Leadership is a much discussed issue, with the people who become leaders often accomplishing tasks once though impossible. Effective leaders, both for good and evil, have accomplished the impossible, overthrown the un-conquerable and revolutionised the stagnant. In the field of education in general, and libraries in particular, the leaders may not begin anything as dramatic and world changing as the Russian Revolution or the Arab Spring, but in their immediate contexts, they have the power to inspire their staff and students to greatness as-yet unimagined.
While researching the topic of leadership and its incorporated principles, I encountered a disturbing theme. There were a number of articles, papers and self-styled ‘experts’ that discussed leadership in top-down terms. That is; they spoke and wrote about leadership in terms and tones that implied that these texts were exclusively for those that held formal leadership positions. Not only that, these texts wrote in highly prescriptive manner and often had step-by-step instruction on topics like “Creating a sense of urgency”. I found this disturbing because the implications are a) that people in leadership positions may not have learned how to lead prior to their elevation to said position, and b) the texts are not designed to be seen by those some articles charmingly called “followers”.
To assume that anyone can lead, provided they have the right ‘guidelines’ is ridiculous. More than that, it is disrespectful to those they work with and smacks of invasive and unrealistic bureaucracy. People that have been elevated to positions of leadership by a dominant organisation are not leaders by virtue of title, they are managers. Managers uphold the status-quo of an organisation, and are conscious that they owe their position’s authority to someone else. This kind of position incites subservience in those installed to lead, and is ultimately self-defeating. That is not to say that a manager cannot be real leader, or that managers are not important, I feel it merely important to make the distinction. If someone is a true leader, they will lead regardless of title, position or incentive. They will not suffer systems that they disagree with and will not abide by rules they didn’t design. Leadership, especially in education, takes courage to stand up alone if necessary, and fight for honourable goals.
Several of the texts I encountered were refreshingly inspiring though, notably Lauren Hoffman’s article on activism and the work of Andy Hargreaves. These texts openly criticised the narrow-mindedness of currently extant educational systems, and warn of the dangers that practices like standardisation and inter-school competition pose to the fundamental purpose of education. I considered these opinions in light of the current situation the Australian education system finds itself in. The incoming National Curriculum represents many years of hard work by dedicated people and includes changes to many outdated facets of education. Without leaders that recognised the need for deep and lasting change, this new curriculum would not exist. The new danger lies in the institution of education letting this momentum run down and becoming complacent. This is time for leaders to step forward and bring about the best for those they are responsible to.