Leadership for the 21st Century

By Michael Chirichello, Ed.D. International Educational Consultant

School leaders must build a vision that focuses on the whole child and makes social, emotional and academic learning the mission of schools (Darling-Hammond, 2018). The testing culture must give way to a new culture that nurtures not only academic learning but also social and emotional learning (SEL). Our world, a world that creates a culture that thrives on vulnerability, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA), demands leaders who are knowledgeable, leaders who promote vision, understanding, compassion and authenticity, the new VUCA (Elkington, van der Steege, Glick-Smith, & Moss Breen, 2017). The essential trait, the glue that holds the new VUCA together, is relationships. School leaders must support teachers and students to build healthy relationships with one another (Browne, 2018). Therefore, principals must reimagine how they lead, creating networks of relationships that are held together by a culture that values collective leadership (Chirichello, 2001). And transformational leaders, leaders who inspire, who set a vision that supports the whole child, and who focus on individualized support to build relationships between and among the staff, can create a culture in which collective leadership flourishes.

Collective Leadership

Collective leadership is different from shared and participatory leadership (Drake & Roe, 2003). It transcends distributive leadership (Elmore, 2002). Collective leadership is built on a culture that values relationships. As relationships are built, the staff learns from the collective experiences of each other (Drath, 2001). In a school led by a transformational leader, a collective culture emerges as followers become leaders and leaders step out of the way to become followers. Followers feel empowered to lead.

Collective leadership may be likened to a stream that comes to the beginning of a desert terrain. The stream allows itself to be absorbed by the wind as its essence is carried over the desert. When the desert ends, it becomes a stream again on the other side (Bolman & Deal, 1995). Like a stream crossing the desert, collective leaders recognize that they gain power only by giving it up, by sharing it with others to create a culture that promotes the collective efficacy of followers. The result is a school that promotes a vision that includes understanding, compassion and authenticity. This, in turn, develops an open climate.

Open climates, in which school leaders are supportive and teachers are collaborative, will be nurtured in schools if we value collective leadership- a leadership that is based upon self-efficacy through empowerment, one that will hold everyone equally accountable for student success. In schools that embrace collective leadership, teacher and principal collaboration abounds. Professional conversations focus on teaching and learning. Life-long professional learning becomes a shared value and leads to opportunities for substantive, on-going staff development and professional autonomy for teachers in risk-free environments.

Not Me, But We

To maximize their impact, school leaders must focus on WE more than me. They must discover their new role, a role which supports collective leadership. No longer can we view school leaders as simply instructional leaders (Fullan, 2014). School leaders must recognize that they are education leaders who constantly strengthen the capacity of the organization and grow new leaders. In this role, school leaders act as visionaries, embracing a transformational mindset, a mindset that inspires and influences others. And this will impact teacher efficacy which, in turn, will have a positive effect on student learning outcomes.

All of this demands hard work, the work of transformation, but will reap rewards. Collective leadership is a process, not a program– it is a belief system, a way of leading. This work is about creating relationships and the space to return to the deep purpose that leaders and followers share (Center for Ethical Leadership, n.d.).



Bolman, L.G. & Deal, T. E. (1995). Leading with soul: An uncommon journey of spirit. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Browne, D. (2018). Relationships are fundamental. School Administrator, 75 (8), 25-27, AASA.

Center for Ethical Leadership (n.d.). The collective leadership framework: A workbook for cultivating and sustaining community.  Seattle, WA.

Chirichello, M. (2004, Spring). Collective leadership: Reinventing the principalship, Kappa Delta Pi Record, 40 (3), Kappa Delta Pi.

Darling-Hammond, L. (2018). What makes social-emotional learning so important? School Administrator, 75 (8), 20-24, AASA.

Drake, T.L. & Roe, W. H. (2003). The principalship. Upper Saddle River, NJ. Merrill Prentice Hall.

Drath, W. H. (2001). The deep blue sea: Rethinking the source of leadership. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.

Elkington, R., van der Steege, M., Glick-Smith, J. & Moss Breen, J. (2017). Visionary leadership in a turbulent World. Emerald Publishing Ltd.

Elmore, R. F. (2002). Hard questions about practice. Educational Leadership, 59 (8), 22-25.

Fullan, M. (2014). The principal: Three keys to maximizing impact. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.


One thought on “Leadership for the 21st Century”

  • This approach seem quite effective and yes I agree with the concept of collective leadership it will lead to success and effectiveness of school system

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