chapter  14
14 Pages

Emotional engagement with leadership


This chapter is about an imagined possibility and the probability of its realisation. The imagined possibility is leadership, imagined in the sense that one of the potential rehearsed selves that career mobile individuals may construct when pondering their futures is ‘school leader’. Realisation concerns the likely eventuality that not only will a prototype of school leader form part of their mental furniture, but that such prototypes will be utilised and finetuned when individuals begin grooming themselves for leadership (Gronn and Lacey 2004). Probability refers to the calculus of combined risk factors and emotions that increases or diminishes the likelihood of the possibility becoming real. This calculus is the main focus of the discussion, for the role of risk perception, assessment and management, and the emotional bases of risk-related decision-making are all curiously neglected aspects of the development of organisational leaders generally and school leaders in particular. As part of this neglect, the question of what it means for individuals to engage with leadership is rarely if ever asked. Perhaps this might be understandable and acceptable when the climate of risk associated with leading schools is relatively benign. If, however, a fundamental shift takes place in the overall balance of the distribution of risk associated with leadership, as has been occurring with devolved schooling reform, then these issues begin to assume some urgency. As a result of what I have recently termed the ‘war on schools’ (Gronn 2008) – the intermittent although persistent collusion between governments and media in exposing instances of leadership (especially of head teachers) they deem to be unacceptable, ostensibly to appease parents and their children – levels of potential exposure to risk and emotional fall-out for leaders have increased. Evidence of decreasing attractiveness of school leader roles and head teacher supply problems in some systems which have devolved autonomy to schools, while they have simultaneously imposed a regime of accountability, suggests that these two developments may be connected.