If we were to try to find a more alluring, seductive (even magnetic) word in the educational language to fire the collective imaginations of educational policy analysts, we would be hard pressed to go beyond the notion of ‘leadership’. In its reified form, the term ‘leadership’ has all the qualities that have instant appeal to those who are looking for a way of remedying what is deemed to be wrong with schools in Western democracies. I can best illustrate the aura attaching to leadership with an example from Tolstoy’s War and Peace:

Napoleon was standing a little in front of his marshalls, on a little grey Arab horse, wearing the same blue overcoat he had worn throughout the Italian campaign. He was looking intently and silently at the hills, which stood up out of the sea of mist, and the Russian troops moving across them in the distance, and he listened to the sounds of firing in the valley. His face-still thin in those days-did not stir a single muscle; his gleaming eyes were fixed intently on one spot…

When the sun had completely emerged from the fog and was glittering with dazzling brilliance over the fields and the mist (as though he had been waiting for that to begin the battle), he took his glove off his handsome white hand, made a signal with it to his marshalls, and gave orders for the battle to begin. (cited in McCall, 1976, p.139)

As McCall (1976) puts it, borrowing from the military in this way conjures up precisely the strong and resourceful image of ‘courage, stamina, power, [and] charisma’ (p.39), that many commentators believe is encapsulated in the term ‘leadership’. Couple this with the malaise that has allegedly descended upon schools-as evidenced in the seemingly endless calls for a return to the basics, demands for an increase in academic standards and an extension of testing-and the recent frenzy over educational leadership becomes all the more understandable. Conventional wisdom has it that if we can get school principals to take heed of the research on ‘school effectiveness’, and act as the visionary custodians they are supposed to be, then schools will emerge from the crisis of competence, educational standards will rise, school discipline problems will dissipate, and schools will once again become the means of effecting social, economic and military recovery.