In the Feb 29, 2016 issue of New Yorker Magazine, Joshua Rothman's article "Shut Up and Sit Down" discusses the long history of failed models of leadership and leadership training.  Traditionally, ideas about leadership focus on key personality traits, characteristics, or styles. Learn these and you too can become an effective leader and people will follow you. We can see how our perceptions about leadership are playing out in the Presidential race.  As Rothman states, "Our faith in the value of leadership is durable—it survives, again and again, our disappointment with actual leaders. Polls suggest that, even though voters who support Trump are frustrated with the people in charge, they aren’t disillusioned about leadership in general: they are attracted to Trump’s “leadership qualities” and to an authoritarian view of life. In a sense, they’re caught in a feedback loop. The glorification of leadership makes existing leaders seem disappointing by comparison, leading to an ever more desperate search for “real” leaders to replace them. Trump’s supporters aren’t the only ones caught in this loop. Schools that used to talk about “citizenship” now claim to train “the leaders of tomorrow”; academics study leadership in think tanks and institutes; leadership experts emote their way through talks about it on YouTube. According to an analysis by the consulting firm McKinsey, two-thirds of executives say that  “leadership development and succession management” constitute their No. 1 “human capital priority”; another study found that American companies spend almost fourteen billion dollars annually on leadership-training seminars."

Are these trainings effective? Are we producing better leaders? As educators, what responsibility do we play in glorifying "leadership" by promising again and again that we are "training" our children to become the leaders of tomorrow? And what do we mean when we use the term "leader"?

At the Center for Montessori Education|NY, we've been offering the Administrator Course for school heads and principals for over 20 years. We were the first  to offer an AMS (American Montessori Society) Administrator Credential.  As the founding generation of Montessori school heads retires and a growing number of public school districts turn toward Montessori, there is increased demand and need for a well-qualified and Montessori-informed pool of new Montessori School Heads.

CME|NY's Administrator Course continues to evolve to meet the changing demographics and challenges facing Montessori School Heads. We teach leadership, not as an adjective: a set of attributes or skills to learn; but as a verb: leadership as an action plan. Our School Heads come away with an understanding that their role is not to dictate in order to lead, but rather to work in collaboration with their "followers" (their teachers, their staff, their school families), to share responsibility, activities, and implementation across the entire school community. They leave our course with the ability to work together for positive change and with specific action plans in place to start the new school year.

We understand that school leadership is hard and it is lonely. And so we build an accessible network of support and professional mentorship for our cohorts.  The course includes a platform for self-reflection in order to assist each participant in better identifying his/her own strengths and unique challenges. This, too, is an unusual model in the training of leadership but not unusual in Montessori teacher training, which long has had a  focus on developing the awareness of one's own frame of reference though self-reflection and observation.

Rothman concludes,  "When we’re swept up in the romance of leadership, we admire leaders who radiate authenticity and authority; we respect and enjoy our “real” leaders. At other times, though, we want leaders who see themselves objectively, who resist the pull of their own charisma, who doubt the story they’ve been rewarded for telling. “If a man who thinks he is a king is mad,” Jacques Lacan wrote, “a king who thinks he is a king is no less so.” A sense of perspective may be among the most critical leadership qualities. For better or worse, however, it’s the one we ask our leaders to hide."

Imagine what the Presidential race would be like if not only our leaders but also our voters understood the potential for the kind of leadership that includes such a keen awareness of perspective and resolves that in order to overcome them, we all must share in the responsibility of  working together to identify and solve the problems we face.

Maybe someday, we'll see a Presidential candidate emerge who attended one of our Montessori schools where that quality of leadership was evident in the Head of School.