The wounded leader

by Richard Ackerman and Pat Maslin-Ostrowski


In this article Richard Ackerman and Pat Maslin-Ostrowski document stories of school leaders who have experienced a crisis event in their leadership practice that has profoundly changed their professional growth and development.

In their conversations with wounded leaders, they are guided by two questions:

  • How does a reasonable, well-intentioned person, who happens to be a school leader, preserve a healthy sense of self in the face of factors that challenge that self?
  • What perspective on the work of leadership can shed light on these challenges and produce a mindset that leaves the individual open to learn and grow from these experiences? 

The writers tell several stories of school leaders suddenly confronted with a serious life-changing crisis. For example, Bruce, a successful principal, reads a damaging letter to the editor condemning him, unjustly, as corrupt. The situation escalates and we learn not only how Bruce deals with the consequences, but what he learns about himself as a leader through the experience.

Each of the stories reveals something about resilience, lessons learned and a deeper understanding of the self. The message of the writers is ultimately optimistic. “Crisis can be an emergent occasion for transformation. Crisis provides the possibility of breaking free of the current image of the leader.” 

Reflective questions

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

  • This article highlights the need for school leaders to learn from experiences when publicly challenged. As you read, think about times when your own vulnerabilities as a leader were exposed. How did you deal with them?
  • Have you thought about how you might deal with a confrontational situation where you are opposed by a group who disagree with an action you have taken, or a direction you have proposed? Does the culture of your school lead to situations where this could or does occur?


Ackerman, R., & Maslin-Ostrowski, P. (2004). The wounded leader. Educational Leadership, 61(7).

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