What Do Education Leaders Really Learn from Business Leadership and Management Gurus?

“…Management theory is an immature discipline, unusually open to charlatans, or semi-charlatans, and congenitally prone to fads.” Adrian Wooldridge, Masters of Management

Wooldridge (2011) writes that “management theory is an immature discipline” (p. xviii). This is true also of educational leadership or educational administration as a discipline. It too, is still an “immature discipline” as well, in spite of its existence since the turn of the 20th century, It lays claim to being a positivistic, emancipatory science very often, but at its core, it still struggles with a means to tell the truth about itself and about how to lead schools. It longs for first principles, but they are scarce. 
And, like management theory, it too is “open to charlatans” and fads. Administrators at every level of the educational system often jump on the latest fad that crosses their desk, uncritically and without question. Just look at the educational administration literature that’s coming out. There’s books that tell administrators how to win with “mindsets,” “grit,” “empowerment,” “teacher-leaders,” etc. What’s missing is a true critical examination of these ideas as well. Leadership also requires forcing those selling these wares to go beyond their comments of being “research-based” or “proven-to-work.” After all, the snake-oil salesmen of the 19th century made those claims too. There needs to be much more critique of these fads, educational leadership literature, and even our still immature discipline.
What’s even worse, in their quest for short-term goals, such as increases in test scores, they do not adhere to these faddish ideas long enough to really make a difference. When administrators obsess over short-term measurement, they turn their institutions into institutions powered only to exist in the short-term.
The truth is that often there are administrators whose vision is more about their own careers than about seeing their schools through innovations and changes that can have impacts beyond their own lives. That might explain why most administrators don’t stay in the same place very long. Our education system mirrors the business environment in this sense. Its innovation and creative endeavor is expended on what can raise test scores in the short term. Short term, non-visionary strategies like eliminating the arts, music, and true authentic learning are too often looked upon as valid strategies. These become casualties in the ever insistent search for higher test scores so that administrators can feel like they are having an impact. In truth, every educator who has had an impact on my life changed me in some ways that became evident much, much later in my life. 

Like management, educational leadership is going to remain an “immature discipline” as long as it continues to borrow so heavily from management theory. It is going to remain focused on short-term visions and goals, because the business world is mostly incessantly focused on short term profit and share-holder interests in the now, not making an impact that outlasts us. I submit as well, as long as administrators remain focused, as business CEOs and managers often do—creating their personal path to professional nirvana—there will be no maturity ever in our field of educational administration. True leadership is sometimes realizing our endeavor as educators reap benefits far after we’re gone.

Wooldridge, A. (2011). Masters of Management: How Business Gurus and Their Ideas Have Changed the World–For Better and For Worse. Harper Collins: New York, NY