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STYLES OF LEADERSHIP IN SCHOOLS. CRITERIA OF ASSESSING THEIR EFFICACY

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STYLES OF LEADERSHIP IN SCHOOLS. CRITERIA OF ASSESSING THEIR EFFICACY




Abstract: The typologies of the styles of leadership can be taken as reference points and introduced in programs of training and improvement of the school managers’ patterns of behavior in order to attain and increase the success of school organizations. The field of the style of leadership in schools is open to debate and improvement and it is necessary, given the current context, to put it in relation to the insurance of quality in education.

Key- words: style of leadership, typologies of the styles of leadership, criteria of assessment , efficacy, quality

The great number of definitions of the concept of leadership makes it useful to synthesize the essential notions that can be identified in different approaches:

It is a phenomenon of social influence (the activity performed by some people which influences other people’s activity in order to attain certain organizational goals at the expected levels of performance)

It is a dynamic process of organizing and coordinating groups of members of an organization towards fulfilling specific tasks or goals performed by a group of people over a given period of time in a certain organizational context

In Romanian, the terms of leadership and management are often used with the same significance, thus appearing an overlapping of the connotations attached to each

Management and leadership are not synonymous, neither are they incongruous. Moreover “Leadership cannot be enacted without the help of management, just as management implies that the principles and ethics of leadership be acquired and applied” (Vlasceanu M., 2003)

For quite a long time, leadership was perceived as restrictive, as an activity of ruling, commanding, control with emphasis on discipline, order, hierarchy, which is why ever since the 90s we have witnessed a tendency to replace the term of leadership with that of management, thus risking to become prey to fashion. E. Paun (1999) warned against the abuse in using the term of management in education, against the necessity to integrate and harmonize the demands and the elements that are specific to effective leadership and those that characterize management, as well as the values of the educational system.

Performance in a school organization strictly depends on the quality of the leadership enacted by school managers.

The number of typologies of the styles of leadership that appear in theoretical works is quite impressive. Some of them are adapted to the specificity of school management. Consequently, a criterion is necessary in order to order and group them.

In the past few years M. Zlate’s classification of the styles of leadership has pervaded the Romanian specialized works (2003, page 85, 2004, page 101). The criterion it uses is that of the number of variables different authors take into account:

  • One-dimensional theories, which, though starting from several activities of the leader, give the preference to one of them which becomes fundamental;
  • Two- or three-dimension theories, which start from two or three dimensions considered to be dominant in activities of leadership.

Typology of the styles of leadership

The number of typologies of the styles of leadership that appear in theoretical works is quite impressive. Some of them are adapted to the specificity of school management. Consequently, a criterion is necessary in order to order and group them.

In the past few years M. Zlate’s classification of the styles of leadership has pervaded the Romanian specialized works (2003, page 85, 2004, page 101). The criterion it uses is that of the number of variables different authors take into account:

- One-dimensional theories, which, though starting from several activities of the leader, give the preference to one of them which becomes fundamental;

- Two- or three-dimension theories, which start from two or three dimensions considered to be dominant in activities of leadership.

One- dimension typologies:

The best-known one-dimension typology – and the first in chronological order- is that devised by K. Lewin and his associates R. Lippit and R. K. White.

  • K. Lewin identified three styles of leadership, on the model of decision making. They are as follows:

- Authoritative or autocratic, in which the leader decides on the activity of the group, establishes the working tasks and methods; though in the short run the style is efficient, it generates discontent, tensions, frustration, hostility, even aggressiveness.

- Democratic, in which the leader discusses the issues and adopts the decisions in collaboration with the group, though he still produces objective, realistic evaluations of the others’ activity; this style is efficient, it ensures the interdependence in action of all the group members, as well as the creation of good collaboration and a pleasant socio-affective climate.

- “Laissez-faire” when the leader leaves to his employees the entire freedom of decision-making, provides additional information and is not interested in the carrying out of the activity, may begin by favoring the creation of a relaxed atmosphere but has low efficiency as the group works without deep involvement and randomly.

The typology created by Lewin and his associates had a flaw, namely “it suggested that there exist pure styles of leadership, whereas there exist rather combinations of different styles”.

Differences appear with regard to the influence of these styles on the efficiency and the climate created:

- the efficiency of the authoritative style is high on short term, it creates satisfaction for the leader and dissatisfaction for the employees, it leads to the creation of a tense, aggressive, or passive climate; what’s more, it excludes participation in decision making.

- the democratic style is efficient in the long run; it proves to be motivating and leads to the employees being involved in the act of leadership.



  • R. Likert conclusion is similar to that of Lewin and his associates. He distinguishes four systems of management (styles of leadership) :

- System 1 ( the authoritative-exploitative style), is characterized by leadership based on fear and constraint, summit communication, making and imposing decisions from the upper ranks of the hierarchy without prior consultation, the employers and their employees are psychologically far from one another, and there are occasional rewards.

- System 2 (the authoritative-paternalist style) implies leading by means of rewards rather than penalties, but the employees are still totally obedient, the information going up is convenient for the employer, the decisions are made at the higher levels of the hierarchy, only minor decisions are made by the employees, and their ideas and propositions are only required in unimportant instances.

- System 3 (the consultative style) is characterized by higher, though not total trust in the employees; the leaders efficiently use the employees’ ideas and propositions and stimulate up and down communication; rewards are preponderantly used and penalties are not frequent, but decisions are still made at higher levels.

- System 4 (the participative style), is characterized by the employer’s total trust in his employees, communication is permanently encouraged, so are the employees’ ideas and propositions and their participation in setting objectives making decisions; employers and employees are psychologically close.

  • Lewin, Lippit and White’s theory was revised by N. R. I. Maier (1957).

  Text Box:

In order to answer the question “what style of leadership is more efficient?”, Maier introduced the idea of the “ zone of freedom of action”, inspired by the remark that , in exercising the democratic style of leadership, for instance, a series of factors interfere and limit the leader’s zone of freedom of action. It is only what is left after removing these zones that constitute the field of actions that can be made and solved by group methods.

Tannenbaum and Schmidt conceived another interesting theory starting from that of Lewin and his associates. It is known as the theory of the continuous style, as it claims that between the two extreme styles- the autocratic and the democratic ones- there is a whole range of styles according to the freedom given to the employees. This model accepts the idea that the pattern of behavior adopted depends on the context, the credibility, and the competence of the manager, as well as on the features of the employees. The authors imagined a continuum with two extremes (authoritative style, democratic style) and with countless points “behaviors” that are possible and accessible by a leader.

The classification that Tannenbaum and Schmidt proposed proved useful in practice, which led some authors to introducing it in the training programmes intended for leaders and managers (Zlate M. 2003, page 89).

Two basic activities that are interdependent can be found in school: on the one hand the managing administrative activity, which combines elements that are characteristic for bureaucrats and specific features of organizational development, and in this context the degree of authority of the school manager is higher, but open to participation; on the other hand the pedagogic activity, less influenced by organizational logic, which pushes the school managers to adopt the consultative and cooperative-involving style.

Two-dimension Typologies

Robert R. Blake and Jane S. Mouton’s typology is representative for the two-dimension approach: focus on the task and focus on the employees’ problems.

In the authors’ opinion, concern for the people emphasizes the leaders’ behaviour for the degree of personal involvement in the fulfilment of the objectives of the organization, the existence of normal working relationships, characterized by bi-dimensional communication, mutual help, and respect for the employees’ ideas and consideration for their feelings. They find the necessary time to listen to their employees, they are open to change, show concern for the well being of their staff and are friendly and approachable.

Concern for the tasks (objectives) emphasizes the leaders’ behavior for the working processes, work efficacy, the degree of creativity of the research and development activities, the general results of the organization. This classification counts 81 possible leaders but the two authors only focus on five types of styles of behavior:

a) The task-centered style is characterized by high interest in the task and low interest in the human issues: the relationships between the leaders and the led are based on authority, obedience and submission; there is little communication going on between the leader and the employees, and it is mainly meant to carry his orders.

b) The populist style is characterized by high interest in the human issues and low interest in the task; its advantage is that it ensures a good climate but it neglects the efficacy of the activity.

c) The drained style is characterized by low interest both in the task and the human issues; the leader who practices this style does not get involved in the decision making, avoids controlling, and avoids conflicts.

d)  The moderate- hesitating style is characterized by moderate interest both in the task and in the human issues; the leader that practices this style looks for compromise, has a conciliatory role in communication, is realistic, but does not encourage creative spirit, appeals to rules and traditions.

e)  the group-centered style is characterized by high interest both in the human issues and in the task; such a manager leads the people by making them understand , adhere, self-management is often reached; he establishes a high level of morale, tackles conflicts by means of open debate, makes proof of creative spirit, promotes initiative. Such a style should be adopted by school managers so much the more that the reform in education has become a permanent accompanying feature of the educational system. Unfortunately, empiric expertise

confirms that the maximal actualization of the two dimensions is impossible. However, “planning” styles that are efficient both in terms of the quality of the activity and human issues can become an essential aim.

Three-dimension typologies

Three-dimension typologies are obtained in two ways:

  • Starting from a two-dimension typology and adding it another dimension. For instance, Blake and Mouton revised their management grid by adding a third dimension referring to the consistency or depth of a style.
  • Considering from the very beginning a number of three dimensions. One example is the typology Reddin built, which starts from three dimensions: focus on the task, focus on relationships, and focus on efficiency. The quoted author identifies 8 styles of leadership, 4 efficient and 4 inefficient ones. (W. Reddin, apud I. Petrescu, 1993; A. Prodan,1999):
    • The negative type- weak features of a leader, lacks interest, avoids problems, and does not take suggestions, easily demoralized.
    • The bureaucratic type- deals with efficiency in a rigid manner, has few ideas, is not encouraging, neglects the task fulfillment, and underestimates relationships.
    • The altruist type- mostly interested in relationships, creates the favourable climate but has low efficiency
    • The promoting type-attracted by efficiency, team-bound, stimulates participation, develops interest
    • The autocratic type- gives priority to short-term tasks, minimizes relationships, has recourse to threats, constraints, and control, rejects initiative, smothers the conflicts, and creates a climate of anxiety.
    • The benevolent-autocratic type- concerned about tasks and efficiency knows how to be demanding without irritating.

o       The hesitating type- hesitating, concerned about tasks and relationships, low interest in results, takes decisions under the pressure of the events, compromises.



    • The achieving type- insists on efficient organization of efforts, demands efficacy, knows his collaborators, uses differentiating methods, open to suggestions, and solves conflicts.

There are many other typologies of the styles of leadership, regardless of the number of dimensions taken into account. They can be taken as reference points and introduced in programmes of training or improving the different patterns of behavior of school managers, with a view to reaching and increasing success in this type of organization.

Criteria of assessment of the efficacy of the styles of leadership

Which style of leadership is more efficient? The answer to this question is not easy. Based on comparative analysis, the superiority of the democratic style over as opposed to the authoritative one can be emphasized. The democratic style “creates optimal interaction among the subjects and the task, problem solving appearing as a result of the activity of the subjects’, whereas the authoritative style appears” like a system of external orders and commands that “blocks” the view on work and stops any independent action.” While, in the former case the employees are induced an internal motivation that makes it possible to establish positive relationships with the task and the people, which thus prevents the appearance of tension and aggressiveness, in the latter employees are induced external motivation, which allows their interacting with the task only in the presence and under the pressure of the authoritative leader, so that they can be described from the psychological point of view as “open” to disturbing influences from the outside. The democratic style creates the conditions to harmoniously combine efficiency and the socio-affective climate in the group, while the authoritative style loads the employees with emotional tension, makes them aggressive, willing to “migrate” from the field of the task, which causes some discrepancy to appear between efficiency and group atmosphere. (M. Golu, 1974, page 232)

If one cannot definitely take one side or the other in as far as the advantages and disadvantages are concerned, the advantages range on the side of the democratic style when it comes to the influence of the two styles on the climate. (E. Paun, 1999, page 127)

There are situations when the same leader might be authoritative in some instances and democratic in others, under the pressure of the facts. This is why, the first feature a manager must possess, which has no connection to professional training, is flexibility.

The efficacy of a leader does not depend on his own construction capacity, but on the involvement, specificity and participation of a number of persons. The focus on obtaining high performance or success involves the encouragement of cooperation rather than competition or personal accomplishment.

In specialized literature we do not find a list of “firm” criteria to assess the efficacy of the styles of leadership. Assessment is generally performed in relation to the other variables of the organizational life.

An attempt at sketching and supporting the criteria of assessment of different styles of leadership can be found in M. Zlate’s (2004) works: Treaty of organizational-managerial psychology and Management and Leadership.

1. The number or weight of the positive and negative effects of the styles of leadership on the general structure of the activity. This criterion derives from the idea that the practice of each of the styles can be associated both with positive and negative effects. The number of positive and negative effects of each style could be significant for the assessment of its efficacy.

Although this is an objective and quantitative criterion, it has low operational value because it evaluates the style in an abstract, limited manner, without taking into account the numerous variables that interfere with the act of leadership.

2. The real significance of the positive and negative effects. An effect which is seen as positive at a certain moment could be only apparently positive, and be in fact negative. The authoritative style shortens the time for making the decisions, but increases the probability of the appearance of incorrect decisions, while the democratic style sometimes delays the decision making process, but the probability of their being correct is higher.

This criterion is qualitative and provides the possibility of better assessment of the efficacy of the styles of leadership, but introduces a higher degree of subjectivity.

3. The consequences of practicing the styles of leadership for a long time. This criterion takes into account both quantitative and negative aspects, in correlation with the time (duration) variable. Thus one style of leadership can be assessed not only by taking into account the immediate effects of its practice, but considering the future ones too.

The limitation of this criterion consists in the fact that it selects only one from the number of factors that influence the efficacy of the styles of leadership and neglects the others.

4. The situational criterion. Most criteria have shown that the styles of leadership are unequally productive depending exactly on the particularities of the situation they operate in.

In order to harmonize the styles of management and the particularities of the situation, Fiedler (1967) formulated two strategies (apud M. Zlate, 2003, page 98):

a. the change of the situation of leadership by task structuring or the increase of the formal power of the leader over his group, or by changing the composition of the group in order to offer the leader a favorable climate of activity.



b. the leader’s adaptation to the situation by placing the leaders with a low LPC (least-preferred co-worker) score in very favorable or very unfavorable situations, and those with high score in moderately favorable situations.

Unfortunately, Fiedler considers that leaders should manage only such situations that match their style of leadership, which is impossible since, due to the complexity of the organizational frame and to the influences he receives, there are an infinite number of situations a leader might be in.

School is an organization in which the climate constitutes an essential variable that influences the quality of its activity. The style of leadership is in obvious correlation with the school climate.

There is no universally effective style of leadership because the situations of leadership and the organizational contexts are extremely diverse and changeable. The style of leadership must be both flexible and dynamic.

As far as school practice is concerned, a solution might be given by the psycho-social and organizational training of school managers so that they are acquainted with different styles and be able to adapt to the diverse situations they have to face. The style of leadership requires the development of their abilities by a coherent training programme intended for school managers.

School has become an ever more complex organization in need of specialized management.

Many of nowadays head teachers have an authority complex which induces the idea of a need of authority and an “iron fist”.

Empiric evidence shows that many head teachers fear contradictions, do not wait and do not keep on communicating until the conflicts are solved. Most of the times, in crisis situations, they appeal to acts of authority.

The problems of the style of leadership of the school manager must also be linked to the teachers’ desire of getting closer to power. They need to be treated with confidence, to be given permission to freely express their fears and even to be allowed to make decisions that seem risky.

Under the circumstances of the reform in education, the management of change must be the best ability and first priority of the manager.

The school manager who is efficient in managing change and continuously communicates to prepare the introduction of change will meet success.

Each new change is perceived as a problem, a supplementary stress, even if, in the end, it proves to be leading to an increase in the efficacy and quality of education.

Unfortunately, many Romanian teachers show signs of fatigue and despair and dream of the day when changes will end and things will get back to normal.

The issue of the style of leadership in schools is still open and prone to improvement, and in the current context it is necessary to relate it to the achievement of quality in education.

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