Is the term leadership a euphemism? If so, for
what?

Since about half of America is holding a primary or a caucus today, that
question seemed relevant. I’m not sure most people know what leadership
is.

I’ve been listening to what the presidential candidates are saying about
themselves and each other over the past few weeks. One of the most interesting
discussions is between John McCain and Mitt Romney over the question of which of
them is more qualified to be president. Romney, in a nutshell, says McCain lacks
some important basic skills. Romney says that his own Harvard MBA, his business
resume and his executive experience as a state governor give him the theoretical
background knowledge and the experience needed to fix our government and
economy. John McCain’s response, basically, is that he doesn’t think Romney was
that great a governor, and that he can hire someone with a Harvard MBA and some
business experience to work for him when he becomes president. McCain says that
Romney’s background makes him a manager in a country that needs
leaders. And (surprise) McCain, of course, thinks of
himself as that leader.

Whether you agree with either of them, the discussion provides some
contrasting images of just what might constitute leadership. I think that one of
our problems in education (or in America, for that matter) is that we’re not
sure what leadership is. The fact that two men who both want to be president are
having this discussion seems to indicate that even our leaders don’t know
clearly what leadership is – or at least they don’t agree on what it is.

I think one of the problems is that leadership, whatever that is, is usually
only one component of most administrative jobs. School administrators do have to
manage. They also do have to remain educators. As basic as that sounds,
I’ve met principals who didn’t think it was their job to be an educator anymore.
They didn’t think they were obligated to keep up with the research or changes in
best practices. They thought their job was to manage and that the
school had other people who were responsible for all that educational stuff.
Heck, they’d become a principal partly because they didn’t really like education
very much!

The corollary to this is simple, but also often overlooked. You don’t have to
be an administrator to be a leader. In almost every educational environment I’ve
ever been in, some of the most effective leaders weren’t administrators; they
were just committed educators whose character and values required them to lead.

I can’t articulate a definition of leadership that satisfies me. I know what
it isn’t. I know it overlaps with many things. But I’m still looking for a
crystalline definition. I worry sometimes that because the idea is difficult to
define, people will think it is a euphemism for administration and thus miss the
real nature of leadership.

I do know that I don’t have to be an administrator to be a leader.

Greg Cruey, Guest Blogger