Why does everyone want to be a leader?

Anyone who is capable of getting themselves made president should on no account be allowed to do the job.
– Douglas Adams

I’ve been thinking a lot about the psychology of leadership lately. Both my own and that of others. Every sector has its share of people in leadership who just don’t belong there, and education is no different. Education is unique though in that leadership really is the only path available to those that have professional and/or money ambitions.

A relative of mine who just took an entry-level coding job in silicon valley told me that after three weeks on the job, he received a $20k raise. If he is ambitious, what will he do? He will continue to work hard, develop his skills and learn how to make even better products within a team. If he does, he will almost certainly have many more $20k raises in his future, and with a little luck, he will hop to a new job with stock options or hit it big working for himself.

This is not the path for the ambitious educator: a year-full of great lesson planning won’t earn a $20k raise. In fact, there is no part of a teacher’s core responsibilities, which when done with excellence, will lead to more pay or professional recognition. To get that, one needs to take on peripheral “positions of responsibility”. I use ironic quotes because these responsibilities are invariably less important than their students’ learning, and it’s often the students’ learning that suffers when full-time teachers try to squeeze in a bunch of other tasks. Unlike the coder, the ambitious teacher doesn’t have much incentive to to focus on developing skills or product development. Instead it’s leadership or bust.

That’s too bad, because there’s not much correlation between being a good teacher and being a good leader. Good teachers leave the classroom and become poor leaders just as poor teachers leave the classroom to become good leaders. The commonality is their ambition.

Schools have the most to gain by identifying and developing these two groups

The only real win-win for a school is when a bad teacher becomes a good leader, but as far as I know, there aren’t any performance management or leadership scouting programs that really target these groups effectively. Imagine if we could move a portion of our bad teachers without ambition into successful leadership positions and imagine if we could create a pathway for some of our good teachers to realize their ambitions from within the classroom (instead of losing them to becoming poor leaders).

But what we really need are new organizational paradigms which offer advancement opportunities other than leadership. Until that time, expect ambitious teachers to keep pushing for leadership opportunities. They might not be the right people for the job, but what else can they do?

Have I missed some successful strategies? Let me know in the comments.