An analysis of the theory and practice of leadership in education with particular reference to superintendents of education (management) in the eThekwini region of KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education.
Approaches to management have varied radically in their purposes and have altered significantly over time. Hierarchies of authority, divisions of labour, adherence to rules and spans of control are now regarded as denying the flexibility and responsiveness that provide the necessary conditions for effective leadership. In the past, some theorists viewed leadership as a fixed set of skills and techniques, often aimed at controlling subordinates' behaviour. In the recent past, however, leadership theory tends to emphasize the need for leaders to reflect on themselves, their subordinates' needs, different modalities and approaches, at different times. One such theoretical model, which can begin the process of explaining variations in systems of management and leadership, is the situational theory. An important step in the evolution of knowledge about leadership was the creation of the contingency or situational theory. According to this theory of leadership, the situation determines the best style. The four most influential contingency models of leadership used in this study are Fiedler's contingency model, Hersey and Blanchard's situational model, House's path-goal model, and the Vroom-Yetton-Jago leader-participation model. In this study, the four situational models were used to ascertain whether superintendents of education (management) in the eThekwini Region can and do use different leadership styles in different situations. The researcher identified three variables in the work situation that help determine which leadership style will be effective, namely leader-subordinate relations, task structure and the leader's position power. As the researcher gathered more data from a variety of survey methods such as participant observation, an attitudinal questionnaire, and semi-structured interviews, it was found that effective superintendents not only managed downward but were also effective in lateral relationships with subordinates. The aim of the study, therefore, was to discover whether the participants were adept at recognizing the requirements of the situation and the needs of their subordinates, and then adjusting their own leadership style accordingly. A basic feature of the situational or contingency theory of leadership, envisaged in this study, is that it seeks to emancipate superintendents from their dependency on practices that are the product of precedent, habit and tradition by developing modes of analysis and enquiry that are aimed at exposing and examining the beliefs, values and assumptions implicit in the theoretical framework through which superintendents organize their experiences. The study shows that it is only by challenging the adequacy of conventional theories of leadership practice that the observations, interpretations and judgments of superintendents will become more rational and coherent and their practices will be conducted in effective ways. By subjecting the beliefs and justifications of existing and ongoing practical traditions to rational analysis, theory transforms practice by transforming the ways in which practice is experienced and understood. Superintendents of Education (Management) based in the eThekwini Region are operating in one of the most dynamic and complex educational enviromnents in KwaZulu-Natal, one where many variables have an enormous influence on their main task, namely to achieve the goals and objectives of the Education Department. In this context, a whole new vista of leadership can be explored. Leadership is fundamentally the task of these superintendents to direct the activities and performance of subordinates, such as principals of schools, so that the objectives of the Department can be attained. In its simplest form, leadership is the relationship and interaction between the superintendent and his or her subordinate. In setting up the study, the researcher provided for the participation of superintendents and principals. The new political dispensation in South Africa is characterized by a host of variables that can be classified under what is known as 'transformation', In an educational landscape that is undergoing fundamental change, superintendents no longer have the luxury of relying on generic administrative approaches, technical skills, and management functions. To this end, this study makes the point that the success of the current education system is not necessarily due to the superintendents' competence as managers but rather to their ability as leaders. Turning superintendents into educational leaders so that they can become better managers is one of the underlying principles behind this study. The real challenge facing superintendents is to combine strong leadership and strong management and use each to balance the other. Research on leadership is moving in many directions and new lines of enquiry are opening up in an effort to construct the ultimate leadership model. International research shows that high impact leaders do not rely solely on the structural approach. These leaders consciously reflect on, study and develop their leadership practices to meet the demands of today's evolving education enviromnent. Recent studies suggest that effective superintendents take time and effort to manage their relationships with their subordinates. For multiple leadership roles to work together,the actions of superintendents must be carefully coordinated by strategies that differ from those coordinating traditional management roles. Such strategies, the researcher believes, help create a corporate culture where superintendents value strong leadership and strive to create it. Institutionalizing a leadership-centred culture is the ultimate act of leadership. The researcher believes that this study has the potential to challenge superintendents to play a more meaningful and appropriate role in the transformation of educational leadership. It was with this in mind that an analysis of the theory and practice of leadership in education with a particular reference to superintendents of education (management) in the eThekwini Region of KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education and Culture was visited by the researcher.