Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Failure of Leadership

This post marks a digression from my previous topic thread, which will continue soon.

I read in The Globe and Mail today that the Ontario Provincial Police has been given the task of investigating former RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli over allegations that he tried to impede an investigation into wrongdoing in the administration of the Mounties’ pension fund. The man who will be leading the investigation, OPP Commissioner Julian Fantino, was quoted in the article as saying that he had always known Zaccardelli as an honorable man, continuing, “I can’t really look at a man’s career of 30-some odd years of dedicated, loyal, committed service and forget all of that and just focus on this one piece of his career.”

Reading those comments made me think of many parallels in education, one of them being how often administrators fail in what should be their most important responsibility, providing a positive and ethical environment within which the organization can thrive. In the case of the RCMP, it has been alleged that Mr. Zaccardelli, rather than establishing such a climate for all the men and women who strive to live up to the putative ideals of the RCMP, may very well have instilled fear and exercised retribution against those who tried to bring the wrongdoing to light. Apparently, his autocratic management style made it clear to all employees that to displease him was, as they say, ‘a career-limiting move.”

I have known principals who have run their schools in a similar way. Instead of cultivating independence and fostering an atmosphere of collaboration, they have surrounded themselves with a small coterie of sycophants who do their bidding, while the rest of the staff is left to wallow in a morass of demoralization. And the strange thing is, this management style, which demands unquestioning acceptance rather than informed and spirited discussion, is the one that tends to be rewarded at the board level.

Perhaps this is one of the central ironies of public education; as teachers we are supposed to help students to think freely and critically about issues, while we ourselves are often penalized for doing so.

If I sound bitter, please understand that the abuse of authority and the squandering of opportunities have always incensed me.

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