How leadership in a changing world relates to school success | Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence
Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence

How leadership in a changing world relates to school success

 “I want transformation to be the cornerstone of the post-industrial school of leadership.”
– Rost, 1993, p. 123

Although organizations have existed in some form since the beginning of time, the study and labeling of organizations began during the Industrial Revolution to make people and processes, like machines, more efficient and effective. The evolution of the study theories of organization has continued, which has had an influence over many industries and professions.  David Walonick (1993) succinctly stated that Classical Theory of Organization evolved in the early 1900’s and “represents the merger of scientific management, bureaucratic theory and administrative theory.” Major assumptions of classical theory include ideas such as: there is a head and a body of the organization; a formal role exist between the head of the organization and those who work for the head; due to the limit of energy, knowledge, and space, the head of the organization should have a limited number of people working for them, and this pattern is scaled through the organization until every person in the organization is accountable to someone.

Frederick Taylor’s Scientific Management Theory (1917) suggested organizations run in an efficient and effective manner through the management of its people and processes. Taylor suggested that in order to improve production, every element must be scrutinized for the purpose of efficiency, rules and regulations were to be obeyed by the masses, processes and structures controlled information, and people should work in these organizations work for a personal mission or vocation, prestige, or power rather than for monetary reward. Finally, higher ranked positions are sometimes presented to people as appointments, and this position could be held for life through tenure. Leadership in the early 20th century industrial workforce required a model of top-down, directional leadership that was comprised of one leader who managed work through the direction of one to many workers (Weber, 1947). Centralized labor forces were essential to the effective operation of factories across the nation, and Weber’s bureaucratic theory explains that clear lines of authority and control, divisions of labor and specialization, and formal uniformity were essential to maximum productivity.

Today’s changing, global economy dissolves the boundaries set by an industrial age that required liner thinking, design, production, and management within the bricks and mortar of constructed buildings. The 1970’s and 1980’s introduced a new opportunity through information technology which provided ubiquitous access to information to organizations that could afford the tools. The late 20th century and early 21st century enabled households and individuals to own tools that garnered access, and through economies of scale, the industrial age transitioned into the informational age. A new generation of workers had access to information at unprecedented speeds, and value was found in products, services, and information. Organizations require a different type of leader, one whose skills marry the bureaucratic processes and knowledge of the industrial age while accessing information and human capital around the globe to attain the best results for their organizations (Friedman, 2007).

Management Versus Leadership

Rost (1993) presents clear difference between the organizational management and leadership. Management is an authoritative relationship with at least one manager and one subordinate who coordinate their activities to produce and sell goods or services. Management is essential efficiently produce the most good and services and is essential in today’s organizational task-oriented activities. Rost recognizes that the pace and scope of today’s organizations require more than the activities of the industrial leadership paradigm (p. 180), which include a structural, materialistic, achievement-oriented focus. Rost credits James Burns’ Model of Leadership (1978), while calling upon the leaders of the twenty-first century to lead with moral imperative and purpose. “Transformational leadership occurs when one or more persons engage with others in such a way that leaders and followers raise one another to higher levels of motivation and morality” (Burns, 1978). The global economy presents an opportunity for individual contributions that make a larger impact (Wagner & Dinstersmith, 2015), and Rost delineates between tactile productivity and a moral obligation for real change by drawing clear distinction between management and leadership. Rost presents a value-based idea of leadership in our present century: “Leadership is an influence relationship among leaders and followers who intend real changes that reflect their mutual purposes.” Rost explains that this influential relationship leverages resources (p. 127) in order to persuade towards the progress of an agenda (p. 115) of meaningful and transformative change.

At the school-level, this results in superintendents acting as communicators and instructional leaders establish clear non-negotiable goals for their districts and allow building level leaders to decide how they will achieve.  Superintendent tenure has direct correlation with student achievement. (Waters & Marzano, 2006)

“Districts with excellent student achievement have superintendents who are personally involved with their curriculum and instructional program. The Instructional Effective School Districts (IESD) research has identified several functions that are characteristic of effective superintendents’ instructional leadership activities. These five major competencies are:

1) staff selection and recruitment;

2) principal supervision and evaluation;

3) establishing clear instructional and curricular goals;

4) maintaining and monitoring an instructional and curricular focus, and

5) financial planning for instruction.” (Bjork, 1993)


Friedman, T. L. (2007). The world is flat: a brief history of the twenty-first century. Bridgewater, NJ: Distributed by Paw Prints/Baker & Taylor.

Fullan, M. (2005) Leadership and Sustainability

Fullan, M. (2001) Leading in a Culture of Change.

Kotter, J. (2012) Leading Change.

Rost, J. C. (1993). Leadership for the twenty-first century. Westport, CT: Praeger.