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date: 28 May 2020

Summary and Keywords

Democratic leadership suggests that leadership can include people rather than treating them simply as followers of a leader. Understanding what this means conceptually, and its implications for practice in schools and other educational settings, raises complex and challenging issues. The concept of democracy has a variety of meanings. The concept of leadership itself is much debated, with increasing attention being given to the idea that in practice it is a distributed and emergent phenomenon involving not only senior leaders but also numerous others who contribute to leadership through everyday interactions. A narrow, minimalist idea of democratic leadership sees it as a style of leadership that a principal or headteacher might adopt so that others, such as staff and students, feel consulted and included. This has limited potential for transforming education. A broader conception, with greater relevance to education, sees democratic leadership as having a much richer and more ambitious focus.

A rich perspective of democratic leadership not only promotes power sharing and transforming dialogue that enhances understanding (rather than entrenching people’s existing views and self-interests) but also cultivates holistic learning as rounded, ethical “citizens” of the organization and relational well-being through a community that fosters both belonging and individuality. Democratic leadership that is rich in this way encourages a sense of agency across the school and addresses power differences so the practice of democratic leadership becomes a shared, collaborative process in which all as co-leaders contribute proactively to innovation and the life of the school. It also recognizes the importance of the structural context from which leadership as a complex, distributed phenomenon emerges. Democratic leadership grows from and is expressed through enabling structures, such as a culture that explicitly shows that inclusive participation is valued and institutional spaces and resources that provide opportunities for power sharing, transforming dialogue and the growth of holistic learning and relational well-being. Both (enabling) structures and (participative and empowering) agency are essential features of democratic leadership.

Keywords: shared leadership, distributed leadership, democratic community, democratic schools, holistic learning, power, dialogue, well-being

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