A Study of Superintendents' Change Leadership Styles Using the Situational Leadership Model

Article excerpt

Leadership studies and the interpretation of research findings about them are often perplexing and controversial, especially in attempting to show cause and effect. But, the important role leadership plays in the effort to improve schools requires that continued research be carried out in the hopes of revealing predominant and consistent leader behaviors relating to effectiveness. Although schools are too complex for effectiveness to be attributed to any single dimension of organizational effectiveness, there is no doubt that leadership owns a significant share of responsibility for effectiveness in schools (Bolman & Deal, 1991; Vail, 1991; White, 1990). Its nature and quality render it amenable to continued investigation and improvement. School superintendents are key players in the planning and implementation of "second order" changes--organizational changes which bring about new goals, structures, and roles that transform familiar ways of doing things into new ways of solving persistent problems. In fact, the success of recent efforts, such as those of reform movements aimed at refocusing the mission of public education in America, depends greatly on the quality of leadership manifested in schools by school superintendents (Bolman & Deal 1991; Fullan, 1991; Glass, 1992.

There seems to be a consensus that reforms in American schools cannot be realized without school superintendents acting as catalysts (Auguste, 1986; Jenlink, Reigeluth, Carr, & Nelson, 1996; Lewis, 1996; Vail, 1991). Also, it is apparent that given the complex demands that government mandates, interest groups, boards of education, the community, parents, and students thrust upon schools, superintendents will have to assume a major leadership role in planning and implementing change programs. To be successful, school leaders must be prime movers of ideas and facilitators of change, as well as those who can create climates which encourage the anticipation of and response to external pressures (Kanter, 1983; Walker, 1994). They must also unify all groups in the organization to work toward a common vision. But, in many circumstances, school leaders are confronted with situations in which their individual leadership style is in conflict with the organizational environment prevalent in their school system. Such conflict leaves school leaders with options such as (a) changing the behavior of members of the school organization, (b) changing their own methods of making decisions or style of leadership, or (c) changing their positions. Some leadership scholars (Fiedler & Chemers, 1974; Hersey & Blanchard, 1988b) posit that effective leadership depends upon the manner in which the leader adjusted to the situation presented in the organization, while others posit that other personal characteristics and how they interact with contextual, organizational variables are needed in describing and explaining leadership behavior and organizational effectiveness (Bolman & Deal 1991; Sergiovani, 1987). Some writers have noted certain school administrators' behavior as more or less effective in facilitating specific innovations or planned organizational change (Berg, 1996; Chauvin, 1992; Fullan, 1991; Hall & Hord, 1987; Jenlink & Welsch, 1995; Walker, 1994) and certain school district characteristics as contributing to the success or failure of planned change in schools (Chauvin, 1992; Crawford, 1991; Hall & Hord, 1987; Haro, 1991; Kerekes, 1993). Others posit that knowledge of the interaction between school district characteristics and administrators' leadership styles are needed in describing and explaining organizational response to change (Hersey & Blanchard, 1988a, 1988b; Jenlink, Reigeluth, Carr, & Nelson, 1996; Sheppard, 1996; Smith & Andrews, 1989).

Theoretical Framework

An object of persistent scrutiny by social scientists, leadership is a concept that defies a common definition, with little consensus on what it means in social life. …


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