Leadership: what's wrong?

by Bruce Wilson


This paper challenges many of the beliefs we hold about leadership. It is deliberately provocative and invites us to consider the implications of some of the language about school leadership. It was delivered at the Curriculum Corporation Conference Breaking the Leadership Rules in Hobart, 2004. 

Wilson critiques the notion of “shared” power and the extent to which principals can achieve this without losing the quality of their leadership. He distinguishes delegation from sharing. Delegation should not reduce the power of the person delegating. Delegation should give the person to whom a task is given a strong sense of engagement with the delegated task, but not the final responsibility. This must remain with the leader.

He further critiques the notion that principals should be leaders rather than managers. He argues that leadership is one of the crucial components of management. You can’t be a good manager without being a leader. But the ability to be a good manager, especially of performance management, is essential to being a successful principal.

Wilson reminds us that the only goal of schooling is the improvement of student learning. Principals may have to make major and tough decisions in the interests of students, and sometimes on their own.

Reflective questions

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

  • Wilson critiques some of our widely held beliefs about leadership. For example, power should be shared; everyone is a leader; we should be leaders not managers. How does his critique provide you with any new insights into your role, and your relationships with staff in the school?
  • How do you see the relationship between power and delegation? Will Wilson’s comments affect how you think about delegation in your school?
  • Reflect on how you have set up leadership in your school and to what extent it involves a management role. Do your staff see you as the one with whom the potentially difficult final decisions lie?


Wilson, B. (2004). Leadership: what’s wrong? Paper presented at Breaking the Leadership Rules, 11th National Curriculum Corporation Conference, Hobart, October 2004. Added to Educational Leaders with permission.

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