Optimizing School Climate through Leadership Barry Joel Desaine, B. Sc. Management Studies, M. Sc. Organizational Leadership A school’s climate is influenced by its administrators’ leadership style—by the way they motivate personnel, gather and use information, make decisions, manage change initiatives, and handle crises. It is an essential factor for success as a poor environment can account for as much as a third of all deficiencies. Unfortunately, many administrators fail to appreciate how deeply the climate of their school can affect the performance of both staff and students.
This paper explains what is meant by climate and how emotional intelligence and its influences on leadership styles can impact on the climate of a school. What is School Climate? School climate has been defined in many ways. One author wrote that school climate refers to “the feelings and attitudes that are elicited by a school’s environment” (Loukas, 2007). Another adds that it is “based on patterns of students’, parents’ and school personnel’s experience of school life and reflects norms, goals, values, interpersonal relationships, teaching and learning practices, and organizational structures” (Center for Social and Emotional Education).
Researchers also list a variety of factors that influence school climate such as: students’ and teachers’ perception of their school environment, or the school’s personality (Johnson, Johnson, & Zimmerman, 1996); the frequency and quality of teacher-student interactions (Kuperminc, Leadbeater and Blatt, 2001); feelings of safeness and school size (Freiberg, 1998); or feelings of trust and respect for students and teachers (Manning & Saddlemire, 1996). The late Harvard psychologist, David McClelland, postulated that there are six key factors which influence an organization’s working environment: flexibility i. e. ow free workers feel they can be innovative; workers’ sense of responsibility; the level of standards set; the sense of accuracy about performance feedback and aptness of rewards; how clear the mission and values are to the workers; and the level of commitment to a common purpose. Regardless of how school climate is defined, there is common agreement that organizational climate is affected by the administrators’ style of leadership and that this is based on their emotional intelligence. Emotional Intelligence Emotional intelligence is “the ability to accurately identify and understand one’s own emotional reactions and those of others.
It also involves the ability to regulate one’s emotions, to use them to make good decisions and to act effectively” (Cherniss & Adler, 2000). It involves four fundamental capabilities: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and social skill. Each of these four areas is made up of specific sets of competencies and corresponding traits as follows: 1. Self-Awareness i. e. the ability to: interpret one’s emotions and recognize their impact; possess a realistic evaluation of one’s strengths and limitations; and nurture self-confidence. 2.
Self-Management i. e. the ability to: keep disruptive impulses or emotions in check; be honest and demonstrate integrity; manage self and responsibilities; adjust to changing conditions and overcoming hindrances; meet an internal standard of excellence; and seize opportunities. 3. Social Awareness i. e. the ability to: sense another’s emotion, understand their perspective, and take an active interest in their concerns; navigate politics, build decision networks and gain insight into the life of the organization; and recognize and meet the needs of others. . Social Skills i. e. the ability to: take charge and inspire with a compelling vision; influence others; strengthen another’s abilities through feedback and guidance; listen and send clear, convincing, and well-tuned messages; initiate new ideas and lead people in a new direction; defuse disagreements and orchestrate resolutions; cultivate and maintain a web of relationships; and promote cooperation and team building. Decades of research has shown that emotional intelligence has a direct impact n a leader’s potential to succeed. This is simply because emotional intelligence determines the styles of leadership one is able to master, which subsequently affects one’s ability to positively affect the climate of an organization. “Leaders with strengths in a critical mass of six or more emotional intelligence competencies are far more effective than peers who lacked such strengths” (Goldman, 2000). The Six Leadership Styles Six basic leadership styles were identified from the research on emotional intelligence.
Each of these styles works best in specific situations and affects school climate in different ways. The six styles of leadership and the appropriate situation for their use are as follows: 1. Coercive: Coercive leaders demand immediate compliance using a “do what I say” approach based on their drive to achieve, use initiative, and be in control. This style can be very effective in: reorientation situations; after a natural disaster; or when working with difficult personnel. However, in most situations coercive leadership inhibits creativity and dampens teachers’ motivation. . Authoritative: Authoritative leaders mobilizes their staff around a vision using a “come with me” approach based on their self-confidence, empathy, and the desire to be a change catalyst. They state overall goals and give workers the freedom to choose their own means of achieving them. This style is especially suited for organizations that are adrift or needing clear directions or a new vision. It is less effective when working with a team of professionals, especially if they are more experienced or more educated than the leader. 3.
Affiliative: Affiliative leaders have a “people come first” attitude that is particularly useful for: healing rifts among staff; building harmony; or increasing morale and motivation. The style is based on the leadership competencies in empathy, relationship building and communication. However, excessive praise may allow poor performance to go unchecked if individuals are inadequately skilled. Additionally, some affiliative leaders rarely offer advice and often leave staff in a quandary. 4. Democratic: Democratic leaders ask “what do you think? to forge consensus and participation based on their competencies in collaboration, team leadership, and communication. By giving individuals a voice in decision-making, these leaders build flexibility and responsibility and help generate new ideas. However, the style does not always positively impact climate as some advocate as at times it can lead to endless meetings and a confused staff that feel leaderless! 5. Pacesetting: Pacesetting leaders use a “do as I do, now” approach based on their sense of conscientiousness, drive to achieve, and initiative.
By setting high performance standards and exemplifying them, they positively impact those individuals who are self-motivated and highly competent. The style is best suited for situations that require quick results from a highly motivated and competent staff. However, some individuals tend to feel overwhelmed by the immediate demand for excellence and resent the tendency for some administrators to micro-manage or take charge over situations. 6. Coaching: Coaching leaders use a “try this” approach to encourage the personal development of staff based on their sense of empathy and self-awareness.
This works well when individuals are already aware of their weaknesses and want to improve performance or develop long-term strengths, but not when they are resistant to changing their ways. Multiple Leadership Styles Research on the impact of leadership style on organizational climate revealed that the authoritative, affiliative, democratic, and coaching styles each have an overall positive impact on climate while the coercive and pacesetting styles were negatively correlated.
It was also found that the most effective administrators do not rely on only one leadership style but use most of them, seamlessly and in different measures, according to the needs of the situation. Subsequently, the more styles a school administrator masters, the better prepared he will be to positively affect the school’s climate. Being able to switch among authoritative, affiliative, democratic, and coaching styles as conditions dictate creates the best school climate for optimizing school performance.
In summary, school climate is a critically important, but much overlooked, factor that affects the performance of both teachers and students. An organization’s climate can be positively or negatively affected through the leadership styles of administrators which depend on their emotional intelligence. In order to optimize the climate of a school, administrators must be able to master and effectively use the various styles of leadership according to the situation that arises. This paper was inspired by: “Leadership that gets results” – Daniel Goldman, Harvard Business Review, 1st March, 2000.