Christian School Principal: Leader or Manager?

I am often confronted by school principals with this question.  Sometimes the question is synthesized into this or some similar format.  Others, the principal asks something akin to “should I spend my time here or there?”  or “which is most important—leading this group or managing this activity?”  The answer to the question is always the same.

© 2010 Veronique Debord-Lazaro. Creative Commons. Click here for full citation (#25).

© 2010 Veronique Debord-Lazaro. Creative Commons. Click here for full citation (#25).

YES!  That’s right.  Most Christian school principals are not managers OR leaders, they must be leader-managers.  These two activities are often juggled back-and-forth during any given school day.  Effective principals must learn to do both well.

It is true that effective principals enlist assistance in both areas; however, in most cases, both leading and managing responsibilities still rest squarely on the principal.  H. Ross Perot, an accomplished leader-manager, stated that “people cannot be managed.  Inventories can be managed, but people must be led.”

Applying this idea to a school, it is obvious that there are certain bureaucratic duties that the principal must manage.  But every principal has numerous leadership responsibilities.  So, the answer is still a resounding YES!  Effective principals are leader-managers.

John Gardner, in writing about leader-managers, made several observations that can be applied to an educational setting.  Translated to the school context, effective leader-managers:

  1. Think about the long-term – they are able to see beyond today’s crisis, beyond the next grading period, beyond the end of the school year.
  2. View education in broader terms than just what students are learning academically – they are able to see how students will take their academic knowledge outside the school into society.
  3. Reach and influence stakeholders other than just students – they are able to mend fragmented relationships with parents and faculty, allowing all stakeholders to work together to solve problems.
  4. Place heavy emphasis on intangible visions, values, and motivations – they have an intuitive understanding of the tacit elements of leader-follower interactions.
  5. Develop multi-tasking skills to cope with conflicting requirements – the work to achieve multiple goals and work with multiple constituencies.
  6. Think in terms of renewal – they are not satisfied with the status quo as a routine manager does; they seek to lead structural and process change, required for improvement in an ever-changing environment.

Transformative leadership demands that effective principals learn to be both routine managers as well as transformative leaders.  So the answer to the question really is YES!  The effective Christian school principal is a Leader-Manager.

So what can we do better to accomplish the balance demanded of the leader-manager?  

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Edward is the founder and managing editor of Focus on Christian Education. He also serves as the Executive Director of the South Carolina Association of Christian Schools.