Leadership Lessons For New International Schools Headmasters





Introduction: The Life of a Prince-or a Head

Machiavelliís The Prince (1513) is considered something of a classic in giving advice to new leaders and, thus, might serve as an interesting point of departure for advising the new head of an international school. In this classic work, after listing a number of laudable virtues, Machiavelli found it "not essential, then, that a Prince should have all the good qualities which I have enumerated above, but it is most essential that he should seem to have them." Machiavelli believed, then, that efficiency and effectiveness are important, and moral ideas a luxury.

Machiavelliís own experiences inspired a certain cynicism. He served as a court functionary in an era of Italian civil wars. Heíd observed the French, under one of the many king Charleses, enter and loot the Italian states. Heíd watched regimes come and go, due to simply not paying their mercenaries. Heíd watched anarchy, revolt, and worse, and, looking out at this ravaged Italy, Machiavelli saw little to make him an optimist. Only in a unified, united Italy could he envision justice arising, and, if it took an immoral ruler to achieve this, Machiavelli had no problem with acting as his consultant. Thus, he found his model for leadership in a brutal local ruler, Caesar Borgia, who, through blood and an unholy alliance with the Papacy, almost unified Italy.

A cursory viewing of the conditions of many of the international schools as portrayed in the case studies reveals a remarkable resemblance to Machiavelliís post-Renaissance Italy. Some, such as Malroyís school, seem ripe for revolt. Others, such as ISL, seem incapable of providing justice to their subjects. At GIS, character assassination and palace revolt seem the order of the day. All, in short, seem to cry out for a "Prince," a leader, to bring them into a state of order and harmony. This creates a number of related questions:

1. What is leadership in the context of the situation of the new headmaster?

2. What must sorts of things must a new headmaster do?

3. Must the new head proceed in the kind of amoral style of leadership, that has become synonymous with the term "Machiavellian," in order to be effective?

For an answer to the first question, itís necessary to define leadership and to look at the typical kind of situation facing the new international school headmaster or "head."

What Is Leadership, and What Leadership is Needed in an International School?

Leadership in the context of a troubled international school has certain distinguishing characteristics. In order to examine this, itís necessary, first, to define the meaning of the term "leadership" as it will be used here. I will rely on a set of qualities listed by David A. Nadler and Michael Tushman (1990) and presented graphically by a class member as two triangles below:


As this structure shows, "management" differs from "leadership." This suggests that one person might serve as a leader while another functions as a manager, and a manager might be needed in some situations instead of a leader (Hersey and Blanchard, 1990) . In the case studies, the schools presented clearly need leadership, more than management, from the headmaster: the school structures largely donít exist or donít work; the power to reward is limited; and the means of control uncertain. These schools need energizers, visionaries, and enablers, leaders, to make them work.

A related question is the kind of leadership required. Several different articles categorize leadership between two basic poles whether defined as masculine versus feminine (Rosener 1990), task versus people, or autocratic versus consultative or group (Vroom 1990). A common feature of all of these models is that they differentiate their poles according to the point of most decision-making. At the more autocratic pole, the leader makes most of the important decisions while the further one travels from this pole the more decision-making is shared or delegated. To show this graphically:

autocratic a given leader democratic


All of the situations outlined in the case studies mentioned show the necessity of leadership towards the autocratic pole. The situational leadership theories (Blanchard and Hersey, 1990) suggest that in "High Risk-High Institutions" such as international schools (Broman, into), a highly autocratic style is needed of headmasters. To borrow Blanchard and Herseyís terminology, the case study schools present, at best, as at Bandoon, a "country club," and at worst an "impoverished environment." They all need to improve in their performance spectrum, with human issues a secondary, though sometimes important, area of concern.

Yet, there are aspects of the schools that clearly argue against an autocrat. All of the schools feature boards who act as advisors and/or bosses for the heads. At ASL, Frankís very survival depends upon a single meeting with the Board. At ISL, Malroy faces a similar upcoming confrontation with his board. At another level, the head also faces controversy if he/she doesnít hold the support of the teachers, who directly provide the education, and the parents, who provide support of another type. Then, no matter how desperate the problems, or autocratic their inclinations, the headmasters must incorporate some more democratic aspects into their leadership.

Having established this idea that the new head must be a leader, with a commitment to improving the task orientation, a generally autocratic style with at least a nod towards a more participatory leadership, the following principles of wisdom follow from the case studies:

Point 1: The Wisdom of Getting Wisdom

The new head likely enters his domain without all of the details immediately at his fingertips. This creates a natural tendency to act on the basis of conjecture. This tendency can lead to problems.

Malroy, at the School of L, meets with Rostkopf. Rostkopf presents himself as the leader/champion of the faculty. He announces this without presenting any evidence to support this presumptuous statement. Malroy, accepting this at face value, places this supposed association on the agenda for the coming Board meeting, tacitly accepting Rostkopfís claims.

Malroy ignores, again, this same principle in his dealings with George Allen, the head of the Board. Allen presents himself as representing the whole board, its delegee, when no objective evidence supports this.

Another example involves that of the International School of Bandoon, in which Liz Barnes presents all of the students as achieving solely on the basis of the Iowa Basic scores. Objective observation by Taglia, the new head, subsequently reveals this to be incorrect.

The new head, then, must take the time to get the details before any important decisions are made.


Point 2: The Wisdom of Inaction

A second principle is that headmasters need not immediately solve a problem. Entering a new situation and seeing a problem, the head feels tempted to solve it, often to his/her future dismay.

In the first case study, both Rostkopf and Allen present their issues as needing immediate resolution. Rostkopf wants the Union on the agenda that very night. Yet certainly Malroy doesnít need to make a decision on such a major issue that quickly.

In the second case study, Taglia finds a terrible teaching situation. If he acts immediately, and tells the teachers what he finds, he stands to get himself fired by rousing the ire of a close community. Despite the heroic appeal of this stance, should he do this, his termination will, in the end, lead to no improvement because the new head, after Taglia, will simply learn to say nothing about the teaching situation.

In the case of the Gulf International School, Wiley, though not a head, needs the same wisdom. The Board offers him a new job, but he doesnít know, for certain, that such a job is open to offer because Dr. Burnside still, technically, holds that position and, professionally, his loyalty.

Sometimes, clearly, the headmaster needs to simply wait out a situation and not act immediately. This guards against the possibility of acting too hastily while not ruling out later action.


Point 3: The Wisdom of Reviving/Shaping an Organizational Mission

A new head may well face a school that differs substantially from his previous situation. If he has no concept of what George Bush calls, "the vision thing," he will not be able to identify where the school should be going. This is where having an explicit, living, statement of the schoolís mission, philosophy, objectives, and curriculum come into play.

In the case of listless Bandoon, Victor enters a situation in which the school seems to have no direction. As a result, teachers teach what they wish and classroom teaching has neither no purpose. Each teacher has only an agenda with the classroom in which to pursue it.

Similarly, Wes Greene faces a situation at Wawa in which teachers choose their own curriculum. As a result, there is controversy about what should be taught, when it should be taught, and what should not be taught. In such confusion, important teaching does not occur because of curricular overlap and omission.

At a more fundamental level, Frank, at ASL must, with the Board members, resurrect the existing mission statement and philosophy in the minds of the community. In expelling the students who are caught smoking hashish, he must act on a rule derived from the mission of the school and its philosophical belief that students should be safe from drugs. Only by reminding his Board of this, does he have any chance of saving his job or keeping his school drug-free.

Point 4: The Wisdom of Assembling/Shoring Up the Management Team

In a new school, the head will likely face new, challenging issues. In resolving important issues, itís extremely helpful to have a forum for pooling and testing ideas confidentially. Having your principal(s) enlisted into a common vision, also, makes for a common front to deal with difficult combinations. Several examples show the importance of having this united team.

The situation at GIS perhaps shows this perhaps most clearly. While Dr. Burnside, in general, supports Gaynor, his subordinate, Gaynor makes accusations against him to the Board and the faculty. Wiley, Burnsideís other principal, attends a meeting at which heís offered Burnsideís job. At no point do they ever seem to consult despite the fact that Gaynor intends some dramatic changes in the school program. During all of this infighting, little time is spent on the important program issues raised by Gaynor at the high school.

Malroy, at IS, also lacks a leadership team relationship with his principals, Tietlebaum and Warner. Tietlebaum usurps control over a faculty meeting and Warner makes a cutting remark. These action undermine him in the eyes of his own faculty.

Clearly, at the International School of Bandoon, Taglia will need to enlist the support of Ms. Kozban, the elementary principal. While Taglia possesses the vision, Kozban is at the heart of the school. With her support, overhauling the school program will be much simpler.

A united team couldíve, in each case, presented a set of options for dealing with difficult situations. In each case, failure to build that team left the crown weighing heavily on the headmaster.

Point 5: The Wisdom of Enlisting the Faculty in Your Cause

The faculty can make or break any ideas for curricular or policy change simply by refusing to implement them in the classroom. The headmaster cannot possibly observe all classes, and even it were possible, this would more likely encourage resentment. Getting teachers to share and work for the headmasterís vision, in contrast, makes change possible.

The International School of Bandoon clearly requires teachers to buy into change. Itís an excellent school, except that it teaches nothing. Yet, there are good things happening in each of the classroom most intently studied by Taglia. In order to improve instruction, Taglia needs to introduce new models and methods of instruction but in such a way that teachers adopt those models as their own.

In the case of ISL, Malroy fails to get teacher enlistment on the issue of report card comments. He points out to the teachers that some of them are making comments that hurt students self-esteem or harm the schoolís reputation. He chooses to do so, however, in a way that insults them as professionals. As a result, he almost challenges them to write comments he views as unacceptable.

Enlisting teacher support would help the headmaster at Levant. The teachers hold a meeting to discuss the entire issue of drugs. This is, at least in part, because Frank neither briefed them about the upcoming suspension nor enlisted sufficient support for the schoolís drug policy.

In each case, with the teacherís support, implementing change would be much simpler.

Point 6: The Wisdom of Information Control

Information control is nothing more pretentious than making sure that people get information when itís best that they should receive it. This does not necessarily mean that all people need all information at all times. Armed with information, theyíre more likely to make the kind of rational decisions necessary for the good, smooth running of the school.

Malroy clearly doesnít understand the idea of information control. He doesnít tell George Allen about important events happening at the school despite Allenís insistence that he, "doesnít want to be surprised." As a result, he puts himself in the position of surprising Allen at an important board meeting.

Nor does Frank understand information management at ISL. Despite the upcoming expulsion of six students, he doesnít inform the Ambassador, whose wife takes serious exception to the expulsions. Nor does he inform the Board chairman, who finds himself in the very uncomfortable position, again, of being "surprised" and confronted by an important issue.

Had these headmasterís controlled information better, neither might have faced a showdown with their Boards. Instead, they mightíve at least enlisted understanding, if not support, for some decisions bound to be controversial.

Points 7-12: The Wisdom of Adopting a Model for Self-Sustaining School Improvement

A headmaster entering a school in need of change must have a model for how that change will occur. For that reason, I offer the following:


In this model, everything works towards school improvement. The mission statements describes what the school does. The philosophy tells the beliefs of the school that support that mission statement. The objective criterion describe things that students in the school be able to do in order to show that exemplify the mission, such as "Students will be able to express themselves in writing." The program exists to enable students to meet this criterion and the curriculum to fulfill the program. Faculty, facilities, and administration exist to make the curriculum possible. The system creates the output, learning, and provides continuous feedback.

The headmaster comes in to this one important way. In most of the cases presented, such a process does not exist. In Bandoon, they have no interest or even conception of school improvement. At GIS all energy seems devoted to infighting. Wawa lacks even a written curriculum-or a belief in one. The head, then, can implement this process, putting the mechanisms in place so that itís, ultimately; self-sustaining.

Once the process becomes self-sustaining, however, the system ultimately eliminates the need for the head to be a leader in the sense described above. As indicated by the dotted line, the system can be maintained, if not initiated, by a manager. Certainly, some school heads will be content to assume this managerial role, but others will leave, confident that someone with different skills can assume the headmastership. The competent headmaster, then, starts a process that makes for a managerial environment. This leads us, strangely enough, back to Machiavelli, and the question of ethics.

The Machiavellian Question: Can the Headmaster "Stand" for Anything?

Machiavelliís prince need only "seem" to be good, but the headmaster needs to actually be good. While a bad person could certainly follow the twelve points listed above, such a person would not be successful without a clear idea of what he/she stands for.

Several cases underline the truth of this. In the case of Malroy, he doesnít have a clear idea of what the school stands for nor does the school. Yet he must find out what he stands for because he cannot permanently side both with the extreme Americanism of a George Allen and the multi-culturalism of a Mrs. Alyuddin. At some point, he must take a stand so that the school can take its stand as well.

Frank faces a similar situation at Levant. The entire Board seems hostile to his decision about suspending the drug offenders. Further, parents have opposed him. If he doesnít understand and, in this case, expound his beliefs about fairness and the importance of protecting children from drugs convincingly, the Board will fire him.

The issue is just as important Wawa and Bandoon, which both need a curriculum. Ultimately, that curriculum must have its derivation from some ideas about what is good and bad for children and the community. While some might argue that these values are universal (Kidder, 1990), the important point for these schools is that they must be present in the mind of the leader as well.

Wileyís case provides further evidence. It represents an ethical dilemma: Is it right for him to take a job over the professional body of his superior? Reasonable arguments might be assembled for either position, but ultimately the important point here is that Wiley himself must have a position.

The "thirteenth" point to offer new headmasters in an international school then is:

Point 13: The Wisdom of Developing a Strong Set of Personal Values

While it would be pretentious to tell another person what to believe, the case studies seem to show that the leaders share a common belief in, at least, the following:

1. fairness

2. honesty

3. professional courtesy

4. personal standards of behavior

5. a commitment to improving the lives of children and society

The set of values forms the new headmasterís refuge and, in terms of a crisis, point of mental departure and, finally, our departure from Machiavelliís pessimism. Though times may seem very difficult to a new headmaster, itís not only prudent to possess a set of virtues, itís absolutely necessary. The best "Prince" is one who also strives, not only to be good at his job, but also good.

Blanchard, Kenneth and Paul Hersey. "Situational Leadership." in The Leaderís Companion, J. Thomas Wren, ed. (New York: The Free Press, 1990), pp. 207-211.

Broman, Forrest, ed. Case Study Curriculum in International School Leadership. ISTI. Cummaquid, MA, 1996.

Kidder, Rushworth. "Universal Human Values: Finding an Ethical Common Ground" in Wren, pp. 500-508.

Machiavelli, Niccollo. The Prince in Wren, pp. 65-67.

Nadler, David A. and Michael L. Tushman (1990) "Beyond the Charismatic Leader: Leadership and Organizational Change," in The Leaderís Companion, J. Thomas Wren, ed. (New York: The Free Press, 1990).

Rosener, Judy. B. "Ways Women Lead." in The Leaderís Companion, pp. 149-160.

Vroom, Victor H. "Decision-Making and the Leadership Process" in The Leaderís Companion, pp. 418-