Power in Leadership

This semester, I am taking a survey course in educational leadership – Leadership in Educational Organizations – through the Department of Educational Studies here at UBC, which is taught by Dr. Mark Aquash. It has been good so far to explore issues in leadership and see how the research can aid decision making and actions taken in leadership positions. We read and responded to an article called The Seven Principles of Sustainable Leadership, by Andy Hargreaves and Dean Fink, and I wanted to share my thoughts.

In the article on Sustainable Leadership, by Hargreaves and Fink (2004), I most identified with the principle “Sustainable Leadership Spreads.” At my previous school, UNIS Hanoi, I was the grade level coordinator for sixth grade and had the opportunity to experience how difficult it really is to “spread” leadership around. While a school can offer a position where there is a need, this is just the first step. Some saw my position as one of simple busy work, while I saw it as an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of the students transitioning from elementary school to middle school. I never thought of it before, but a position could mean different things to different people, which could have any number of consequences! As the position evolved, more decision-making capacity was given to the “middle managers” like grade level coordinators, department heads, and the like at the school. This was an improvement as it “spread” leadership to more than just the administration team, allowing more teachers to have more input. In addition, the school “spread” leadership in different ways by providing opportunities throughout the year to present an element of one’s classroom practice, usually with educational technologies, in workshops set up in various forms, led by Clint Hamada and Michelle Matias. In this way, the school provided both long and short-term opportunities for its teachers to demonstrate leadership in their respective fields, which has positive effects for staff morale and collegiality.

I like the fact that C.M. Shields‘ article, “Hopscotch, Jump Rope, or Boxing” (2005), acknowledges the existence of power and the differences between men and women.  Often it’s so cumbersome to acknowledge these things due to peoples sensitivities, and some of the dangers inherent in stereotypes. I wonder, as a leader, how you can ensure that you are spreading power fairly among men and women – or among other categorizations of groups. I guess the first question is – is it your power to spread in the first place? Dr. Helen Timperley says that leadership is inevitably distributed, a point that I like. But that is a whole other discussion!

I felt the concept Shields mentions that the work at the university itself was gendered was the idea I most connected with in her article – but I think that’s due to a recent class I took with Dr. William Pinar. Shields’ article talks of a few of the women leaders in the university observing that the care for others and other elements of the jobs done in their universities were themselves gendered. I agree with Dr. Pinar that the teaching profession is gendered – whether there are a majority of women teaching at our schools or not, the caregiving role of teachers has for centuries been seen as feminine.  But Dr. Pinar goes further to state how he feels the teaching profession is treated with contempt and mistrust – and that the gendered state of the teaching profession is the reason why teachers are not given the same professional courtesy as, say, doctors, lawyers or engineers (have a look at one or two of his many books – they make an enlightening read).

Shields’ article only touched on this briefly, but I would be curious to know if the work of professors in higher education is gendered in a similar way – and how this affects the “spread” of leadership in this sector.  I’m also interested to see how the gendered status of the teaching profession affects the work of administrators.  Are administrators gendered feminine too since they work in this gendered profession, or do administrators transcend this gendered role since they are “in charge”, and is this status seen in public eyes as “male” and thus given the status it deserves?  And, whatever the answer is, how does this affect the “spread” of leadership.

There’s no simple answer to this question, but one worth considering. As you can see, these articles brought out a scatter of thoughts!


Hargreaves, A., & Fink, D. (2004). The seven principles of sustainable leadership. EDUCATIONAL LEADERSHIP, 61(7), 8–13.

Shields, C. M. (2005). Hopscotch, Jump-Rope, or Boxing: Understanding Power in Educational Leadership. International Studies in Educational Administration, 33(2), 76–85. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ehh&AN=19363506&site=ehost-live

Timperley, H. S. (2005). Distributed leadership: Developing theory from practice. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 37(4), 395-420. doi: 10.1080/00220270500038545