It has been claimed that the last decade has seen a crisis of leadership within education (Gronn, 2003a). Teachers appear to be shunning extra responsibilities and remaining in the classroom. The great monolithic school systems, based on nineteenth century corporations, with their complex and rigid hierarchies have begun to crumble. It seemed no great surprise to many observers (Gunter, 2002; Wrigley 2003) that this should be the case. Both of these authors have argued that schools have been squeezed into a corporate model of governance designed for business rather than education. Indeed, as White (2011) notes, the notion of a complex corporate hierarchy was most likely flawed from its very inception, a tool for corrupt men to turn a quick profit, obscured behind bureaucratic systems.
Many contended that the crisis in leadership could not be solved without a fundamental rethinking of how schools were organised and led (Wrigley, 2003). One key aspect of the NCSL Middle Leaders programmes therefore is the promotion of a distributed leadership model (Gronn, 2000; NCSL, 2003 and Spillane, et al., 2004). The NCSL programmes claim to be built around a core of distributed leadership values which empower a range of stakeholders to take on a leadership role within the organisation. The NCSL suggests that “…school leadership is…a dispersed practice…” (NCSL, 2004, p. 12), challenging the traditional corporate model of education. The report also goes on to suggest that “In the United Kingdom, the concept had not been given much prominence until recently when NCSL resurrected the discourse and set it as an essential principle in its school leadership development literature.” (ibid., p. 10). It is not too fanciful to suggest, given the NCSL’s claim to be the primary promoter of distributed leadership practice in the UK, that this then forms a core tenet of the NCSL Middle Leaders programmes. The implication here is that the NCSL has taken on a radical mission to move away from hierarchical school models, headed by heroic leaders. Yet paradoxically, the NCSL continues to promote ideas of transformational and charismatic leadership, evidence for which can be found throughout materials relating to the Middle Leaders programmes (NCSL, 2012; DfEE, 1999). The NCSL cite the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair and Education Minister, David Blunkett in explaining that “Leadership and vision are crucial to raising standards and aspirations across the nation’s schools” (DfEE, 1999). This then begs the question of how effectively the NCSL can promote these two, seemingly opposing concepts of heroic and distributed leadership.
Assumptions and Definitions
Before continuing, it is important to establish a number of key theoretical assumptions on which this work is based. The concept of distributed leadership enters into a crowded marketplace of leadership theories. It competes with similar models such as ‘democratic’ and ‘teacher leadership’ (Bennett, et al., 2003) as well as with contrasting notions of leadership such as the ‘charismatic’, ‘transformational’ models advocated by West-Burnham (2009) and Shamir (1999). The arguments are not simply over what characteristics leaders require, but whether or not such characteristics are the key drivers of leadership capacity at all. West-Burnham for example argues that “Effective leadership is primarily determined by a range of human qualities…” (2009, p. 3) and goes on to argue that “If we are to transform children’s lives then we need leadership that is transformational.” (ibid., p. 2). However it is this notion of a range of specific qualities which Gronn, amongst others, believes has led to the growth of “designer leadership” (2003a, p. 29), resulting in a growing accountability culture and a disengagement of teachers from leadership.
To counter charismatic and heroic notions of leadership authors such as Begley (2001) and Gunter (2002) suggest a more democratic model of leadership, arguing that a truly transformational leadership would challenge the role of schools in reproducing the inequalities of the world (Gunter, 2002). This of course would mean rethinking the hierarchical models typical of school power structures and redistributing that power equitably. Harris and Muijs (2005) have also suggested that there is much to be gained from empowering teachers to lead. They argue that schools must “…empower and enable teachers to lead and to make the difference denied to them for so long.” (ibid., p. 28). Clearly distributed leadership enters into a complex world of pre-existing leadership theories, with the potential to be appropriated by a whole range of factional interest groups, something which becomes evident as this piece develops.
Distributed Leadership: A Literature Review
Gronn (2000) states that the concept of distributed leadership is a response to theories of transformational leadership which advocate the primacy of individual agency, and those structuralist theories of managerial leadership which all but deny any sense of human agency. Gronn also traces the roots of distributed leadership theory to the works of social psychology in the 1950s. He makes a particular note of the works of Gibb who he identifies as an early proponent of distributed leadership theory (Gibb, 1954). This view of distributed leadership as a middle ground between two extremes has meant that, as has been previously mentioned, the theory has been adopted by diverse and often partisan groups. It goes some way to explaining why Gronn (2009) later developed his theory to one of hybrid leadership. All of this makes a comprehensive understanding of distributed leadership somewhat difficult. In 2003, a literature review conducted by Bennett et al. (2003) for the NCSL effectively concluded the same thing. The review was set up to investigate how far there was a common understanding of the term; how far literature covered formal and informal leadership; and how far practical advice was offered for developing distributed leadership. What transpired was an intensely complex picture, full of ambiguities and with the early evidence of sectarian divisions already in place. It is these divisions which the rest of the literature review seeks to explore.
The need for a distributed model of leadership
From the turn of the 21st century, two main interpretations of distributed leadership began to emerge, that of Gronn (2000) and of Spillane et al. (2004). Both of these interpretations pay homage to the work of Gibb (1954) but both develop different versions of the meaning of distributed leadership. Gronn in particular had written a great deal on the limitations of the charismatic model of school leadership (Gronn, 1993) (Gronn, 1996) which he argues had become the dominant model of educational leadership during the 1980s and 90s (Gronn, 2000). In the year 2000 therefore, Gronn finds himself asking whether or not distributed leadership may form part of a new post leadership paradigm (ibid.). He is writing from a theoretical standpoint to both highlight his perceived deficiencies in the current leadership models but also to suggest alternatives. Gronn goes on to highlight a number of problems which he believes might be mitigated through the use of a distributed model of leadership. Firstly he argues that any theory which creates a dualism between agency and structure is false. Neither agency nor structure he argues reduces the other, rather there is an interplay between both through time (Gronn, 2000). This is not too dissimilar to Spillane el al. who note that frameworks for studying leadership practice are not common and those that do exist tend to focus on “…individual agency or the role of macro-structure in shaping what leaders do.” (2004, p. 4). Spillane et al.promote the idea of teacher leadership and local reform in particular (Spillane, 1999) and go on to argue for greater teacher leadership alongside Harris (Harris & Spillane, 2008). With this in mind, it is unsurprising that Spillane et al. go on to argue that leadership research has tended to focus too much on formal leadership positions and with too great an emphasis on a ‘leaders’ traits’ type approach (Spillane, et al., 2004). Both Spillane et al. (ibid.) and Gronn (2000) reject this trend of equating traits, those that Yukl (1999) would identify as self-confidence, sociability and adaptiveness, to the effectiveness of leaders. In order to properly understand leadership practice, Spillane et al. argue that “…leaders’ thinking and behaviour and their situation need to be considered together, in an integrated framework.” (2004, p. 8) They see distributed leadership theory as one way of creating such a framework for the effective analysis of leadership. By the same token Gronn argues that distributed leadership theory can provide a “… bridge between agency and structure.” (2000, p. 318) and enable a re-imagination of leadership where it becomes “…part of a model of jointly performed and tool-mediated activity.” (ibid., p. 318).
A second problem highlighted by Gronn is that, because leadership has generally been conceived as an individual activity, a dualism of leaders and followers has resulted. This has created a system in which “leaders are superior to followers, followers depend on leaders and leadership consists in doing something to, for and on behalf of others.” (Gronn, 2000, p. 319). There is an assumption amongst leadership theorists that leadership is more significant than any other factor so that “…for many people leadership has become the prescription for the cure of organisational ills.” (Gronn, 2003, p. 24). There is however no clear evidence for this position (ibid.). Again, Gronn builds on the work of Gibb who argued that the categorisation of leaders and followers was mistaken as “…each of these is but a transient status…Leaders and followers frequently exchange roles and observation has shown that the most active followers often initiate acts of leading…” (1954, p. 902). Gronn (2003a) goes one stage further however and argues that even in models where leaders become followers, the unhelpful and disempowering leader-follower dualism has remained. Challenging the dualism potentially means the jettisoning of the notion of followership. If this is the case then there will only be leaders – a world in which organisation needs to focus more on negotiation, recognising mutual competence and of course acknowledging perceptions of incompetence (ibid.). Such calls for the removal of the leader-follower dualism are not echoed in the other major theoretical work by Spillane et al. (2004) however they do receive support from more radical wings of the educational establishment, who have heralded them as a means to achieving a more equitable model of educational leadership in the UK (Gunter, 2002). The notion of removing the concept of followership seems to have proven rather too much for the NCSL however, who end up terming this as the worst excesses of distributed leadership, a leaderless state of neglect (NCSL, 2004). What is clear however, is that Gronn (2000, 2002, 2003, 2009) feels it is vital to remove this dualism in order to achieve distributed leadership. How far the NCSL can promote distributed leadership, without sharing Gronn’s aim to remove the leader-follower dualism, is questionable.
Defining Distributed Leadership
Bennett et al. (2003) highlight a diverse range of views on what constitutes distributed leadership. This makes distributed leadership a problematic term and at the same time means that the concept is regularly appropriated by a range of theorists and organisations who modify it to support their own leadership frameworks. Whilst Gronn (2000) develops his theory of distributed leadership as an abstract concept, Harris and Spillane (2008) aim to fit the concept into their own view of ‘teacher leadership’. Equally, MacBeath et al. (2005) practically shoehorn distributed leadership into a model of charismatic, transformational leadership whereby the character traits of leaders trump the socially situated, task orientated model suggested by Gronn (2000). What emerges is a bloody battleground, a war of attrition over ownership of a radical conceptual framework for organising schools and school leadership. Wrigley (2003) and Gunter (2002) fire salvos for a radical reworking and democratisation of educational leadership, seeing the opportunity for creating a “…radical professionality in which educational professionals are users and producers of leadership knowledge…” (2002, p. 15) and for challenging “…the neo-liberal restructuring [of education]…” (ibid., p. 150). Simultaneously MacBeath et al. (2005) and the NCSL (2004) aim to bring the more revolutionary proponents of distributed leadership to heel. The NCSL’s report on distributed leadership for example begins with a biblical tale of Jethro telling Moses to follow a distributive leadership structure. It goes on with a paraphrase of Exodus stating that “Great men should not only study to be useful themselves, but contrive to make others useful.” (ibid., p. 10) In so doing, the NCSL shackles the revolutionary aspects of emergent distributed leadership by placing it back in the gift of great men.
This notion of an emergent and holistic view of distributed leadership comes from the writings of Gronn (2002) who suggests that there are two key views of distributed leadership: either as additive of holistic. Whilst Gronn (ibid.) does describe the former interpretation at some length, he clearly views the latter as the true essence of distributed leadership. Whereas in an additive model of distributed leadership the focus might still be on characteristics and behaviours of individuals, in the holistic model, leadership emerges from human activity. This emergent property of leadership is the one which Bennett et al. (2003) see as central to the theory of distributed leadership and will be the yardstick against which the NCSL Middle Leaders programmes are measured.
Gronn is also at pains to distinguish between the notions of leadership and management, a definition which he feels has become blurred. He makes the point that management is a relationship of authority within a particular structure, an externally (or even internally) ascribed position within a hierarchy. On the other hand leadership, which is often associated with management positions is, he argues, “…not confined to formal role incumbency, but is an emergent work-related influence.” (2002, p. 659). The potential for leadership is therefore existent in all organisational tasks, regardless of whether a formal leadership role has been assigned. The leadership which emerges may be sparked by one person which then leads to a multiplicity of leadership interactions which form into routines over time. Gronn (ibid.) goes on to argue that some authors have made the error of ascribing more significance to the actions of those persons who begin the process, rather than those who continue to participate in it. Where leadership and management get conflated Gronn (ibid.) argues that the leader-follower dualism arises, reducing the potential for true distributed leadership as those in subordinate positions assume they have to wait to be led.
Gronn (2000, 2002, 2003) uses a mixture of theoretical works and pre-existing case-studies in identifying distributed leadership. His use of pre-exisitng case studies to demonstrate distributed leadership raises some problems. Whilst he argues that the basis for distributed leadership theory is empirical, Harris and Muijs (2005) bemoan how few studies there are of distributed leadership in action, thereby providing them little empirical evidence on which to base any advice. For Gronn, it was not so much about setting up distributed leadership case studies as it was about identifying distributed leadership emerging from existing situations. Another issue is that many of the case studies cited by Gronn (2002, 2003) come from places as diverse as small businesses, the Australian education system and string quartets, thereby raising questions about its generalizability to the UK educational context. Despite this, Bennett et al. (2003) argue that Gronn provides the clearest and most sophisticated description of distributed leadership, thereby giving it some generalizable credence.
While Spillane et al. (2004) agree with Gronn that distributed leadership is based on notions of distributed cognition and activity theory, they take a different view on the emergent nature of leadership itself (ibid.). In their model, developed further by Spillane himself (2006), social context is an integral component of the activities performed by people, rather than just the background against which activity is set. Human activity is “…distributed in the interactive web of actors and artefacts…” (Spillane, et al., 2004, p. 9). Therefore, in the same way that Gronn (2002) argues for the study of activity rather than the actions of leaders, so Spillane et al. and Harris and Spillane (2008) argue that the “…situation is the appropriate unit of analysis for studying [leadership] practice.” (Spillane, et al., 2004, p. 9). In an earlier work Spillane, Halverson and Diamond (2001) describe leadership as involving three major constituents: leaders, followers and situation. It is the interaction of these three within a given context which gives shape to leadership. There is no specific mention of the emergent nature of leadership in this model, as the leader-follower dualism finds its way into the trinity of leader, followers and situation which forms the core of the argument. Indeed, much work based on Spillane’s definition firmly reintroduces the idea that leadership happens in situations rather than arises out of them. This in part may be what prompted Gronn in 2009 to talk about moving beyond distributed leadership models and towards what he terms hybrid ones. He notes somewhat sardonically that whilst distributed leadership theory has come into its own, it is also losing clarity in the literature. Here he implies a misappropriation of the term by groups unnamed. It is this which prompts him to call for leadership theory to move beyond this term (Gronn, 2009). Spillane et al. (2001) effectively provide a qualitative study of distributed leadership, attempting to group the theory in a series of small studies in US schools. In one example they show how a group of staff bring different aspects of knowledge to conjointly work on a task, and who create a form of conjoint leadership. They claim that the result of this is greater than any one person or persons could have managed (Spillane, et al., 2001). Whilst other small case studies are cited, the evidence provided here remains somewhat limited, a criticism later levied by Harris and Muijs (2005). There is also little discussion of how this distributed leadership is achieved so that it remains more a tool for analysis rather than a means of implementing change. What emerges therefore are three main definitions of distributed leadership. Firstly Gronn’s holistic, emergent model (2000) which sees leadership as a latent property of activity. Secondly the more traditional additive model which Gronn dismisses as a variant of more traditional leadership models, something which is a “…mere sum of its parts…” (2002, p. 656). Finally we have the model proposed by Spillane et al.(2001, 2004) which sees leadership as being stretched over situations, but which does not necessarily imply emergent leadership models (although it does imply holistic ones). These three definitions form the basis for much of the attempted application of distributed leadership theory and have largely determined the shape of the most recent discourse on the subject.
Importantly however, whilst recognising that there was a good deal of overlap between distributed leadership and other conceptions of leadership theory, Bennett et al. were forced to conclude that “If distributed leadership is to be seen as distinctive from other formulations of leadership, it is…[the idea of] leadership as the product of concertive or conjoint activity, emphasising it as an emergent property of a group or network – which will underpin it.” (2003, p. 7).
A final point to note is that many of those debating the nature and structure of distributed leadership have tended to fall back on their own ideological outlooks. All are looking for improvement to education, but there is no agreement on what this improvement might look like. What results therefore is a range of interest groups modifying leadership concepts to suit their needs. The NCSL is one such interest group. What is important is whether it alters the concept of distributed leadership beyond the point at which it might be recognised as such. To do this, some more concrete definitions will be required
Implementations of Distributed Leadership
Views on the implementation of distributed leadership are largely split down the same lines as definitions. For those who follow Gronn’s (2000) definition such as Gunter (2002) and Wrigley (2003), the implementation of distributed leadership is less a process and more about encouraging the emergence of pre-existing dispositions. By contrast, those who have followed (and to some extent misappropriated) the definition offered by Spillane et al. (2001, 2004), where distributed leadership is an aggregation of rotating leaders and followers within an organisational structure, tend to proffer more managerial solutions to the implementation of distributed leadership within a school setting.
In Gronn’s (2000) view, the establishment of distributed leadership is something of a moot point. He argues that even in the most hardened cases of focused leadership, there will be underlying distributed leadership. The military dictator will be supported by his Junta for example. Three main forms of distributed leadership are therefore identified: spontaneous collaboration, emergent interpersonal synergies and institutional and structural relationships which attempt to regularise distributed action (Gronn, 2003b). Whilst organisations might try to solidify some of the informal structures, the demand for this is often a movement from below, a demand created through dissatisfaction of focused leadership and a desire for new designs and structures. Distributed leadership therefore often already exists within systems (ibid.). As an exemplification of this, in a study into the health service in the US, Stewart (1991) found that the role of General Manager was more realistically portrayed as a shared role with the Chairman, despite there being no structural precedent for this. Equally, Birnbaum’s (1992) study of university leadership led him to discover over a dozen influences beyond the official ‘leadership’ of the campus president. A key interpretation here might be to suggest that “…there may be a disjuncture between the reality of the workplace, and…commentators’ mental maps of the workplace.” (Gronn, 2003b, p. 661). That is to say, the organisational chart is only a crude approximation of the reality. As an interesting historical comparison, Richard White’s recent book on the railroads of North America describes how in these prototypes of modern hierarchical corporations “…the organisation chart was often a fiction, and [they] dissolved into particular networks of dependence, cronyism and kinship. Job classifications were hopelessly porous.” (2011, p. 236). Just as it was with these very early superstructures, so it might be argued it remains in the modern education system. For Wrigley (2003) establishing distributed leadership is less about structures and more about teachers reasserting their right to debate the purposes of education. “Shared leadership, in a fully democratic sense, is more than mere delegation; it involves a range of voices being heard, perspectives being shared, conflicting interpretations of reality debated…” (2003, p. 33) It is not just about finding solutions but a right to argue about what is the problem. In this sense, distributed leadership does not call for major activity from a leadership, but rather a ‘first among equals’ approach as opposed to the more traditional pyramid structure of schools. Such structures are more evident in higher education but very seldom in secondary schools. Indeed the Victorian Secondary Teachers Association was pilloried for suggesting such a move in the late nineteenth century (Gronn, 2003a). Gronn does however suggest that the development of communities of practice, as espoused by Wenger (1999) (2000) and Lave and Wenger (1991) might better facilitate professional interactions and emergent leadership. Within the idea of communities of practice he argues, lies the notion that knowledge in the workplace is inherently dispersed. The community of practice is a vehicle by which a workforce can find a common sense of purpose and identity and develop its own system of distributed leadership (Gronn, 2003b). For Gunter, the major barriers to effective distributed leadership in schools are not so much aspects of the schools themselves, but rather the neo-liberal context into which education has become entrenched. Gunter argues that as long as education remains a market commodity, and so long as management systems are designed to deliver outcomes and teachers trained to deliver them, no progress can be made with true distributed forms of leadership. The problem therefore does not have a school level solution as long as there is excessive external pressures to which head teachers will bow (Gunter, 2002).
By contrast, the definitions of Spillane et al. (2001, 2004) have found a very different set of reactions when it comes to recommendations for the implementation of distributed leadership. Harris and Spillane (2008) for example discuss how distributed leadership recognises the contributions of all people to the practice of leadership, whether or not they are formally defined as leaders. Research by Leithwood et al. (2007) has also suggested that distributed leadership practice is more likely to equate to improved organisational outcomes. Harris and Spillane also suggest that distributed leadership is becoming more popular as work intensifies. They cite Gronn’s use of the term ‘Greedy Work’ and suggest that this expansion of leadership tasks and responsibilities might demand the sharing out of these tasks amongst the whole school. The heroic leader would be replaced by teams of leaders (Harris & Spillane, 2008, p. 31). It is notable that Harris and Spillane seem to misconstrue Gronn’s warnings about greedy work here. Instead of seeing distributed leadership as a solution to greedy work, Gronn criticises instances in which it has been used (in its aggregate sense) to deal with increasing workload intensification. In some ways, he argues that it has made the situation worse as it promotes enhanced ownership and accountability whilst increasing the number of possible veto points and potentially slowing work (Gronn, 2003b, p. 151). Harris (2002) and Harris and Muijs (2005) have also argued that distributed leadership is key to establishing effective teacher leadership and democratic practices within schools. However, Harris’ view of distributed leadership quickly descends into delegation rather than a truly emergent process. By the same token, Elmore has suggested that in a “…knowledge intensive enterprise like teaching and learning there is no way to perform these complex tasks [of leading] without widely distributing the responsibility for leadership among roles in the organisation” (Elmore, 2000, p. 14). This leads Gunter to the criticism that distributing leadership in this way is simply “responsibility shifted down the line…” (Gunter, 2001, 111), a perverse post-modern gloss on head teacher delegation, coated with a thin veneer promising individual and team learning and development. In order for a culture of distributed leadership to flourish, Harris and Muijs argue that formal leaders must take on a role which is not to hold the organisation together but to “…create a common culture of expectations around the use of individual skills and abilities.” (2005, p. 28). Harris and Muijs go on to suggest that, whilst distributed leadership may come from the ‘bottom up’ as implied by Gronn (2003), the study conducted by Bennett et al. has suggested that the development of distributed leadership might be found “…in the shape of a top-down initiative from a strong or charismatic leader.” (Bennett, et al., 2003, p. 9). Much evidence, Harris and Muijs argue, has pointed toward the head teacher as being central to the development of distributed leadership practices in schools (Harris & Muijs, 2005). What is fascinating here is that Bennett et al. (2003) in fact only suggest a top-down initiative as one of a multitude of possibilities. Indeed they pose the question of where the impetus for change comes from. If the impetus were to be external it may change structure, but would an appropriate culture be developed as well? They go on at great length in describing a bottom-up approach in which the distinctions of leaders and followers are expanded and significantly blurred. That this challenges Harris and Muijs’ (2005) own theories of teacher leadership might go some way to explaining the lack of coverage of this aspect of the study. It is this reintroduction of the idea of delegation and the power of the charismatic leader, or indeed of the role of leaders, which moves the theory of distributed leadership back into the mainstream domain of the NCSL. It is the revisions of Harris and Muijs (2005) and of Spillane et al. (2004) which the theorists and writers of the NCSL use to generate their own interpretation of distributed leadership. From this point, Gronn and his proponents seem to fall by the wayside, an interesting piece of history to a concept which has developed into a much more conventional theory of leadership.
How effectively is distributed Leadership promoted in key NCSL Programme Literature?
As has been previously demonstrated, according to their own literature, the tenets of distributed leadership form a core part of the NCSL Middle Leaders programmes (NCSL, 2004). Beyond its assertion that distributed leadership is crucial to the development of schools, the NCSL has published a number of key documents which promote and explain the relevance of distributed leadership. These documents form a key part of participants’ reading and learning in the programmes and include: ‘Growing Tomorrow’s School Leaders’ (NCSL, 2003), ‘Distributed Leadership in Action’ (NCSL, 2004), and ‘School Leadership Today’ (NCSL, 2009) amongst a range of other documents. The NCSL state for example that “…school leadership is a process of social distribution, a dispersed practice that is described as stretching across the whole range of contributors to a school’s effectiveness and improvement including teachers and students.” (2004, p. 12), making a clear link to Spillane et al.’s model of distributed leadership. Yet whilst the NCSL openly declares a commitment to developing distributed leadership, the models it develops quickly seems to subvert Gronn’s (2002) concepts and even goes further than Harris and Muijs’ (2005) revision of the nature of the model. One report for example explains that “…distributed leadership is not usually a preferred strategy in the early days of a new headship or when a school is facing very serious challenges. Leadership is more likely to be distributed…later, once any fundamental changes and improvements have been made…” (NCSL, 2003, p. 54). Similarly ‘Distributed Leadership in Action’ (NCSL, 2004) which arose as an empirical study from Bennett et al.’s (2003) research comes to a similar conclusion when it argues that head teacher would need to relinquish power in order to allow for the growth of other leaders within the school. In both these examples the distribution of leadership seems to be in the gift of those already in power, rather than inherent in the activities and situations themselves. Whilst the methodology of the NCSL (2004) report has excellent descriptive validity in terms of its study, little is done to show that participants had a clear understanding of the contested definitions of distributed leadership as outlined above. The report effectively downplays Gronn’s influence in developing the theory by tracing a biblical lineage to distributed leadership noting that “As far back as 1250 BC, Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, proposed a model of distributive leadership as an alternative to Moses’ individualistic style…” (ibid., p.10) but even in this example, the distribution of the leadership is in the gift of Moses rather than an emergent property. Even when it is not portrayed as a gift, MacBeath et al. who were crucial in the creation of the report, describe distributed leadership as “…holding, or taking initiative as a right…” (MacBeath, et al., 2005, p. 11). Once again this contrasts with Gronn’s view of distributed leadership, firstly by suggesting that the ability to take a leadership role is determined by a personal quality, namely initiative, whilst simultaneously reintroducing the leader-follower dualism than Gronn was so keen to jettison (NCSL, 2004). Even in covering Gronn’s definitions of holistic distribution, the report seems to over-simplify the notion of activity based emergent leadership by stating that all of Gronn’s models of holistic leadership “…agree that leadership does not simply reside in one person. All imply the capacity of others in an organisation to be leaders or to exercise leadership.” (NCSL, 2004, p. 15). Yet it is in this seemingly innocuous simplification that the floodgates are opened to a slew of misinterpretations. Here the report begins to suggest that distributed leadership means opening the door for those with latent ‘leadership qualities’, or worse still, that it might be the role of managers to help distribute (read delegate) such leadership. Indeed, another report suggests that “…schools might sustain improvement through capacity building and equipping teachers to lead innovation and development.” (NCSL, 2003, p. 15). Once again there is the implication that leadership is a matter of traits and training, something which flies in the face of Gronn’s (2000, 2003) analysis. Both MacBeath et al. (2005) and the NCSL (2004) therefore advocate a six step programme to effectively distributing leadership along the lines inspired by a conflation of Spillane et al.(2001, 2004) with more traditional notions of heroic, individual leaders. In each of the six stages, distributed leadership is developed through formal modification of the school leadership structure. Only in stage six does leadership eventually emerge as a cultural property of the school, the other stages concern themselves more with how managers might enable those in non-management positions to demonstrate their leadership initiative. Collegiality is seen as the means of fostering a growth to this sixth stage (the only stage Gronn would recognise as distributed leadership), however the risk must surely be that a culture is created in which a type of ‘contrived collegiality’ is the norm (Hargreaves & Fullan, 1992). The major issue with this literature is not necessarily in its research base, but rather in its misinterpretation of the nature of distributed leadership. Certainly the multitude of interviews included give sound evidence for the effectiveness of creating a culture of distributed leadership, but in a fundamental misunderstanding of the situated and emergent nature of leadership. As one head teacher cited explains, “In a sense, anyone can be a leader…It’s a process that a lot of staff can demonstrate.” (NCSL, 2004, p. 43). This clearly shows the fundamental way in which leadership is still being interpreted as a process or set of characteristics as opposed to a property. As Gronn puts it “the potential for leadership is present in the flow of activities in which a set of organisation members find themselves enmeshed” (2000, p. 331). By this point then, distributed leadership has become a practical footnote to what Gunter (2002) might describe as the heroic paradigms of leadership, another means by which a head teacher might show improvement against externally set criteria. The NCSL advises that “…while working to generate trust, at the same time heads [should] try to convey the message that holding staff to account through monitoring, scrutiny of data and performance management can build, rather than erode, trust.” (NCSL, 2004, p. 12). By this juncture it seems that the available literature for those on the Middle Leaders programmes has long since abandoned the attempt at creating a “post-leadership paradigm” entailing a notion of distributed leadership (Gronn, 2000, p. 317). Instead the students on the programme are being directed back down the line of greedy work, a new and expanded work servitude which is seen “…in the preparedness of workers to submit themselves to self-disciplined control and sophisticated systems of surveillance.” (Gronn, 2003a, p. 153). In terms of the research evidence it makes available then, the NCSL Middle Leaders programmes offer only one very narrow and highly revised interpretation of distributed leadership. The likelihood of the programmes developing a broader understanding and appreciation of the concept is therefore highly limited.
How Effectively is Distributed Leadership Promoted in the perceptions of participants?
Naturally the given reading materials only form one aspect of the NCSL Middle Leaders programmes, there is also a heavy coaching and mentoring aspect to the courses as well. If distributed leadership, in its properly holistic and emergent form, has been effectively promoted through the programmes, then it may equally have come through this route rather than directly through the literature. Evidence for this section is taken both from the surveys conducted at School A, and discussed previously, as well as from the teacher feedback found in the NCSL research document ‘Distributed Leadership in Action’ (NCSL, 2004). Interestingly, 80% of those people who completed the survey in school had participated in the older ‘Leading from the Middle’ programme, hence these results may not fully reflect the more up to date course. One point of particular note is that, when asked how far they agreed with the core stated aims of the Middle Leaders programmes (NCSL, 2012), only a small proportion, usually 33% or less identified the aims of the programme as very important to them (See Table 1). With this in mind it might be fair to suggest that the programme may have less influence on the opinions of participants than their own pre-existing notions and conceptions. Therefore when looking at the effectiveness of the programmes in promoting distributed leadership it must be tempered by the knowledge that participants often continued to hold their own views on a multitude of issues.
With this in mind it is worth moving on to look at the perceptions of distributed leadership as promoted by the Middle Leaders programmes. Notably all participants in the survey agreed that they had been given opportunities to explore the concept of distributed leadership during the course, almost the only aspect of the course where all participants felt they had been given the opportunity. What follows is an analysis of participants’ perceptions of leadership which have come from the course itself. Respondents were asked to show how far they agreed that the Middle Leaders programmes promoted a range of ideas about leadership. If distributed leadership is being effectively promoted in Gronn’s (2000, 2002) holistic and emergent understanding, then it might be fair to suggest that aspects of charismatic and individual leadership would receive less attention, whilst notions of emergent leadership would rate highly. Equally the programmes would not be equating delegation of tasks to distributed leadership, something which Gunter (2002) terms as a thin veneer promising freedom but delivering older forms of hierarchical accountability. The responses in Table 2 have been reorganised to show those statements which seem to support distributed leadership and those which are anathema to it. If distributed leadership is being promoted effectively then the responses for those notions which support Gronn’s conception of distributed leadership should receive the highest rates of agreement.
There are a number of interesting results here, most strikingly that the perception of the participants is that the Middle Leaders programmes did not promote ideas of distributed leadership nearly as well as they promoted concepts more readily associated with charismatic leadership. The figures suggest that there is an average 38.8 point difference between the promotion of each type of leadership. Although this may be a crude measure and somewhat influenced by issues of common understanding of terminology, this is still a striking difference. Most interestingly, none of those persons surveyed recognised that the programmes had developed the idea of the situatedness of leadership in task situations as promoted by Gronn (2000). Even more fascinating is the inference that teachers’ own ideas on the importance of distributed forms of leadership were actually more abundant than those promoted by the programmes. This might imply that far from promoting and developing concepts of distributed leadership, the programmes were in fact placing less emphasis on it than the teachers did themselves. Presumably this is not what the NCSL intended when it talked of generating “…a shared understanding of the concept among all staff members.” (NCSL, 2004, p. 2). Indeed the aspects that seem to have been promoted most by the programmes include notions of a leader-follower dualism; of leadership that is formed of characteristics and traits; and of a charismatic and transformative model of leading. The notions of strong leadership, traits and delegation can also be seen in the interviews conducted by the NCSL in their publication ‘Distributed Leadership in Action’. One secondary school head explains what he perceives as his successful implementation of distributed leadership “My leadership style of granting departmental heads and teachers free hand to carry out shared responsibilities enables them to resolve most issues affecting students…” (NCSL, 2004, p. 12). Here again the distributed becomes the centralised in disguise. In the next example, as with so many others, leadership is described as a personal characteristic, given the space to express itself through the actions of leadership and structural reorganisation, the head explains that “…there’ll have to be opportunities for anybody who has ideas that fit in with the purpose of where we’re going. We’ve got leaders at every level…” (ibid., p. 41). Once more as in countless other excepts, leadership is equated to a personal quality and leadership is a title given to those first movers in a different management system. The continued leadership of others beyond initial actions is still lost in this model.
Possibly the most crucial indictment for the failure of the Middle Leaders programmes to promote any true variant of distributed leadership (and in this case I include the model of Spillane et al.) comes from the final section of the survey where participants discuss its impact on their practice. As the table below (see Table 3) demonstrates the picture which emerges is complex. To its detriment, the programmes do not seem to have offered any real alternatives to the charismatic, leader-centric paradigms highlighted by Spillane et al. (2001), Gronn (2000, 2002, 2003), Gunter (2002) and Wrigley (2003) with 83% still identifying with the strong leader model. Equally, only 33% of people seem to have adopted the idea that leadership should be democratic in its nature, even though nearly half feel that it is part of group interactions. Yet at the same time, 83% of people still identified the importance of strong group dynamics such as those found in communities of practice (Gronn, 2003b) as a key part of good leadership.
How then might the results be summarised best? Certainly the programmes seem to make negligible effort to promote a form of distributed leadership that Gronn (2000) would recognise. Even if the boundaries were to be widened to include those pseudo-distributed models as proposed by Spillane et al. (2001, 2004) there would still remain a huge gulf. The NCSL Middle Leaders programmes promote distributed leadership only in so far as it can become a subset or footnote to the more conventionally promoted charismatic and transformative models of leadership as expounded by Shamir (1999) and West-Burnham (2009). What is left behind is what Gronn has termed “…barren models of followership” (1996, p. 12) as they give too much importance to the agency of the leaders. Worse still, the promotion and search for positive individual leadership effects has the potential to mask the negative outcomes of charismatic leadership (including the leadership taken by individuals on initiative), through “…an anodyne instilling in them of a disposition of learned helplessness…’ (ibid., p11)
Analysing the results of this study will prove on one hand to be very straight-forward, the Middle Leaders programmes do not effectively promote forms of distributed leadership, either in their holistic, emergent forms, or indeed in the “stretched” forms described by Spillane et al. (2001). At best the programmes create a recognition of an aggregate form of distributed leadership, but this is quickly subsumed into transformational and charismatic orthodoxies. Where the real challenge of this piece lies in in suggesting the implications for practice. If the Middle Leaders programmes cannot effectively promote distributed leadership, then what are the alternatives? In this section I aim to explore a number of ways in which School A might better engage with the radical possibilities of the concept of distributed leadership. In doing so I hope to offer a broad framework for building greater capacity for distributed leadership practice at the school.
Implications for Practice: Teacher Education
One notable aspect which came out of the survey I conducted was that when asked to describe distributed leadership, those that responded largely gave explanations which might be better termed delegation, or which would fit more comfortably with aggregate models of distribution. This therefore suggests a specific need for teacher learning and education in the field of distributed leadership. There are two key points on which I wholeheartedly agree with the NCSL literature. The first is that distributed leadership needs to become a key part of all school leadership, and secondly that there needs to be a common understanding of what is meant by the term (NCSL, 2004). The second of these objectives might be achieved through the specific use of professional development (CPD) time to allow teachers to read and debate the implications of distributed leadership as advocated by Gronn (2000, 2002, 2003) and developed by Gunter (2002) and others. Importantly, School A would need to devote specific time to allowing staff to read and discuss the literature. This would need significant support from the existing management team, as it would cut into directed time for development and might be seen as a potentially risky initiative given the potential outcomes of developing a total leadership. Before any programme could go ahead, it would therefore be necessary to seek the approval of the head teacher and senior management team. Existing management post holders might also be key at this stage to driving forward the programme in its early stages. The degree to which existing leaders would be required might well depend on the level of ‘learned dependency’ (Gronn, 1996) in the school, an aspect which needs further investigation.
Assuming consent, I would propose a five stage programme over the course of six months (see Figure 1) in which to discuss and embed the concepts of distributed leadership. Such a process would begin with small groups, possibly departmental groups where the social situation is often more conducive to the free discussion of ideas (Haydn, et al., 2008). The initial phase might ask individual members of the groups to do preliminary reading, this would then allow for a facilitation of the next phases. In the following phases teachers and other staff would read about and debate definitions, and implications of distributed leadership in small groups during CPD time. Feedback from these sessions might work best in a whole school scenario before using small groups to consider the implications of a greater recognition of distributed leadership practices in the school. Again the results of such a move would be difficult to predict so an open and trusting atmosphere would be an absolute prerequisite to any such undertaking (Harris & Muijs, 2005).
A programme such as this might yield great changes for the institution, but by the same token it may entail very few or even no changes. The important aspect would be in re-professionalising the staff of the school in discussing and debating the leadership of the institution (Gunter, 2002). To take an even more radical step it might even be possible to bring the parents, students and wider community into this discussion, and is a move that Wrigley (2003) would certainly applaud. This would be a great opportunity to re-engage the school community with its wider context, however the scale of such an undertaking goes somewhat beyond the scope of this paper. At the very least, undertaking this initiative would give staff an informed platform from which to assess and evaluate the nature of leadership and its role within School A. This in itself would be an incredibly empowering achievement and potentially help to push back against some of the external pressures driving educational leadership policy (Gronn, 2003a).
One final option with regard to teacher education regarding leadership might be to fund a number of staff to complete university level qualifications on the subject. Therefore, rather than getting a government driven diet of educational research, there might be the opportunity to look at a broader picture. This of course does entail problems of accessibility, time and expense, however it does add some of the rigour which a school initiated solution might not provide. In either case, it may be good to have continued contact with university level study as the conclusions of this study are highly limited in their scope. Much more time would need to be devoted to the literature of distributed leadership before implementing any of the above. In particular it is important to investigate further the impact and evidence of any types of large scale distribution as described by Gronn (2000) as well as looking at the implications of notions such as hybrid leadership (Gronn, 2009).
Implications for Practice: Professional Learning Communities
One practical way in which distributed leadership might be better promoted in the absence of the Middle Leaders programmes, might be through the evolution of the Professional Learning Communities already existent at School A. Rather than being organisations with rigid structures, schools might be better conceptualised as communities of practice in which the role of leadership might be one of many factors (Gronn, 2003b). Wenger for example notes that one way in which to re-engage teachers with leadership is to focus on the conjoint nature of work through communities which have a shared vision and set of social norms. These practices become “…the property of a kind of community created over time by the sustained pursuit of a shared enterprise.” (Wenger, 1999, p. 45). For such communities to function effectively they need to be bound by the mutual engagement of their members, and have a shared repertoire of routines, products, vocabularies and pedagogies (Wenger, 1999). At the present, Professional Learning Communities at School A do not have all of these features as they are formed from external pressure rather than mutuality. Whilst is it difficult to argue for a ‘sit and wait’ approach, it would appear from the research literature, that the strongest Professional Learning Communities develop both organically and spontaneously (Wenger, 1999).
Professional Learning Communities (or communities of practice) have much to offer in terms of developing distributed leadership, not least because they are seen as socially situated entities. Much as distributed leadership is emergent from situations (Gronn, 2002), so learning and professional cohesion and trust is emergent from communities of practice (Lave & Wenger, 1991). As Wenger explains, “Communities of practice depend on internal leadership, and enabling leaders to play their role is a way to help the community develop.” (Wenger, 2000, p. 231) Communities of practice may therefore become the focal point of emergent leadership as they represent a situation in which conjoint activity is normalised and in which distributed cognition is required.
It is probably worth noting however, that in identifying the need for communities of practice and distributed leadership, we run the risk that, in making this an explicit part of organisational policy, we may lose the spontaneous engagement and potential required for effective communities to develop (Gronn, 2003b). As some kind of solution to this, Pendry et al. (1998) and Haydn et al. (2008) have suggested that a departmental focus rather than a cross-curricular focus may well help with teachers seeing the value of Professional Learning Communities. This might then suggest that departmental teams might be the easiest change to make to school policy on Professional Learning Communities. At the very least, giving time for teachers to engage professionally would increase the opportunities for emergent leadership, even if this did not quickly become the norm. Once again this would need a significant investment of time from members of staff as well as a significant commitment from the current school management to release the reins and allow a more organic development of the leadership in the school. This is no mean feat in the current economic climate.
By way of conclusion, it would be fair to say that whilst the NCSL Middle Leaders programmes do little to develop and promote concepts of distributed leadership, this does not mean to say that they destroy the concept altogether. A number of simple steps including teacher education through CPD time and the evolution of existing Professional Learning Communities would go a long way towards filling the gaps left by the programmes.
The bigger issue faced here, and of which the Middle Leaders programmes are symptomatic, is the gradual erosion of all models of education other than those which fit the outcome driven, neo-liberal mould (Gunter, 2002). In the same vein, Gronn (2003a) argues that the creation of leadership characteristics, standards and competencies creates both a crisis of leadership and a growing a problem of greedier work. This greediness reduces the engagement of professionals in wider pursuits and narrows and concentrates their commitments to the school; outside involvement has been surgically removed to reduce the conflict in interests and focus the individual on one institution (ibid.). If distributed leadership is to provide a real alternative to traditional models of school management, then it is vital that schools not only educate and encourage their staff through measures outlines above, but also that they resist attempts for distributed leadership to become another extension of leader-centric, greedy work practices.
 The use of a military metaphor is interesting here as it implies a very particular model of educational leadership, one of the heroic war leader, the Nelson or Clive of schooling. It is interesting as well that this metaphor should have come from the public perception.
 These will be referred to collectively as the NCSL Middle Leaders programmes.
 Both of these do require further expansion, however the limitations of this particular piece do not allow for a full analysis here.
 Interestingly these are also promoted by the NCSL programmes, apparently with little sense of the paradoxical irony here.
 In time honoured tradition, the NCSL even provide a card sort activity to help schools get out of this dangerous state of followerless ‘neglect’, something which they define as “Distributed leadership gone too far. People are forced to take initiative and responsibility…” (NCSL, 2004)
 By this Gronn means that it is the work of a range of distributed individual leaders. To put it in his own words “A numerical or additive understanding of distributed leadership conceives leadership as merely the sum of its parts.” (Gronn, 2002, p. 656) However, he goes on to imply that this type of leadership might also become a euphemism for the spreading of overall school decision making – shifting the burden of accountability.
 Gronn contrasts the holistic version of distributed leadership by showing it to be the concertive action of a group of people towards a shared goal as opposed to a selection of individual actions. In other words “A holistic perspective on distributed leadership sees it as a phenomenon which is more than the mere sum of its parts.” (Gronn, 2002, p. 656)
 It is interesting the Harris and Muijs (2005) make no reference to Gronn in their piece on distributed leadership at all.
 This is the idea that cognition is distributed through situations and socially amongst individuals so that in collaborating to complete a complex tasks the cognition is a collection of individual contributions, but is rather stretched over the whole group.
 I am borrowing heavily here from Bennett et al. (2003) whose summary of activity theory is most helpful. Activity theory might be best explained as as describing social life as a “…process of ever-moving relationships between technologies, nature, ideas (concepts), persons and communities, in which the focus of action circulates to one person, then another, according to the social and environmental context and the flow of action within this.” (ibid., p. 16). In activity theory, there is a constant flow and circulation of initiative dependent on the situation.
 This rather conservative attachment to the leader-follower dualism will be covered at length in due course.
 Both of these studies are cited by Gronn (2003) as well.
 A fuller discussion of this would be very enlightening. For more information see Gronn’s work on the place of distributed leadership within communities of practice (2003)
 Although these outcomes do not seem to have been aspects for debate as might be the case in a truly distributed structure.
 The marketization of education and the creation of an enterprize culture has created its own form of exploitation and serfdom – these might be termed “greedy work practices”. Greedy institutions are those which seek to make total claims on their members and attempt to encompass their whole personality. There is a demand made for complete and undivided loyalty by reducing the claims of competing roles. service providers now view the resources they command (including personnel) as potential costs – therefore there becomes a need to extract the most value from the fewest resources – a recipe for “greedy work”
 One possible reason for the NCSL’s focus on distributed leadership may well be the workforce reform which was underway in schools at the time. These reforms have required that headteachers remodel their workforce in to make the best use of the skills, potential and interests of all staff. As the NCSL notes, “…headteachers seeking to be judged successful and to ensure the professional development of their staff are likely to be seeking a more distributed leadership throughout their organisation.” (2004, p. 48)
 See Appendix B for an overview of the taxonomy of distribution.
 These groupings were deliberately mixed up in the survey to prevent patterned responses.