Dr Vanessa Parffrey 


Stephen Covey ends his book (Covey 1992) with the suggestion that we have moved through four epochs of leadership literature. He represents these metaphorically through the use of bodily icons - the stomach, the heart, the brain and, finally, the spirit. He suggests we are at, or ready for, the age of the spirit - leadership by the spirit - a way of leadership that is concerned with principles and values, revolves around the clarification of meanings and is concerned with the whole person.

 What, however, this might mean or how it might be demonstrated remains undeveloped. I also believe that Covey’s proposal does not go far enough. Within his framework the whole concept of leadership remains unexplored and unproblematised. Moreover, Covey is not explicit about his own value base which militates against the very position he is trying to argue.

 However, it is a point from which to start and it is the development of the notion of ‘leadership by the spirit’ which is the purpose of this paper - a quest, I believe, which will  illuminate the general task of leadership, although here I have explored it particularly within the context of education and schooling.  I suggest that to understand ‘spirited leadership’ we have to fundamentally re-examine and re-define leadership.  We need to move away from thinking of it as embodied in a person, within a structure and done to others.  Rather we need to see it as a process, a product of a complex nexus of interpersonal relationships, its very ‘shape’ constructed by the shapes and perspectives of those within the nexus.

 One does not therefore begin by defining/seeking the attributes of good leaders but instead by enquiring into the community of the group or organisation and exploring how that community achieves its tasks, learns,  and makes meaning of its work (Drath 1996).

 Such thinking is undoubtedly a fundamental challenge to current developments within leadership and management in education. The predominant model of leadership in the UK is, at best, a benign form of social  Darwinism, a sophisticated social engineering – kind and fair but essentially set within a determinist, positivist paradigm of humanity.  Characteristics of good leadership are identified as within the individual and, as such,  individuals are selected as potential leaders of our schools, trained within a prescribed curriculum and assessed  according to a number of set criteria.

 The new conceptualisation I am suggesting we need is not a mere shift, not a slight adjustment to previous thinking, but a massive, transformative, discontinuous leap to a different place. Layer upon layer, years and years of ‘truth’ must be turned upside down so that what was below is now above, what could not be seen is now open to the light, what was thought unimportant, trivial, even sentimental, is now thrust into the centre of thinking.

 Such a transformation in thinking will not be easy, for the old ways are entrenched not only in traditional ideas about management and education but also within an overall Western philosophy predicated on the objectisation of people, structures, systems and knowledge, and where the focus of attention is on the individual person.

 Contrast this with traditional Eastern philosophy. Here, things happen, are defined, understood, and have their meaning in relationship one with the other.  Shapes are co-defined by each other.  The focus of interest and development is the pattern of shapes so formed.  There is a natural reciprocity and interdependence and thinking is essentially relational and holistic.

 Post-modernism is chipping away at the predominant thought-forms of the West, but practice always post-dates its underpinning values by many years and we have yet to see any major shift. 

 That we need new ways of conceptualising and defining leadership, and indeed new practices of ‘doing’ it, seems to be acknowledged across the leadership literature (see, for example, Bennis 1984, Bolman and Deal 1995). These voices, however, are counter to the technicist and instrumental view of educational leadership which dominates current UK thinking and training. Such training programmes not only ‘ignore or demean the spirit’ (Bolman and Deal 1995) but also encourage the mythical and fruitless search for a science of teaching and leadership (Reynolds 1998). As Starratt and Guare (1995) point out, such a conceptualisation of education as an applied social science ‘does not admit to the language of spirituality’ . Furthermore, technical rationality ‘stifles and silences the imagination . . . and cannot contribute to the social, spiritual and ecological problems of our communities in a post-modern world’ (Spehler and Slattery 1999). These writers go on to suggest that we need to discover ‘the life of the soul, the metaphysical and the prophetic voice of choice’ (ibid.).

 The learning lobby, too, is full of challenges to established thinking.  Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences (Gardner 1993) prepared the ground for much richer concepts of learning.  Whole-person learning, not merely intellectual, but emotional, artistic and spiritual, does at least reveal itself in traditional forms of curriculum as in, for instance, the National Curriculum in the UK.  But taking the notion of holistic learning seriously and giving proper time and attention to it has needed a revisiting of Gardner’s ideas.

 John Abbott, in his work, Learning for the 21st Century (1997), stresses the importance of  spiritual learning and this is reiterated in the UK’s National Campaign for Learning literature.  There is a growing recognition that knowledge and learning is something much broader than the narrow curriculum definitions predominant in our culture, and that to change culture – and to live and contribute within a constantly changing culture – we must totally rethink our concept and practice of education.

 The purpose of this paper is to explore where such a reconceptualisation might lead.  How can we undertake whole-person learning, touch souls, explore meanings? How can we be spirited leaders? What I hope to do is to begin to develop a possible ‘spirituality of management.’ I do this only too aware of the danger of creating yet more dogma and falling into the double bind of the ‘command’ to ‘be spontaneous’. What we do not want in education is yet another ‘how to’ paper - ‘10 ways to be a spirited leader’! Or a science of spirituality! What I will try to do is explore what a possible spirituality of leadership might look like, what it might mean and how it might be manifested in our schools.

 I am motivated by the conviction that the old ways will no longer do - they do not work and are not sufficiently robust or appropriately conceptualised to take us and our learning communities into the next millennium. We will need to break the moulds, make new connections, be far more creative and imaginative. We need to be Kuhnians - paradigmatic leapers - not Popperians - paradigmatic creepers. If we are to transform our schools, then we ourselves must transform our ways. I believe we do have models to help point to what these new ways might be - and that we can draw on a variety of sources: modern leadership literature, theology, writings on spiritual development and  poetry. But if we are to develop new ways of acting then we shall need new ways of expressing ourselves - new language, new concepts, new meanings.

 I invite you therefore to join me on a journey of exploration. Like all journeys, we have chosen a route - an area we wish to explore - but what we might find and where we might end up, we do not know. I have no clear answers as yet, but seek to draw on existing research into educational leadership together with established notions within theology and spiritual development to begin to map out the terrain, to identify possible waymarkers and at least to attempt to pose the right questions. I am, really, puzzling out loud.


It is important first to clarify my use of the terms ‘morality’, ‘spirituality’ and ‘religion’. I take the call for a spirituality of leadership to be not simply to do with acknowledging the ethical base of education nor necessarily linked with membership of a particular faith community. Of course, these areas of our life are not and cannot be totally separate - indeed later I shall be arguing the case for an integrity of our practice and of our personal and professional lives. But my point here is that spirituality, morality and religion are not synonymous. I have argued elsewhere (Parffrey 1997) that spirituality in schools can be and is both developed and lived out quite independently of a religious dogma (see also Hull 1955).  I believe the writers quoted earlier also had a broader conceptualisation of spirituality in mind. Similarly our ethical and value system, while being related to a faith position if we have one, can be and is worked out independently of any such position and therefore of any specific system of spirituality. Nevertheless, I shall unashamedly draw on the writings and insights of the great spiritual traditions. To do otherwise would be to fall into the trap of another sort of dogmatism, namely agnosticism/secularism. I work on the assumption that in the pursuit of truth all texts are valid for critical scrutiny.


There are a number of key concepts – nine ‘waymarkers’ - which, I believe, can help us explore this uncharted area. I will take each in turn to see how far they might illuminate our understanding of ‘spirited leadership.’

 1. Journey

The ‘journey’ metaphor reminds me of the days when my children were  young and we all went plodding up Snowdon, Scafell or Helvellyn - one child bringing up the rear, kicking stones, wasting energy, head down, feeling it was all so pointless - another child tearing on in front, trail-blazing, falling down unseen screes, impatient, the risk -taker - and the majority, parents and third child, taking the middle way, making slow but steady progress, encouraging, chiding, providing map and compass and chocolate: resources for the road. Lifting the struggler’s head so that his eyes could see the summit - the purpose of the journey. The disappointment when, because of mist, ice or wind, we could not go on. Occasionally, the anxiety of being lost. Disagreements over where we were or where we should go next. And the best bit - afterwards in the pub, sharing food and stories.

 Educational leadership often feels just like this: travelling with a group of people, keeping everyone with you, encouraging the down-hearted, gently restraining the over-enthusiastic. Keeping the common purpose in mind, preparing, planning, equipping. Resolving the conflicting views over the next step, the different possible routes. Reminding and lifting hearts and eyes to the overall goal. Seeking the lost.

 With many journeys, when (and if ) you do arrive, then it is often at something quite different from what you thought it was going to be.

 And what you thought you came for

Is only a shell, a husk of meaning

from which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilled

If at all. Either you had no purpose

Or the purpose is beyond the end you figured

And is altered in fulfilment.

                                             (T.S. Eliot: Four Quartets:Little Gidding )


A journey is often full of uncertainty, ambiguity and paradox. It is the way of the unknown:

‘in order to arrive at what you do not know... you must go by a way of ignorance’

(T. S. Eliot: Four Quartets:East Coker). The journey becomes a matter of faith. Walking the unknown.


Leadership by the spirit is not a linear activity (see waymarker 2) nor is it certain you will arrive. The climate might change, the conditions become inauspicious, resources run out, other apparently more interesting paths might appear, paths more relevant or more urgent. Leadership is not about getting a group of people from A to B - achieving targets and reaching goals - it is the journey. Lead the journey right and the rest will follow.

 Honda’s philosophy of leading and managing acknowledges that ‘The end result is the bi-product of the process’ (Keir 1997). The process is the task and the way to get results.

It is interesting to think around Honda’s philosophy, rooted as it is in Eastern thinking. We find here a modern, highly successful manufacturing firm shot through with notions of personal integrity, quality circles, ‘flat‘ structures, process and relationships being valued over product - lead the process well and the quality product will follow.

 Journeys take place within a specific context – a historical, political, institutional, social and economic context - and for a particular purpose. History impinges on the journey in the here and now - memories of bad experiences, unresolved hurts, failures, mistakes.  Little wonder that Charles Handy suggests a touchstone of a healthy and ‘moving’ organisation is forgiveness (Handy 1989). Laying the past to rest.  My own work with schools attempting to change demonstrated that organisations with a stronger tradition and longer history found it much harder to move forward and to change (Parffrey 1994).

Alternatively, of course,  the memories may be wonderfully happy – ‘the Golden Era’ – ‘how things used to be’.  This also militates against organisations growing - moving forward  (Louis and Miles 1992). The group clings to the past and flinches from the future.  We need to embrace the past – not write it off as a disaster or a waste of time, but use it as a basis on which to build and re-imagine the future.

2.   Reflective cycle

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place

For the first time.

                               ( T.S. Eliot: Four Quartets:Little Gidding )


The journey of leadership is not about arriving at the end of a linear road, but often about revisiting old and known situations - feeling ‘back where you started’  - but seeing it all with new eyes. The reflective or experiential learning cycle is well established in educational thinking, as is the notion of the professional educator as a reflective practitioner (see, for example, Schon 1983, Elliott 1991, Carr and Kemmis 1986).

The experiential learning cycle has four main stages: experience, reflective observation, conceptualisation (making sense) and doing (including forming plans). Each is necessary but no stage by itself is sufficient for learning to take place. When all four are completed then one is indeed back at the beginning but in a different place - and the locus of the next cycle is different: it has ‘moved on’ (the cycle becomes a spiral). So change becomes a cycle/spiral born of understanding one’s practice, itself born from the reflective  process. As Carr and Kemmis put it, ‘Practices are changed by changing the ways they are understood’ (1986).

In fact, however, modern teachers often seem so pressured by pushes and pulls and a range of stakeholder expectations, that most are doing a ‘mini-loop’ around the first and last elements, i.e. doing/having experiences and forming and reformulating plans, with very little time for the essential middle two processes of reflection and making sense. But it is only when all four elements are undertaken, as discrete activities and in chronological order, that true movement around the cycle can take place - when we ‘arrive where we started and know it for the first time’ - when we learn.

Without this process,  we are indeed likely to arrive where we started but continue in the same way - not the gentle ongoing spiral of development but rather a vicious circle, going round and round the same route, never learning, not moving on.

The essential requirements of the reflective stage are time alone to think and take stock,  opportunity to discuss and reflect with others about one’s experiences, and, finally, engagement with others’ views and different viewpoints - both in discussion face to face and in literature. To return to our journey metaphor, we need a ‘campfire’ at which we can share the journey, the different experiences and the different views each had on their way.

Further insight into the reflective cycle can be drawn from the field of personal spiritual growth and development.  Spiritual development is often spoken of as a pilgrimage, but not one with a definite end.  Rather it is an ongoing, open-ended journey, with the ‘traveller’ not knowing when or even whether he or she will ‘arrive’, but instead needing to trust in the process, the journey itself. The Ignation method of spiritual development would be recognisable to educationalists as ‘reflective practice’. The method consists of exercises which promote an experience (usually, in this context, pertaining to one’s relationship with God), opportunities for reflection both alone and with one’s spiritual companion or director, encouragement to extract key learning, and finally, action in the light of this learning (Nixon and Parffrey 1999).

 A key element of spiritual development  - and indeed of reflective educational practice - is time. All the great spiritual thinkers and writers stress the importance of time being set aside to be alone, to be quiet, to think, pray, just be. Whatever the quality of this time - whether it is pleasurable and easy or painful and difficult - whatever the experience, growth will take place. It is out of the silence and solitude that lasting change, growth, development will emerge - not out of business and bustle.

 In the world of education, of course, we have a most inauspicious context in which to find this time - time alone, time with others, time just to be - but our learning both from educational theory and from the great mystics is that without it there can be no real learning - no growth of knowledge and wisdom. The change literature is ‘like an elephant’s graveyard littered with the remains of experiments that  finally failed’ (Bell 1987). It seems easy to achieve cosmetic change but remarkably difficult to produce change that lasts.

 One of the purposes of reflective practice in the context of spirited leadership is to enable everyone to get in touch with their own wisdom, rather than relying solely on the theories of others. As Elliott suggests, ‘To bow to a theory is to deny the validity of one’s own experience-based professional craft knowledge’ (1991). Fullan also talks of ‘immersing’ teachers in their own practice so that they might create their ‘own theories of change’ (1995). Theories of change (school improvement) and theories of teaching (leadership) aquire validity and vitality only when they are rooted in reflective practice and in the experiences of the practising community. And so we turn to a closer scrutiny of the notion of community.

 3. Community

The journey metaphor as applied to leadership by the spirit is not about individual journeys but rather about communities of people moving together. All the current writers in the educational leadership literature stress the importance of  this collegiality - the need for staff to work together towards common aims, to be a community of learners, to be on the same exploratory journey  (see, for example, Barth 1996,  Hargreaves and Hopkins 1991, Day et al 1991).

 Collegiality was a notion unacknowledged during the last decade – perhaps too soft and fuzzy for schools at a time when targets are de rigueur (Barth 1996). But we will need to begin to embrace new concepts if we are to be truly transformative – not shy away from the less tangible, the less easily defined. Perhaps collegiality has been seen as merely icing on the cake – good if you can get it but somehow unrelated to the real business of attainment targets. In contrast, what Barth and others are suggesting is that it is not an optional bolt-on but a necessary concomitant of raising standards. It is by and through working together in a spirit of fraternity and collegiality that schools will improve.

 Barth (1996) warns against apparent collaboration and likens school life to children playing in the sandpit - so often apparently playing together but, in fact, each one doing their own thing and often fighting over who’s got the bucket or the spade, or competing over who has built the best castle and, even more commonly, ending in tears with the throwing of sand in one another’s faces! A better model, he suggests, are honeybees working co-operatively together with a common purpose, mutually interdependent, with clearly defined roles and together producing a wonderfully rich product.

 The way of spiritual  development is also by way of community. Although there must be time for drawing apart, reflective learning is done with others (round the campfire), discernment of the way is by a group (e.g. a ‘Church’) and the overall movement on the journey is by the total community, not a select few. The Old Testament is essentially the story of a community (the people of God, Israel) ‘on the move’. It contains tales of strife and disheartenment, of conflict and competition, of visions and dreams, hopes and fears, poetry and love. All the features of modern organisations on the move - with, maybe, some of the answers. And so it is to these notions we now turn.

 4.  Vision

 Where there is no vision, the people perish. (Proverbs 29: 18)

 Every modern writer on leadership affirms those ancient words from Proverbs on the importance of vision (see Bennis and Nanus 1985, Jenkins 1991, Fullan 1992, Handy 1989, Kouzes and Posner 1987). Leaders need to: (i)  develop a vision - a hope that is somehow different from and better than the present; (ii) articulate and communicate that vision in such a way  that it may inspire others and so become a shared vision; (iii) live the vision; and (iv) plan within the vision.

 Leaders’ visions or intentions are compelling and pull people towards them. Intensity coupled with commitment is magnetic. Leaders do not have to coerce people to pay attention, they are so intent on what they are doing, they draw others in. Vision grabs. (Bennis and Nanus 1985)

 Whatever the vision for a school, it must be a shared vision - a community event - not a ‘vision that blinds’ (Fullan1992) . It is too easy to have the charismatic Head who envisages great things for the school but is unable to bring the staff along with them.

To return to our journey metaphor, this is the leader who strides ahead, too fast and, at the end of the day, looks round to find no one with them: no one with whom to have the campfire, no one with whom to reflect and learn, no one with whom to refine and clarify the vision. The enormous expectations of a Head, particularly when first appointed, can often lead to this well-meant but erroneous path and pace, but all the research suggests that it is much better to spend time building a common set of ideals and purposes for the school than to rush to bring the individual Head’s plans to fruition.

 Leaders need to communicate their vision, and need to find new ways of doing so. Visions are, by definition, pictorial and yet we invariably communicate them in ‘mission’ statements - words, usually five or six sentences, which, despite numerous staff training days, come out looking and sounding very much like the next organisation’s. The distinctiveness of a particular community’s values - what it stands for, its richness, what it would go to the stake for - are lost. Why not instead use the language of the spirit, where symbolism, icons, poetry and music are used to express what words cannot easily do?

 In one school I know, their ‘vision’ statement permeates the entire setting and is totally iconic. In the foyer, there are a number of objects representing the school’s values - a carving given to them by North American Indians representing the school’s inclusiveness and multi-faith position; an ancient (and huge) Bible with its own fascinating history described underneath representing the tradition and history of the school. In the classrooms, there are scorpions and snakes, not the common hamsters and other cuddly animals - again representing the school’s inclusive ethos: accepting and valuing those normally avoided or outcast. There is a ‘time out’ room, comfortable and welcoming - not to be sent to when naughty but to be sought out by pupils and staff when time is needed for reflection and recovery. The daily assembly is a time for quiet. All members of the school community are present. Few words are used but music, candles and incense provide opportunity for nurturing of the spirit.

In schools we so often lack imagination. Bogged down by the prosaic and pragmatic, we dare not rise to the creative,  the other-worldly. We are exhorted in legislation to promote the spiritual development of our pupils and, although still uncharted territory, understand it to be about providing opportunities for children to become aware that there might be ‘more to life than meets the eye’, to experience awe and wonder, beauty, mystery. This is precisely what leadership by the spirit is - at times to provide these opportunities not just for the pupils but for the whole school community.

Mary Grey, in an article exploring spirituality across the curriculum, concludes that if we are to promote such spirituality, then ‘educators first need to become mystics, to recover their own potential for contemplation, wonder, stillness, relationship with the natural world and a thirst for learning which transcends narrow curriculum limits’ (Grey 1994). A central task for leaders of the spirit is to get in touch with their own contemplative core in order to offer something of that to those whom they lead.

 Visions are about one’s beliefs and hopes for the future - they are necessarily value-laden, which brings me to our fifth key element of leading by the spirit.

 5.  Values

The research literature has increasingly acknowledged the essentially moral or ethical nature of leadership. Indeed, Dokecki (1983), developing the ideas of Hobbs (1966), argues that it is through the very process of exploring values that a community is formed.

 However, what we have in education is a community hitherto very reluctant to clarify values and meanings.

 The prevailing ethos within the management literature of recent decades would have us believe that managing people is essentially a skill that can be ‘done to’ others in an ethically free zone. We can lead and yet keep our hands clean. Such a sterile view was essentially an application to organisations of behavioural psychology; it was social engineering - manipulate conditions, give appropriate sanctions and rewards, and individuals will respond. Perhaps there was also a view - a hope - that one could and should be amoral in order to be a professional. I wonder whether confusion over what it is to be professional and fear of ‘indoctrination’ is one of the reasons why schools have tried to remain value-free. Of course, this is an impossibility.

 In the UK, it was perhaps the advent of the Educational Reform Act 1988 (ERA) that began to confront us with the ethical ‘underbelly’ of  our schools. The ERA thrust UK schools into an educational market place, with choice, image and quality as key themes. Budgets were devolved to schools - choices had to be made about how these budgets were to be spent. Choices meant dilemmas - choosing between competing priorities. Priorities are defined by different values, beliefs, ideologies - about the purpose of schools, education, life itself.

 Leadership, then, - and community - cannot avoid being concerned with the ‘big questions’. Riseborough suggests that ‘Heads are the “critical reality definer” in a school. They and their perceptions, attitudes, beliefs, values and behaviour are absolutely critical in the promotion or inhibition of change’ (1981). Duigan describes the leader as ‘primarily a philosopher whose first obligation is to seek answers about the self’ (quoted in Riches and Morgan 1989).

 Spirited leaders are called to be philosophers, in touch with their own value base,  and then setting a climate in which common understandings can be articulated. Leading a school is about creating opportunities for the sharing of meanings - about education, about purposes, about teaching and learning, about children. This is what we need to talk about at the ‘campfire’.

 Michael Fullan, in his writings of the last decade, has moved well away from simply stating the conditions that are needed to bring about school improvement. In his book Change Forces (Fullan 1993) he explores the relationship between change and ethics and concludes that: ‘Moral purpose and change agentry should be married. We need to make them explicit and make them part and parcel of personal and collective agendas’ (ibid). In other words, change is essentially a moral issue - towards what are we changing, for what purpose, to what ends and by what means? Whose agenda are we following? Who is calling the tune and paying the piper? Schools need to reflect on and clarify their values and priorities, identifying those that are core - those ‘they would go to the stake for’ (Fullan 1988). These values then provide the touchstone, the moral benchmark, against which future action can be decided.

 Personal morality has often been seen as separable from public morality in education. The concept of ‘professional’ has, perhaps, allowed that split - but recent thinking emphasises that it is the total integration of ourselves as individuals, including our moral/ethical stance, that makes us truly professional. It is only in embracing the essentially ethical nature of education, of leadership and of ourselves, that we can truly lead with integrity - anything less is just sophisticated social engineering. That is not to say we must always get it right - ‘be good’ - but simply to acknowledge the intrinsically ethical nature of our activity as educators and leaders. By this definition, it is leadership that does not locate itself within the moral matrix which is unethical.  Such an integration of the personal and collective brings me to the next feature of leading by the spirit.

 6.  Integrity

Covey includes integrity as an essential part of principled leadership. He describes it as ‘honestly matching words and feelings with thought and actions, with no desire other than for the good of others, without malice or desire to deceive, take advantage, manipulate or control; constantly reviewing your intent as you strive for congruence’ (1992: 107). Later he asks, ‘If a person lacks integrity, how is he going to build an emotional bank account? How is he going to be trustworthy?. . . How will he create a culture where there is genuine trust?’ (ibid.:171).

 Fullan concludes that ‘The starting point for what’s worth fighting for (in schools) is not system change, not change in others around us, but change in ourselves’. (1988).

How easy it is to look for change in others, to blame others in the system - our staff, parents, administrators, governments,  and most of all, too often, the pupils  - for all our woes. How much harder to acknowledge our part in the situation and to take action in the only place we can be sure of ever bringing about change, our own hearts.

 If leaders are explorers, then they are also learners within and with the communities they lead and as such cannot ‘teach’ or ‘lead’ or cause anyone to do anything - they can only create the conditions in which others may learn and grow.  How will it be possible to influence others in any way without violating their integrity and autonomy? The way of the spirit is about free will - freedom to journey, or not - freedom to develop wisdom and understanding, or not - freedom to be, or not. Spiritual companionship means walking with another, providing the conditions that will enable another to take the next steps, creating a climate in which the other may grow, but leaving the actual walking to the other. What the ‘conditions’ might be takes us to our next feature of leadership by the spirit.

 7. Relationship

Spirited leadership acknowledges the fundamental interpersonal context in which any leadership must occur. Leading is about relationships. It is also concerned with and affects the entire well-being of the organisation or community, including ability to improve and change, capacity to reach targets, to be effective.

 David Reynolds in 1992 carried out a comprehensive review of the literature on school improvement across the UK, the USA, Canada and Europe. As a writer hitherto committed to the more measurable indicators of school success – examination results, attendance figures and the like – he concludes his review with the following, rather unexpected, statement:

 All we can say with confidence at the present time is that change in the nature of the products of secondary schooling is unlikely to be attained simply by  modifying the formal organisation, the resource levels, the teaching methods and the curriculum content that much past reform has focused on, since it seems that these factors are not the important determinants of outputs from schools in Britain and America. It is much more likely that the key to successful modification of school practice is to be found in the ‘phenomenological’ world of schooling – in the perceptions that teachers in different schools have of their pupils, in the interpersonal relations and mutual perceptions of teachers, and in the mutual interpersonal perceptions that govern pupil and teacher relations. (Reynolds and Parker 1992)

 We should not be surprised that relationships are at the heart of leading by the spirit. The spiritual path is one undertaken in  and through relationship - founded on an individual’s relationship with a God or Higher Being but developed and lived out in relationship with others. Even the Ignation way, although at first sight an individual journey, becomes one that can only be made sense of in and through relationship with others. To be human one has to be in relationship, acknowledging one’s connectedness with others and the rest of creation.

 Human relationships are at the heart of the world religions. The Old Testament is essentially the Bible’s soap operas, while the New Testament explores one way of conducting relationships more functionally. The Qur’an, the Bible,  Buddhist writings – all are concerned with the basic dilemma of humankind: how to live fully true to oneself – the integrity referred to earlier - and yet also live in community with others as a socially responsible being.

 If this is the project facing every individual, can it simply be left to religion and the religious to wrestle with it?  I would suggest it is the task of any leader who even aspires to transform and lead by the spirit. So often we back away from strong emotion, conflict, anger, jealousy in our lives – and particularly in our work life - terrified that by even acknowledging it, let alone showing it, we may be thought ‘unprofessional’, arguably one of the most dreaded of accusations. However, much more fruitful than such denial is to confront reality in all its richness – pain and pleasure – good and bad. So what sort of relationships are we talking about? What would they look like in a spirit-led school?

 8.  Love

When talking of confronting reality perhaps one of the hardest emotions/words to deal with is love. No other word has the power to conjure up fear, evoke different meanings, bring into dispute, generate strong passion. That we find it at all in the organisational literature is a surprise (see, for example, Harrison 1987).

 We need not look far, of course, in spiritual or theological writings to find a great deal about love. The entire Christian gospel is the story of love and examples of what it may look like in a variety of rather humdrum situations. What is fascinating is to trace the parallels between notions of love in theology and those in the secular world of educational psychology.

 Carl Rogers maintained that respect, genuineness and empathy were the three interpersonal qualities necessary in a relationship such that each could grow and learn (Rogers 1957). Respect and genuineness are what others might call  ‘unconditional love’: acceptance of another without ‘pulling rank’, condemning or putting down. Not hiding behind a mask of authority or power but affording the other value, time and attention for their concerns.  Showing and sharing emotions appropriately.

Empathy is, in some ways, harder to define and often misunderstood. Too often it is taken to mean ‘O yes, I’ve done that too – that happened to me – I know how you feel’. Well meaning but inaccurate. True empathy continues the theme of respect and genuineness – it is keeping with the person, walking and feeling with them. As the North American Indians put it, it is ‘to walk in another’s moccasins.’ It entails withholding one’s own agenda in order to be totally with the other person.

 The way we communicate to the other person our genuineness, empathy and respect is by ‘active listening’. Here is another task for the leader who wishes to lead by the spirit - listening unconditionally, without side, personal agenda or the use of power; being alongside and really listening to the person’s ‘deep’ side - their values, beliefs, hopes and fears.

 From the ‘Quality’ literature, we read that ‘nourishment’ is also central in creating quality schools. Deming (1993) considers the role of the teacher is to nourish the pupil while that of the Head is to nourish the staff by promoting self-esteem, dignity, security, collaboration and motivation. Who nourishes the Head is left unaddressed but, as I shall argue in conclusion, one of the key tasks of the leader by the spirit is to look after themselves.

 We can see parallels again in the world of  theology. John Finney (1989) outlines some of the different roles leaders in the church are called upon to exercise. They look uncannily like those of the modern headteacher together with some of the same tensions and dilemmas that different roles and demands can create. Finney defines four such roles, choosing to place them on a continuum from individual concerns to more corporate responsibilities:


 Care of the individual…………………………………………..Care for the organisation

 Finney argues that there is a need to have a range of ways of relating and different styles of leadership, depending on the situation. There are times to serve, to look after, to seek the lost, to chide, to be a good steward of resources and to be accountable to a wider audience: to actually deliver that which is promised and to represent the group to the broader context. All these roles are instantly recognisable to a leader in education.

 9.  Risk

Finally, to return to where we started, leadership by the spirit is about risk. The leader lives on the edge - challenging the status quo, questioning assumptions. It is an uncomfortable place to be and it always has been. Today, it may be unwise to be so outspoken that you ‘lose your head’ as did one of the great outspeakers of the past - John the Baptist - for then one loses the forum in which to speak out.

 The greatest challenge for the contemporary leader is how to remain true to herself and her own values, beliefs and integrity while still retaining some sort of hold - however precarious - on the position in which she finds herself. It involves travelling the way of unknowing, risking all, not knowing whether or where one will arrive. This famous but anonymous poem says it all:

             To laugh is to risk appearing the fool.

            To weep is to risk appearing sentimental.

To reach out is to risk involvement.

            To expose feelings is to risk exposing your true self.

            To place your ideas and dreams before the crowd is to risk their love.

            To love is to risk being loved in return.

            To live is to risk dying.

            To hope is to risk despair.

 To try is to risk failure.

            But the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing.

            The one who risks nothing, does nothing and has nothing – and

            Finally is nothing.

            He may avoid sufferings and sorrow.

            But he simply cannot learn, feel, change, grow or love.

            Chained by his certitude, he is a slave; he has forfeited freedom.

            Only one who risks is free!

(Author unknown)


So the leader  by the spirit is a risk-taker - she is walking alongside others,  listening  and nurturing, encouraging, holding the vision, protecting the values of the community. She is the lead learner, reflective, wise - a philosopher, a person of integrity. Quite a calling. How is she to succeed? Who is to feed and nurture the leader? Who is to listen to her? To walk with her?

 Clearly the leader must be supported too if this vision of leadership is to be attained. Opportunities for rest, reflection and re-creation are paramount, as well as regular time for ‘campfires’ and conversations with other leaders at professional events and training days. But ideally the school community itself provides the necessary support. Leadership is not the sole responsibility of the headteacher. Indeed, as we have argued, ‘leadership’ is the child of the community, it is created by the nexus of relationships in that community and, as such, its nurture and development becomes a responsibility of that community.

 If the school is functioning like a beehive rather than a sandpit, it will recognise its interdependency - the mutuality between and mutual co-definition of leader and led. All members of the community at certain times and in particular contexts are leaders and, as such, both need and can give the support necessary to sustain the model of  leadership argued in this paper. Each can give affirmation, encouragement, praise. Each can hold the vision. Each can help others to reflect, learn and develop their own wisdom. Each can serve the other. Thus it is for the community as a whole to find time for the activities outlined here. This, then, becomes  the organisation’s central task - to develop a process of mutual leadership designed around the key features of leadership by the spirit.

 Much time in schools is spent designing activities to raise standards - setting targets, analysing data, producing development plans. I have tried to argue here that this, alone, is not sufficient. Schools also need to devise a process which underpins standard-raising activities - a process shaped around the nine waymarkers of the spirit.

 An impossible task? In an inauspicious climate? Probably, but let us end, as we began, with words of encouragement. For in the end, all we can do is try - the rest is not our business.

             And so each venture

            Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate

            With shabby equipment always deteriorating

            In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,

            Undisciplined squads of emotion.  And what there is to conquer

            By strength and submission, has already been discovered

            Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope

            To emulate – but there is no competition –

            There is only the fight to recover what has been lost

            And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions

            That seem unpropitious.  But perhaps neither gain nor loss.

            For us, there is only the trying.  The rest is not our business.

                                                                                    (T.S.Eliot: Four Quartets :East Coker)                                                                        



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