Teach & Serve IV, No. 4 | Contentional Leadership

Teach & Serve IV, No. 4

Contential Leadership

August 29, 2018

When one is only concerned with her or his ideas being better than someone else’s ideas, teamwork cannot flourish. It cannot even begin.

Though it might be hard to believe, there are some leaders who believe that the best way to motivate, inspire and stimulate the people with whom they work is by intentionally putting them in opposition to one another. Leaders such as this thrive on a feeling of discomfort or contention among their staff member and believe that the energy created from being perpetually in conflict is a fertile ground from which good ideas arise. These are the leaders who think the best people, the best policies and the best plans arise from skirmishes both large and small.

I know that people lead this way because I once worked for a principal who exercised this exact philosophy of leadership.

What did I learn from him?

Frankly, I learned many things, both good and bad, but, in this case, I learned, the hard way, that this kind of leadership is worse than ineffective; it is destructive.

It may seem that contentional leadership (as I will call it) leads to a dynamic where people are inspired through the energy created to do their best work. it may seem that, when our professional reputations depend on being as good or better than those around us that we will give more and do more. No. This approach to teamwork leads to no teamwork at all.

When one is only concerned with her or his ideas being better than someone else’s ideas, teamwork cannot flourish. It cannot even begin.  When one is pleased that another’s seat at the table is shifted away from center in deference to her own place, community cannot thrive. When one operates to curry favor with leadership whether or not the leader deserves that favor, the system is broken.

For about three years running, I worked in an institution where contentional leadership was the operative system, where it  ruled the day. I am no longer at that school.

To be clear, the principal who lead, primarily, in that fashion left that school over a decade ago. That school has not fully recovered.

I do not know when it will.

Contentional leadership demeans, divides and destroys. There is no place for it schools.