Leadership Versus Administration
By Annick M. Brennen, MA, 2002, 2020


Sergiovanni (1991) defined administration as a process of working with and through others to accomplish school goals efficiently. An administrator then is one who is responsible for carrying out this process. Administrative theorists describe the essential roles and tasks of administration as planning, organizing, leading and controlling. Management is also concerned with tasks such as planning, coordinating, directing, defining objectives, supporting the work of others, and evaluating performance. Thus a similarity exists between administration and management. However, leadership is the exercise of high-level conceptual skills and decisiveness. It is envisioning mission, developing strategy, inspiring people, and changing culture (Evans, 1996, p. 148).

Administrators are appointed. They have a legitimate power base and can reward and punish. Their ability to influence is founded upon the formal authority inherent in their positions. In contrast, leaders may either be appointed or emerge from within a group. Leaders can influence other to perform beyond the actions dictated by formal authority. In this sense, managers/administrators get other people to do, but leaders get other people to want to do.

Mintzberg (1989) debunks the folklore that managers are reflective, systematic planners. He states that the fact is that study after study, has shown that managers work at an unrelenting pace, that their activities are characterized by brevity, variety, and discontinuity, and that they are strongly oriented to action and dislike reflective activities. In this regard, administrator’s work follow the same pattern as that of managers

Managers and administrators perform tasks that includes demands, constraints, and an in-between area of choices as she seeks to maximize resources for the fulfillment of specified objectives. The distinguishing factor between leaders and administrators is that leaders initiate new structures or procedures to achieve organizational goals or objectives, whereas administrators utilize existing structures or procedures for this purpose.

Administrators and managers make many decisions and get involved in the nitty gritty of day-to-day operations. But according to Peter Drucker, effective leaders do not make many decisions. They focus on important ones that have impact on the larger aspects of the organization. They try to think through what is generic and strategic, rather than solve daily problems or put out fires.

Whereas managers are concerned with shaping existing structures and processes of the organization to produce desired results, leaders have a commitment or vision and shape people around their commitment or vision. A manager is concerned with carrying out policies, while a leader formulates policies. A manager does the thing right, while a leader does the right thing.

To accomplish the mission, goals, and objectives of the school, principals must integrate these three different facets of administrative practice–leadership, management, and administration.

According to Heil, Bennis, and Stephens, Douglas McGregor was ahead of his time when he stressed the fundamental importance of dealing with the human side of enterprise. His Theory X and Y is particularly relevant to educational leadership as the milieu, aim, and means of education focus uniquely on humans as means and ends. Achieving results, then, will depend on the ability to manage humans.

In The Human Side of the Enterprise, McGregor posits that every managerial act rests on assumptions, generalizations, and hypotheses–that is to say, on theory. Theory X and Y call for managers to examine their assumptions about human nature and see how these mental models lead to managerial practices. These assumptions will be reflected in management attitudes toward people, the kind and amount of participation they allow, and the outcomes they expect.

Theory X is fundamentally a philosophy of direction and control. Theory X relies almost exclusively on external control of human behavior while Theory Y relies heavily on self-control and self-direction. Theory X is similar to bureaucratic models, while Theory Y is similar to humanistic style management. Theory Y, is based on optimistic assumptions about human nature and provides a more powerful basis for motivating workers than the older Theory X. In McGregor’s own words, Theory Y leads to a preoccupation with the nature of relationships with the creation of an environment which will encourage commitment to organizational objectives and which will provide opportunities for the maximum exercise of initiative, ingenuity, and self-direction in achieving them.

The assumptions about people associated with Theory X are as follows:

  1. Average people are by nature indolent–they work as little as possible.

  2. They lack ambition, dislike responsibility, prefer to be led.

  3. They are inherently self-centered, indifferent to organizational needs.

  4. They are by nature resistant to change.

  5. They are gullible, not very bright, the ready dupe of the charlatan and the demagogue.

If teachers exhibit the characteristics outlined in Theory X, it is because administrators have such expectations of them, and sensing negative assumptions and expectations, teachers are likely to respond in a negative way. Administrators need to replace these negative assumptions with the assumptions of Theory Y:

  1. People are not by nature passive or resistant to organizational needs. They have become so as a result of experience in organizations.

  2. The motivation, the potential for development, the capacity for assuming responsibility, the readiness to direct behavior toward organizational goals are all present in people. Management does not put them there. It is a responsibility of management to make it possible for people to recognize and develop these human characteristics for themselves.

  3. The essential task of management is to arrange organizational conditions and methods of operation so that people can achieve their own goals best by directing their own efforts toward organizational objectives.

These are very powerful propositions, that if implemented in the school setting, will build identification and commitment to worthwhile objectives and will foster mutual trust and respect among teachers and administrators.

The strength of McGregor’s theory is its relevance. Just imagine, when McGregor formulated his theory, businesses competed on the basis of their ability to mass produce goods. Their physical and financial resources gave them the edge. Today, however, paying attention to the human element is a requirement if any organization, including schools, hopes to compete in a networked economy where technology has leveled the ground for all. Technology has changed the landscape and has had the impact of making the humans who run the tools of technology more critical than ever. Without a powerfully motivated, highly skilled, self-reliant human resource organizations do not stand a chance to survive, much less compete.


"According to Peter Drucker, effective leaders do not make many decisions. They focus on important ones that have impact on the larger aspects of the organization. They try to think through what is generic and strategic, rather than solve daily problems or put out fires."


If paying attention to the human element is critical for the survival of industry, it is even more so for the educational enterprise which is concerned mainly about unlocking human potential, encouraging human growth, and offering guidance. The old mechanistic, bureaucratic, custodial managerial practices which have proven ineffective in the long run have been replaced by humanistic ones. Principals who aim to provide an environment for learning must necessarily focus on the human side of the educational enterprise.

A change in managerial practice can only come about as principals question their assumptions, beliefs, and presuppositions about human nature and change who they are and how they think. This self-assessment into one’s personal nature and the nature of others is another strength of McGregor’s theory. It backs up the Biblical principle that "as the man thinketh in his heart, so is he." As McGregor stated, "At the core of any theory of human resources are assumptions about human motivation." Such assumptions must be brought to the surface and aligned with organizational practices. Real and lasting solutions are created only when people go to the root of the problem.

Critics of Theory X and Theory Y advance that neither of these sets of assumptions, represent an accurate description of how administrators view people. Although they may tend toward either one, few if any administrators fully accept the assumptions of either. It is also claimed that Theory Y is weak because it allegedly weakens the authority of the leader as too much authority is delegated to subordinates. Severe critics refer to Theory Y as "communism" theory.

Senge suggests that an organization must be studied as a whole, taking into consideration the interrelationships among its parts and its relationship with the external environment. People who prefer a systems approach to management may see a weakness in McGregor’s theory because it only focuses on a sub-element of one of the five elements which make up the school system. His theory does not provide the broad framework necessary to aid in the analysis, diagnosis, and solution to the problems of schools. From the systems theory standpoint, McGregor’s theory provides the solution to problems related to the human aspect of an organization. However, the keen analyzer will realize that all elements in the system are affected by it and that providing a solution to human problems will help improve the other parts of the system.


Read article on Leadership Styles


Annick M. Brennen, consultant, retired educator

annickbrennen@gmail.com  or  annick@soencouagement.org


Nassau, The Bahamas


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