How (and why) to avoid making rational decisions: embracing paradox in school leadership


Watson C (2013) How (and why) to avoid making rational decisions: embracing paradox in school leadership. School Leadership and Management, 33 (3), pp. 256-269.

In delivering ‘school improvement' school leaders must decide between competing and conflicting demands in the context of uncertainty. Confronted with this there may be a temptation to reduce the complexity, in other words to rationalise the situation. While this may lead to short-term gains, over the longer term such decisions can prove detrimental. In responding to these kinds of situations organisational research has recently taken something of a paradox turn. Indeed, developing practices which are accommodating of paradox is increasingly being seen as a productive and powerful creative strategy for business leaders. The aim of this article was therefore to explore ‘the paradox turn' for its relevance and utility to school leadership and to examine the implications this gives rise to for schools considered as pluralistic organisations with multiple stakeholders. This pluralism produces layers of complexity and tensions which have their origins in diverse and possibly incommensurable values, calling into question the received wisdom around entrenched concepts such as the necessity for the head teacher to ensure a ‘shared vision' underpinned by commonly held values.

ambiguity; distributed leadership; educational change; organisation; paradox; pluralistic organisation; shared vision; school improvement; school leadership; stakeholder theory; values

School Leadership and Management: Volume 33, Issue 3

Publication date31/12/2013
Publication date online11/10/2012
PublisherTaylor and Francis