In “Why We Should Seek Substitutes for Leadership (1992), Thomas Sergiovanni argues that schools focus too heavily on “direct leadership” and should focus more on “substitutes for leadership,” i.e. characteristics and practices of a school’s culture that promote and sustain “self- management.” These substitutes allow school leaders to focus on “issues of substance” as opposed to command and control management tasks. A leader’s capacity to accept substitutes for leadership depends on their “leadership mindscape” revealed by answering two questions:
Should schools be understood as formal organizations or as communities? What is most important when it comes to motivating and inspiring commitment and performance?
Sergiovanni accepts that conceiving of schools as organizations and as communities both ring true depending on context, but whichever proves dominant in practice “makes a world of difference.” Schools may be said to have organizational components, but for Sergiovanni they are fundamentally communities:
Organizations use rules and regulations, monitoring and supervising, and evaluation systems to maintain control over teachers. Leadership in organizations, then, is inevitably control driven. . . Communities are not defined by instrumental purposes, rationally conceived work systems, evaluation schemes designed to monitor compliance, or skillfully contrived positive interpersonal climates. Communities are defined by their centers . . . repositories of values, sentiments, and beliefs that provide the needed cement for uniting people in a common cause.
These communities and their norms prove the source of substitutes for leadership. In organizations people must be managed but in communities people manage themselves in a culture of shared and indirect leadership. “Centers of shared values” are created as schools cease being organizations and become communities. This process results in employees acting according to the logic of intrinsic motivation rather than extrinsic compliance.
These community cultures are tested when the leader of the school leaves. Do the “norms and core values of the community center . . . continue” or do they fall apart and disappear upon the leader’s departure? Sergiovanni argues that a community’s center endures only when professionalism is emphasized so less leadership is needed. But, Sergiovanni warns, professionalism is not equal to mere competence, but is competence plus virtue. Organizations can rely upon competence alone, but communities demand virtue in all its four dimensions:
a commitment to practice in an exemplary way; a commitment to practice toward valued social ends; a commitment not only to one’s own practice but to the practice itself; a commitment to the ethic of caring.
These, with the community metaphor, provide the greatest source of substitutes for leadership. But one additional component remains: collegiality. Collegiality, more than teachers working together or getting along, is a professional virtue that fulfills “obligations toward the teaching profession and toward the school as community” and manifests itself as a “professional attitude or orientation.” Collegiality serves as a substitute for leadership because it promotes a communal understanding of self-governance – I manage myself and we manage ourselves.
Lastly, Sergiovanni deals with his second mindscape question about drive. He argues that extrinsic, carrot and stick, motivation strategies produce teachers dependent upon rewards and keeps schools at the level of organizations. This strategy also relies upon a reductionist anthropology that ties human behavior exclusively to self-interest. This both contradicts the research (Csikszentmihaly 1990) and prevents organizations from becoming communities by creating a culture and context inhospitable to substitutes for leadership. So it is that Sergiovanni provides a formula for these substitutes: conceive of schools as communities rather than organizations, foster centers of shared values and norms, encourage the virtue of professionalism, promote a collegial culture, and rely upon intrinsic motivation.
Sergiovanni, T. J. (1992). Why we should seek substitutes for leadership. Educational Leadership, 49(5), 41.