Thread: Conceptualising educational leadership as a verb

Those who study, research and practise leadership undisputedly would argue that there is a plethora of meanings, theories and adjectives about leadership. However, for this blog and the blogger defining terms may be helpful – even if for provocative purposes.  I would like to consider leadership as a verb.  To establish this platform I make several comments about the term itself. First, the concept of leadership can be broader than, yet at the same time can be inclusive of, the concept of leader. Second, leadership may be referred to as a noun, an adjective as well as a verb. As a noun leadership could be referring to a position – for example the leadership of the organisation ‘the leadership of this school community is awe inspiring’. As an adjective it may describe the person or team – for example the leadership team. As a verb leadership may be referred to as the enactments of the ‘being’ – for example reasonable acts of leadership may evidenced as mobilising, influencing or persuading. Conversely, acts of leadership could be stabilising, implementing or embedding.

There are several reasons for privileging the verb idea. The first is that leadership as a verb diminishes the seduction of narrowing leadership to a hierarchical position. The second reason is that leadership could belong to the ‘doing’ between and with people. The third is that conceptualising leadership as a verb frees us from possible binary thinking, such as ‘leading or managing’ (Bloxham, Ehrich, & Iyer, 2015) or between ‘transforming or transacting’ (Jung & Avolio, 2000).

Let’s apply the verb concept to the mobilising and influencing idea of leadership. While mobilising has various meanings when referring to leadership it could also be likened to, yet not limited to, managing or organising. Importantly mobilising connotes moving from one position to another. Influencing could include meanings of, yet also not limited to, persuading, transforming or empowering. If we continue thinking that leadership being enacted between and with people it can be viewed as a relationship. If we add to the recipe the reasonable notion that leadership is mobilising and influencing we could say that leadership is a mobilising and influencing relationship. This definition holds elements of similarity with Patrick Duignan’s ideas (2008; 2015) where he describes leadership as an ‘influence relationship’[1]and Branson, Franken, and Penney (2016 in Press) who examine the relationships of middle leaders as up and down – notably a trans relational approach of middle leaders. Eacott (2015) examines leadership relationally yet in my interpretation Eacott’s conceptualisation is as distinct from or different lens to Duignan and Branson, Franken and Penny.

To this point this discussion has led to our thinking of leadership as a verb with a certain mission – one of mobilising – one point or positon to another point or position and one of influencing. Mobilising and influencing is in the context of between and/or with people. Hopefully you will find this a useful orientation for engaging in the One other area however that requires deliberation is the educational bit of the leadership. Education can be quite a broad term. We leave such definitions to the blogger to describe their context of education or educational.


Bloxham, R., Ehrich, L. C., & Iyer, R. (2015). Leading or managing? Assistant Regional Directors, School Performance, in Queensland. Journal of Educational Administration, 53(3), 354-373.

Branson, C. M., Franken, M., & Penney, D. (2016 in Press). Reconceptualsing middle leadership in higher education: A transrelational approach. In J. McNiff (Ed.), Values and Virtues in higher educaiton: Critical perspectives. Abington, Oxon: Rutledge.

Danielewicz, J. (2014). Teaching selves: Identity, pedagogy, and teacher education: SUNY Press.

Duignan, P. (2008). Leadership: Influencing Relationships and Authentic Presence: Centre for Strategic Education.

Duignan, P. (2015). Authenticity in educational leadership: History, ideal, reality. Leading and Managing, 21(1), 1.

Eacott, S. (2015). Educational leadership relationally: a theory and methodology for educational leadership, management and administration: Springer.

Fairhurst, G. T., & Grant, D. (2010). The social construction of leadership: A sailing guide. Management Communication Quarterly, 24(2), 171-210.

Jung, D. I., & Avolio, B. J. (2000). Opening the black box: An experimental investigation of the mediating effects of trust and value congruence on transformational and transactional leadership. Journal of organizational Behavior, 21(8), 949-964.

Koyama, J. (2014). Principals as Bricoleurs Making Sense and Making Do in an Era of Accountability. Educational Administration Quarterly, 50(2), 279-304.

Sieler, A. (2015). Ontology: A Theoretical Basis for Coaching, from

[1] Patrick Duignan’s concept of the ‘influence relationship’ suggests between and with people, his concept however, remains as an adjectival noun and not a ‘doing’ as a verb.

5 thoughts on “Thread: Conceptualising educational leadership as a verb

  1. Thanks for citing my work. Two things I would like to comment on. First, you are correct to identify that my mobilization of ‘relational’ is different to that of Branson et al. and Duignan. My approach is best articulated here: What I do is advance a relational (theory and methodology) approach for the study of organizing. Branson et al., while the title suggests a relational analysis, quickly defaults to an adjectival relational leadership (caught up in a pre-existing normatie orientation). I am not overly familiar with Duignan’s position, but it appears more likely to be a co-determinist approach where relations are reduce to a measurement construct rather than a relational approach.

    Second, while this blogs seeks to engage with / understand leadership, there is still an uncritical acceptance of the very idea of leadership. It might be worth checking out this recent book: There are an interesting set of chapters that ask questions of leadership (and the odd advocate).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Scott for engaging with this blog. I appreciate your orientation of relational and will reflect upon the work you linked. Indeed my thoughts here indicate an uncritical acceptance of the notion of leadership. This is where I am situated in my understandings and practices of leadership. At the same time I need to consider the primary audience – our Masters students and leader practitioners who are more likely searching for a pragmatic approach not a study of leaderhsip itself. That said I will in time refer to this body of knowledge, because a study of leadership is deficit without such consideration. We have found such consideration very benefical for example in the ACU Foundations of Ed Lead core unit. Students find such considerations refreshing and a lift from being bogged down in adjectives. Interrogating the concept itself is liberating and a stimulating academic exercise.


  2. No problems. Of course it is the pragmatic approach of our primary audience that makes the importance of critical work all the more important. This is what i found so powerful about Martin Thrupp and Richard Willmott’s (2003) Educational Management in Managerialist Times, and the role of textual apologists. Hopefully the links I provided some further food for thought.

    Liked by 1 person

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