerman, B. (2007). What every leader needs to know about followersHarvard Business Review, 85 (12), 84-91.

MacBeath, J. (2006). Leadership for learning: quest for meaning. Leading and Managing, 12(2), 1-9.

Zimmerman, J. (2004). Leading organizational change is like climbing a mountainThe Educational Forum, 68(Spring), 234-242.

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