Leading in Complex Political Environments: What We Are Learning from Superintendents of Education
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This working paper examines some of the key issues and challenges confronting some of the most significant actors in American political affairs—superintendents of education—and explores how they can drive meaningful educational reform through exercising capable leadership to implement bold new actions in the face of overwhelming demands. Over the past two years, my colleagues and I at the Center for Public Leadership, in collaboration with the Harvard Graduate School of Education, have been working with twelve superintendents from large urban districts across the country in attending to these leadership challenges. We have learned a lot from this process about the demands of leadership in complex political environments, particularly as it pertains to educational reform. This paper touches on some of these insights and also raises some important research questions that need further investigation. In 2000 the Wallace–Reader’s Digest Funds asked the Center for Public Leadership to design a program that enhances the capacity of superintendents to exercise leadership in this complex political setting. They felt strongly that a new kind of educational leadership program was called for—one that addressed how to operate effectively in highly uncertain and ambiguous political environments and could truly have a significant impact on school reform as manifest in the learning outcomes of children. After interviewing more than a hundred superintendents, academics, and principals we designed the leadership program. The program would focus on how to facilitate adaptive problem solving; how to make effective interventions into school systems and the community; the design of the strategies needed to muster support and protection from the political system; how to establish a profound sense of purpose and mission that can keep people focused on and committed to what really matters—namely the education of children, and the skills and techniques of being an outstanding agent of change who operates with wisdom, prowess, and fortitude.
Center for Public Leadership
Center for Public Leadership Working Paper Series;04-03
kennedy school, hks, leadership, cpl, politics, education, superintendent
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