Effective leadership is a balancing act of support and accountability. Whenever either one of the principles are out of balance, the culture of the organization and ultimately, the productivity of the organization, start to suffer. As I travel the world and work with schools in search of improved results, I often encounter leaders who are strong in one area, but deficient in the other. This reality alone is not unusual nor fatal, but a leader has to be reflective enough to understand the need to be balanced and develop skills in both areas. Metaphorically, support should be looked at as an investment and accountability is the expected return on the investment.
When a leader focuses solely on providing support (investment), he/she tends to create a highly collegial environment, but not a task oriented environment committed to reaching goals and objectives. Over time, the employees tend to become spoiled, and they can become resentful when asked to move out of their comfort zones (Gardner 1998). In this environment, leaders find themselves on a never-ending treadmill of trying to satisfy others. We all like to be liked, but that cannot be the driving force behind the behavior of a leader. People have three important needs/supports that leaders have to provide in order to lead their subordinates to success (Muhammad 2009):
- Clear, thorough, and frequent communication
- Trustworthy and ethical environment
- Adequate technical training/support and resources
When a leader focuses solely on accountability (return), the imbalance will lead to a different form of dysfunction—fear and conflict. Autocratic leadership relies on fear as the catalyst to improvement. What autocratic leaders fail to realize is that though they may be able to achieve a surface-level, superficial form of compliance, they are creating an informal climate of dissatisfaction that will eventually produce toxic subcultures, which will orchestrate their demise. In the process, time is wasted, and those who are left behind are damaged and jaded by the experience. Unfortunately, the modern context of education lends itself to heavy-handed authoritarian leadership. School and district leaders are being asked to produce improved results without a road map to do so, and in the process, pressure to improve results produces contentious relationships that guarantee that improvement will not occur. Accountability is important, but is only fair and reasonable after adequate support and time have been provided. A person cannot claim a dividend if he/she did not make an investment.
Gardner, J. (1998). Leadership: An Overview. The Independent Sector. Washington, D.C.: 4.
Muhammad, A. (2009). Transforming School Culture: How to Overcome Staff Division. Bloomington, IN, Solution Tree Press.