Leadership Is Fashionable Again

By Wolff, Bretta Weiss | Montessori Life, Fall 2005 | Go to article overview

Leadership Is Fashionable Again


Wolff, Bretta Weiss, Montessori Life


Have you noticed that there are just as many theories and books on leadership now as there are on yoga, Pilâtes, or dieting (with South Beach, with low carbs, or by following those thin French women)? And, if the number of well-attended workshops on leadership at the AMS conference in Chicago is any indication, Montessorians are wading into this arena with an exuberance once reserved for the spiritual embryo. Leadership is definitely in fashion!

What seems strange about this current obsession with leadership as a primary focus of effective organizational management is that it's certainly not a brand new idea in the American Montessori community. Perhaps it's time we as Montessorians are reintraduced to some of the classic books written on leadership.

Heads of schools, for example, have long looked to the business world for management direction. As early as 1970, Robert Townsend (the man who managed Avis Rent-a-Car during its famous "We're Number Two" heyday) wrote about participatory management in his book Up the Organization. In 1984, Thomas Peters and Robert Waterman, Jr. produced In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America's Best-Run Companies, which tied success with both sound social as well as economic theory.

Stephen R. Covey wrote The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People in 1990. In this book, Covey presented an integrated approach to solving personal and professional problems by becoming what he called a "principle-centered leader" (p. 122). While written in the somewhat inspirational tradition, the book has become highly popular in business, political, and educational communities.

Also in 1990, Peter Drucker, author of dozens of management books, wrote Managing the Non-Profit Organization. It not only became the basic bible for schools, hospitals, churches, and others, but also delineated the complexity of the role of leader and ventured that a leader's major task may be "to try to convert the organization's mission statement into specifics" (p. 5).

In the same year, John W. Gardner wrote what would be considered (to borrow an analogy from the world of couture fashion) "the little black dress" of leadership, which was simply titled On Leadership. Gardner had been studying and writing about leadership for over 25 years and was intimately familiar with the nature of leadership, leader-constituent interaction, the moral dimension, organized systems, renewal, sharing of leadership tasks, and leadership development to foster the release of human possibilities. Gardner also debunked the old assertion that "leaders are born, not made," saying, "Nonsense! 1 Most of what leaders have that enables them to lead is learned" (p. xix).

Through the last 50 years many creative approaches to leadership and management have become available, and they seem to reflect the needs and interests of society at the time, or, we might say, what's fashionable in a time. In 1994, Flight of the Buffalo: Soaring to Excellence, Learning to Let Employees Lead by James A. Belasco and Ralph C. Slayer focused on the change of the nature of management in the growing global marketplace. …

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