Loose or Tight: How Will You Lead

In previous posts, I have addressed the issues of the local Christian school principal as the key to school improvement, the importance of establishing a vision for the local Christian school ministry, and the need for cultural change within the local Christian school.  Given the role of the local Christian school principal as the key to improvement, let me address the implications of a “loose” leadership style as opposed to a “tight” leadership style.


Early research suggests that there is an optimum style for a particular situation.  The role of the Christian school principal is to determine that optimum and to lead the staff in determining what to do and how to do it.

Systemic change is the goal.  “Systemness” speaks of the degree to which the collective staff commits to an entity that is much larger than their individual selves.  “Systemness” demands two things on the part of each individual on the school staff.

First, it demands commitment to both individual and collaborative work.  Second, it demands that every member of the staff works to improve the larger system.  Given these demands, the members of the school staff are the system.

“Systemness” thus involves people, people collaborating to pursue deeply-held goals that are critical to producing levels of learning that will be pleasing to God and which will contribute to accomplishing the principle of “learning for all.”

The dilemma for the local Christian school principal is this:  What degree of “looseness” and/or “tightness” should I adopt to characterize my leadership style?  The term “loose” describes a leadership style that merely encourages people to engage in a process of change and improvement.  The term “tight” describes a style that is more assertive, leading to directives from the leadership to commit to a change process.  The challenge for the local Christian school principal is one of finding the appropriate balance between the two.  That balance addresses issues of how assertive the principal can be and to what degree the staff is to exercise greater autonomy in making decisions about the school.  Let me hasten to add this:

research strongly states that ordering people to change simply does not work; neither does allowing a level of autonomy that permits individuals to work in isolation from the rest of the school staff.  

Research indicates that quality schools are characterized by an interdependence, a balance of autonomy and collaboration.  The reader is reminded that the Apostle Paul addresses this balance within the body of Christ in I Corinthians 12.  The appropriate balance between autonomy and collaboration will result in a critical internal commitment to the goals of the school and improved learning on the part of the professional staff and students.

Let me offer some critical questions for you and challenge you to respond in writing.

  1. Is the Christian school movement too big to change?  How should the issues raised in this post get addressed in a movement that is nationwide?
  2. What will it take to get the issues dealt with in this post addressed?

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Dr. Suiter taught in the School of Education at Marshall University. After leaving public education in 1980, Suiter has served in a variety of leadership roles within the Christian school movement both at state and national levels.