Seductive Leadership: Enabling or Disabling of Equitable Education?

Article excerpt


William Foster's article on "Administrative Science, the Postmodern and Community" raises many important challenges to current theorizing of educational leadership (Foster, 1999). In it he aims to "move beyond those models of administration that have dominated the discipline in this century and begin to consider other ways of conceiving the field" (p. 97). He conceptualizes administration as a contested field and as such demands that it is the ethical responsibility of educational administrators to deny the "universalization of oneness" and support "the empowerment of difference." This paper is an attempt to extend Foster's project and hold him to his claim. While he explicitly sets out to make the field of educational administration relevant and accountable to "all children and their worlds," he fails to challenge his own assumptions about the seductive power of current conceptions of leadership. He ultimately reifies the cultural myth of managerial expertise by assuming the universality of its appeal and by assuming that all individuals with an interest in leadership are seduced by the current dominant system of power relations:

   leadership and seduction are the same thing; leadership is the
   seduction of others into a system of power relationships whose
   benefits go to those in power. Leadership ...often becomes a term
   designed to veil the masculine dominance in a society, to seduce
   the rest to follow... One might read the various texts on
   leadership and come to a conclusion that leadership is a science,
   an art, a personal quality, a gift of G-d, and so on. The idea of
   leadership is a seductive idea because it is an attempt to solve
   the problems of order, metaphysics, language and history. To solve
   those very postmodern problems, leadership must seduce. (p.

While I do believe that many mainstream texts on leadership are "designed to veil the masculine [White, heterosexual, ruling class...] dominance in society," and "solve the problems of order, metaphysics, language and history," I do not believe that everybody is equally seduced by these texts. However persuasive a text may be, our reading of it can never be completely determined. Given that seduction involves some level of agency on the part of the seduced, it is not surprising that a disproportionate number of those who have been seduced by the promise of leadership as the ordering of chaos are those who have been advantaged by forms of systemic discrimination such as sexism, racism, and classism, which have been used globally to achieve political consensus in a context of diversity. Foster may have been seduced by the clarifying promises of leadership, only to find later that these promises could not be achieved. He may then have set out to warn the rest of us. His warning is a valid and useful one but his experience of seduction should not be universalized to all human beings. To do so would be to deny our diverse subject positions and the inequitable networks of power within which we are embedded.

Beginning from the premise that many communities of people are seduced neither by this naturalized "order," nor by the individuals who are constructed as embodying this order, the paper continues Foster's project of challenging mainstream conceptions of administration by posing a theoretical challenge to narrow notions of educational leadership. I being by tracing relevant literature on leadership and seduction, invite you into the worlds of two fictional leaders who have successfully seduced me, identify some dangers implicit in conceptualizing any single conception of leadership as seductive, blur boundaries between "empirical data" and "fiction," and conclude by identifying implications for educational administrators and qualitative researchers. Despite the seductive promise contained within the title of this paper, I resist the urge to give birth to a new conception of leadership that promises to solve the problems of order, metaphysics, language and history. …