Tony Gurr

The FIVE Corners of Educational Leadership

In Educational Leadership, Our Schools, Our Universities on 03/03/2011 at 10:21 pm

I want to share a little secret with you all – not many people know this.

As part of my first degree, I actually studied Turkish political and economic development – and, I have Prof. Dodd to thank for starting me on a road that led to the life I have today.

These studies led me to amass a great many facts and info-bytes that reside in the darker corners of my grey matter – and, I still wager that I could beat most adult Turkish citizens in a “TV quiz” on “Atatürk Devrimleri ya da Atatürk İnkılapları”.

Primary kids would probably “wipe the floor with me” – However…


Why is this important to a discussion on educational leadership?

In a recent management development session I was running, I asked the participants to write down the first thought that came into their minds when I said the word “leadership”.

Over 90% of replies used one word only – Atatürk.

Hardly surprising. He is the archetypal leader – he kicked out all the “unwanted tourists” who had overstayed their visas after WWI and initiated a series of reforms that reinvented the whole country. True leadership.

However, I was working with educational managers and I reminded them that our job was to lead “educators” and “learners” – not establish an organised national resistance movement against occupying forces (although – have you to been to Marmaris or Bodrum in the Summer, lately), rewrite Lausanne or even imagineer the creation of a representative democracy and parliamentary sovereignty.

This view of leadership – generals, conflicts, crisis, suffering and the “hero”, followers, victory – is common across many cultures.

These ideas were also imported from the “battlefield” to the “boardroom”in business (probably the reason we do not have many female “generals” in the world of business).

That works more often than not – this is why we teachers do not always do well in business.

The problem is that this model does not translate well into the “school” or “classroom”. Many have tried – and look where we are today.

Let’s get one thing clear, leadership in education is NOT about:

  • Being the boss
  • Holding onto territory or
  • Controlling people

It is about:

  • Caring for people and being a useful resource for them
  • Being “present” for people and being your best and most authentic self
  • Creating a place in which people can do good work and find meaning in that work

Atatürk knew this – and lived it!

Seriously, in education we need to look at educational leadership through a “new lens”. The kind of lens Audry proposed:

Leadership, like life, is largely a matter of paying attention (Autry, 2001)

This type of leadership has FIVE corners:

  • Service
  • Care
  • Principles
  • Ethics
  • and, …..(you have to wait for that one)

Let’s take these one by one.


SERVICE – as another great man said:

The simplest and shortest ethical precept is to be served as little as possible……and to serve others as much as possible (Tolstoy)

Greenleaf elaborates:

If a better society is to be built, one that is more just and more loving, one that provides greater creative opportunity for its people, then the most open course is to raise both the capacity to serve and the very performance as servant of existing major institutions by new regenerative forces operating within them (The Servant as Leader – 1970)


CARE – Mayeroff (1971) viewed care as:

“helping another grow and actualize himself, is a process, a way of relating to someone” that involves development by

  • “being with” another
  • “being for” another
  • “being there” for another

All great teachers “get” this – if their leaders do not, we have a major problem on our hands.

For me the notion of “care” was best expressed through the movie Pay It Forward (yes, I do love the “boy genius” and “old Kevin” and lovely Helen). If a “kid” can work out that he can touch 4,782,969 people in two weeks, and school leaders can’t – we have got something seriously wrong in the “adult world”.


ETHICS – education is about “moral purpose”. This was best expressed by Micheal Fullan:

Moral purpose of the highest order is having a system where “all students learn, the gap between high and low performance becomes greatly reduced, and what people learn enables them to be successful citizens and workers in a morally based knowledge society” (The Moral Imperative of School Leadership, 2003)

Further, as Albert Schweitzer noted, “The first step in the evolution of ethics is a sense of solidarity with other human beings”.

Not control, not ritualized game-playing and certainly not playing the blame game to “CYA”.

Koestenbaum brought this all together when he said “true leadership”:

…is empathy, which means service. It’s an attitude of love and compassion, of caring, of including people, of valuing them, of hearing them, or sufferring when they suffer, and of being proud when they succeed.

It is not:

The “forth corner” is:

PRINCIPLES – Trends may come and fads will go but:

There are three constants in life… change, choice and principles (Stephen Covey)

Covey talks about “true north” principles in his 7 Habits:

  • Habit 1: Be Proactive
  • Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind
  • Habit 3: Put First Things First
  • Habit 4: Think Win/Win
  • Habit 5: Seek First to Understand
  • Habit 6: Synergize
  • Habit 7: Sharpening the Saw

Then he gave us “Habit 8”:

  • Habit 8: Find Your Voice & Inspire Others to Find Theirs

I have not met many people who go wrong when they “live” these types of principles.

OK – that’s FOUR CORNERS, Tony.

What’s the fifth? Wait a minute – how the bloody hell can you have a FIFTH CORNER? – Thinking outside the “square”…





LEARNING – Did you forget the name of the blog you are reading?

I had something really grand planned for this one – but Senge said it better:

Through learning we re-create ourselves. Through learning we become able to do something we were never able to do.


My eternal thanks to Prof. Dodd – for showing me how to read more than is humanly possible in 24 hours (and improving my “Mancunian grammar”) – and for helping me find my soul-mate on the other side of Europe!


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