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Dimensions of Leadership: seven dimensions from Douglas Reeves

Tracy Reimer, principal
Bendix Elementary School, Annandale

School districts throughout the state are tightening budgets and eliminating resource positions such as literacy coaches, curriculum coordinators and staff development coordinators aimed at improving teacher instruction and student learning. At the same time, accountability for student achievement and the consequences connected to No Child Left Behind, are at all time highs for public schools. It can be asserted there is a need for elementary principals to review the multifaceted demands of leading an effective school today and in the future.

Douglas Reeves (2006) identified seven dimensions of leadership. The dimensions of leadership represent a wide range of leadership characteristics and skills. Reeves (2006, p. 32) acknowledges, “The demands of leadership almost invariably exceed the capacity of a single person to meet the needs at hand.”

Trust, credibility, and integrity are the foundation to relational leadership. Goleman, Boyatzis, & McKee (2002) found that relationship skills account for nearly three times as much impact on organizational performance as analytical skills. Relational leadership includes listening without distraction or presupposition, respect for confidentiality, and authentic empathy. Relationships, particularly with leaders, are one of the single greatest predictors of employee performance, satisfaction, and turnover (Buckingham & Coffman, 1999). The principal’s energies are focused towards changing the culture of classrooms and schools, emphasizing relationships and values (Fullan, 2001).

Collaborative leadership is exemplified when individuals and groups carry out leadership tasks together in a way that integrates differing perspectives and recognizes areas of interdependence and shared work. A principal exhibiting collaborative leadership strives to build collaborative relationships and structures for improvement. Such leaders are relationship centered, able to develop a collegial, respectful environment and maintain individual accountability. By doing this, they develop school capacity which in turn affects the quality of teaching within the school (Fullan, 2001). Written and oral communication skills are part of the repertoire of effective communicative leadership which elicits successful collaboration.

Visionary leadership entails knowing one’s personal role in the vision and seeing a clear path on how to get there. Personal focus is balanced with systems leadership, the understanding of how bus drivers, administrative support staff, food service, business manager, and others influence student achievement and core organizational objectives.

Reflective leadership takes time to think about the lesson learned, record small wins and setbacks, document conflicts between values and practice, identify the difference between idiosyncratic behavior and long-term pathologies, and notice trends that emerge over time. A reflective journal is a critical component to reflective leadership.

The raw intellect and solving ability of analytical leadership is evident in masterful understanding of budgets, assessment scores, and statistical data. Effective principals displaying analytical leadership are persistent questioners, from the stance of seeking clarity not in a judgmental or declarative manner.

Reeves (2006, p. 45) defines the concept of the leader as the “architect who is able to make complex connections and master thousands of details in blue prints, yet build a temple that is masterful in conception and design and elegant in the simplicity of its steps, columns, and roof.”  The role of the principal is nontraditional, complex, and more challenging than ever.

Buckingham, M., & Coffman, C. (1999). First, break all the rules: What the    
    world’s greatest managers do differently
. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Fullan, M. (2001). Leading in a culture of change. San Francisco: Jossey Bass
Goleman, D., Boyatzis, R., & McKee, A. (2002). Primal leadership: Realizing
     the power of emotional intelligence.
Boston: Harvard Business School Press.
Reeves, D.B. (2006). The learning leader: How to focus school improvement
     for better results.
Alexandria, VA: Association of Curriculum &

(Published in the MESPA Advocate, May 2008)