Formation of capable, influential, and authentic leaders for times of uncertainty

by Patrick Duignan

In this interesting and accessible address to the 2003 national conference of the Australian Primary Principals’ Association (APPA), Patrick Duignan emphasises the moral, ethical, and spiritual side of leadership.

Leaders, he says, are faced with working in environments that are full of tensions and paradoxes for which there are no ‘either/or’ solutions; no right or wrong answers. He cites the difficulties that leaders face when dealing with situations that require decisions to be based on both care and compassion, and rules and regulations.

He provides very useful real-life case studies of the realities principals face in making difficult decisions, and some practical guidance about ways to think through the ethical issues that can arise from them.

Duignan links his discussion on managing dilemmas to inviting critical reflection on the content of leadership preparation programmes. He says, 'Many current leadership preparation and development programs need to be transformed by engaging participants in educative processes that draw on their life experiences and inner wisdom to better equip them make informed and wise choices in situations of paradox and dilemma.' 

Reflective questions

These reflective questions might guide you in your reading of this article:

  • Have you recently had to make a tough decision, where there was no one ‘right’ answer in terms of being caring of all the people concerned? Duignan offers a continuum approach to framing the issues and tensions in complex ethical situations as an aid to making a judgment. Try reflecting on your own example using his approach.
  • Consider the issues you face during a day. How many of them pit your personal values against ministry or board of trustees policy?
  • How can a school demonstrate tight and loose structures at the same time?
  • If you are an aspiring or new principal, how does any current leadership preparation work that you are undertaking compare with Duignan’s ideas?


Duignan, P. (2003, September). Formation of Capable, Influential and Authentic Leaders for Times of Uncertainty. Paper given at the Australian Primary Principals’ Association National Conference, Adelaide. Linked to PDF with permission.

Tell a colleague | Back to top