Leadership and context
Leadership and context

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Leadership and context

2 Shifting contexts

The context in which you work is constantly shifting and subject to change. It never reaches an end point. It is mediated by relationships (social and professional), values (personal and organisational) and culture (organisational and societal). These factors that make up the context are interrelated and moving in time. Furthermore, organisational leadership is not exercised by a single person; it is distributed through both formal and informal mechanisms. Context influences others too. And so there will be different perceptions of which aspects of context are influencing an organisation, and what importance should be placed on those influences.

Activity 1

To begin your study of leadership and context, we would like you to try grouping the influences on any organisation through a number of headings. Take each of the following headings, and list the issues that impact on your organisation and that you would have to consider as a leader or aspiring leader of the organisation. Briefly consider which of the issues you feel are the most important in your organisation.

  • International trends and issues (e.g. globalisation)
  • National trends (e.g. political policies)
  • Local influences (e.g. the role of local communities)
  • Internal influences (e.g. the culture of the organisation)
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Under the first heading, international trends, you may have listed, for example, greater mobility of population, transient workforces, and a need for internationally recognised qualifications. Depending on where your educational organisation is positioned, these may have a great impact. You may have large numbers of asylum seekers who need special care and who have a different language or culture.

The national trends may have included reductions in public service spending, reactions to issues in society, high unemployment, change in age limits for activities. It is difficult to predict, at the time of writing, what the changes will be in the lifetime of this course – and that, in itself, is rather telling. These are potentially huge changes in direction for educational organisations, for which there will be very little notice.

Local communities obviously react to national changes in their own ways. In addition, there may be other changes unrelated to national policies – such as the building of a large residential area, change of use of a local forces establishment, removal of a bus service, closure of a large local employer. All of these factors could affect the demographics of the local area, and some of them could cause that change to happen quickly. This would alter the need for schooling, the type of schooling, the need for other educational services, and the resource base including staffing. It could also impact on the culture of the school, if the area was to change from one of high employment to one of high unemployment.

Potential internal influences are many and varied. Clearly a change in staffing, particularly the head or principal of a school, might impact on the culture of that school. A change in catchment might mean that a different community culture is brought into the organisation.

Now let’s have a look at the interaction between these various levels of context and culture in a school environment.

Activity 2

Watch the following video clip, which is from a primary school in South Africa. As you watch, try to pick out the various levels of impact – international, national, community/local, and internal – on the leadership of the school.

Download this video clip.Video player: Impacts on leadership
Skip transcript: Impacts on leadership

Transcript: Impacts on leadership

In South Africa cultural values have undergone some dramatic changes in recent decades. And as a result styles of school leadership have changed too.
Oh fast asleep after that greeting ay.
Jamiel Alexander became principal of Chapel Street Primary in the mid-1990s, just after the end of apartheid. This momentous societal change is reflected in the way he now runs the school, which is in a deprived area of Cape Town.
The management strategies, has changed, you know, it was a way, the, that you, that people view the principalship of schools. Um, that has changed to a more democratic sharing type of leadership. You know, at first it was really autocratic, you know, what, whatever the principal said goes, and you know, and you had to follow, no questions asked, and that type of thing. That has changed to a more, shared partnership, you know, more to a shared management style.
Mr Alexander was forced actually to to, to, to, to, to, to operate in the way that he is operating now. Because the principal before the, before him, operated in the apartheid system, where the principal was the, you know, seed. And he made the laws and he made the rules and whatever he says we must do. But when Mr Alexander came in, new policies and the, the whole approach of being a principal also changed. It was more a collaborative approach. He must whenever he drew up policies teachers have an input. He can’t do things on his own he must always consult the rest of his management also and then consult the rest of the staff, before we decide on something that for the school.
Chapel Street School is at the heart of the community and Jamiel Alexander is a highly respected figure. The local culture means that in addition to being a school leader Jamiel is also regarded as a community leader.
Are we living on milk today? Alright.
School, by its very nature was schools, when that includes our school, has always been regarded as the leadership position in terms of the, the communities’ perception. Not only the communities’ perception but in terms of what happens at school, you know. And I, and I’m going to take you back may be a couple of years ago, but this is just my own perceptions. Taking you back a couple of years ago whereby the principal, for example, was the person at the school wherever there’s problems in the community. That the community people come to the principal, please help us or sort this out for us.
So that perception that there is an educated person or there is a leadership or a leader available to assist us, that has always been there. In the current modern era, that perception hasn’t changed much but it’s just that the school is now playing a much more proactive role in terms of assisting the community.
End transcript: Impacts on leadership
Impacts on leadership
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Jamiel Alexander comments on how the culture of the school has changed since the ending of apartheid, which was a huge national change. This has altered the external context of the school. His deputy comments on how Jamiel’s relationship with the staff had to change to a more collaborative, democratic and consultative one. This was a change in the internal context of the school in response to a change in societal culture. The community used to look to the school principal for advice and leadership. Jamiel feels that this local context has now changed a little, with the school taking on a more proactive role in the community. He also comments on the need for the culture of the school to raise the aspirations of the young people, who he feels bring the very low expectations of their community into the school.

You will now move on to look at societal culture and its potential impact in greater depth.


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