Leadership succession

by Andy Hargreaves


This article reports on research into what characteristics make for success during times of transition in leadership of a school. While the particulars of the North American setting are different from New Zealand’s practices in planning for succession, there is much to be learned from this article. It is an important article for boards of trustees and members of the school senior management team to discuss, especially in the lead up to appointing new senior staff.

The main emphasis in the article is ensuring that schools have systems in place to prevent them becoming dependent on the leadership capability of one gifted leader. Pools of leadership need to be established within a school, so that times of transition from one principal to another do not become disruptive to the direction the school is going in. The school community as a whole needs to discuss the situation when a significant succession is about to take place. Hargreaves points out that changes will be inevitable with new personnel, but they need to be anticipated, planned for, and monitored.

It would be beneficial for new principals to read and discuss this article, so that they are made more conscious of the issues they face when they join a new school.

Reflective questions

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

  • How is your school (board and staff) responding to the current research and support for distributed leadership? What strategies and systems does the school have in place to develop internal leadership?
  • How does your school provide a balance between preserving the current strengths that it has in terms of leadership, and remaining responsive to change and new directions?
  • How does your school prepare for induction of new leaders into the school, so that they can both ‘learn about how things are’, and present their own visions for the school’s future development? What plans do you have during a time of succession to balance these two competing demands?


Hargreaves, A. (2005, Winter). Leadership succession. The Educational Forum, 69, 163–173.

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