An investigation of Democratic Leadership Style in Moroccan Educational Sector: A case Study of Oued Sakia El-Hamra High School Staff
Sidi Sidi Mohamed Hamdani/Centre for Doctoral Studies, Mohammed V University, Rabat, Morocco
مقال نشر في مجلة جيل العلوم الإنسانية والاجتماعية العدد 41 الصفحة 121.
The purpose of this study is to explore the practice of democratic leadership style in Oued Sakia El-Hamra high school as an example of Moroccan educational institution. The choice of this case is not meant to end debates persisting for ages by simply claiming that democratic leadership remains the only style that fits all educational institutions and all other styles are a waste of time. Otherwise, it is an effort to determine to what extent this style is convincingly approved by the school staff to be the best appropriate style for the educational institution under study. The study intends to judge how and if any challenges of democratic leadership are recognized by the school management team and educational personnel involved in the investigation. This study also reconsiders the pros of democratic leadership as a desirable leadership style to numerous contemporary educational institutions.
Keywords: Leadership; Education; Democracy; Morocco.
- Definition and overview of leadership
Burns (1978) argue that although the term leadership is well-recognized in the literature, no universally accepted definition for the word has appeared. Leadership should encompass shared objectives while the competence of leaders should be determined by the extent through which they can make change. Rost (1991) defines leadership as a relationship based on influence among leaders and members of groups who expect genuine changes that reflect their shared objectives. Fiedler (1967) points out that leadership, in whatever situation, requires the availability of a number of elements including the authority of the leader, the type of the mission, and the relationship between the leader and other members of the group. Kevin Barge (1994) describes three distinct styles of leadership, the autocratic leadership style, the laissez-faire leadership style and the democratic leadership style.
The autocratic leadership style refers to the style of leadership in which the leader takes decisions and retains power. Large groups often need a domineering leader to adjust the inconsistencies of the group. Under an autocratic leader, decisions are taken immediately and thus solutions are reached hurriedly (Williams 1983). The exclusivity of the autocratic leadership style lies in its ability to make not many errors and help greater deal of the mission done compared to other approaches in which groups devote much time to exhaustive discussions. However, although this style is effective in reaching goals through time-saving tactics, members of autocratic team may express their resentment about the way they are authoritatively led by their leader who is extremely directive and doesn’t tolerate contribution from team members (Martin, 2006)
The laissez-faire leadership style is where freedom of choice is fully given for the workers then members don’t need guidance to make their decisions. In this way, leaders don’t contribute to decision making and often let other members of the team decide and take decisions among themselves (Wood, 2008). However, Absence of guidance may lead to poor results regarding decisions taken by the non-guided group. In the laissez-faire leadership style, only highly qualified groups with adequate training may succeed in their missions without help from leaders.
The democratic leadership style adopts cooperative approach in which all members of the one team collaborate and take decision together through discussions and sharing ideas which ensure that all members of the group would abide by the outcomes of their decisions. Compared to the autocratic leadership style, the democratic leadership style devotes too much time to decision making and members of the group are highly motived and creative which is not the way with autocratic group where members are fully dependent on the leader (Hamilton, 2010).
The relationship between leadership and education has been of focus of many works in modern literature. Scholars have emphasized the significant role of leadership in reinforcing improvement and change in educational institutions (Fullan, 2001). Woods (2005) focuses on the significance of leadership and education and the necessity to infuse a democratic spirit in schooling (p.20). Newmann and Wehlage (1995) highlight the importance of shared leadership in promoting learning and organisational competences.
One of the main studies that served as pioneer in the field of leadership style researches was accomplished by the University of Iowa by Kurt Lewin and some of his fellows. Lussier and Achua (2010) emphasises the importance of Kurt Lewin’s study about the leadership style which is no longer an authoritarian but rather democratic. Goleman (2000) argues that Lewin’s studies are accurate and still holds true in educational settings today.
- Research question:
Inspired by Kurt Lewin’s study about the leadership style, this study aims to determine where possible Lewin’s ideas about democratic leadership style are applicable to the case of Oued Sakia El-Hamra high school and particularly whether members of its educational staff and management team are democratically oriented. The importance of this study lies in its endeavour to understand the natural relationship among groups consisting of leaders and subordinates. Stressing the practises of democratic leadership style in of Oued Sakia El-Hamra high school as an example of Moroccan high school emanates from the results of the primary interviews in this research which indicate that the majority of the interviewed workers in Oued Sakia El-Hamra high school express their preference either directly or indirectly for a democratic leadership style. The main research question that drives this study is: How is democratic leadership style understood and practised by Oued Sakia El-Hamra high school staff?
The research has sought to address a group of school staff. Out of 60 workers, including both the teaching staff and management team, 40 people were selected to take part in this study. Data collection was completed through questionnaire and interviews. These methods aren’t seen as so much different but rather complementary (Smith, 2006). The choice of the methods is based on a careful review of earlier theoretical and empirical work conducted on the same issue. Phillips & Schmidt (2012) employed a questionnaire as a primary data collection method to boost response rate which can be reduced considerably if all questions are asked at once in face-to-face contacts (p.88). However, this doesn’t devalue the significance of interviews as an indispensible method of data collection. Interviews can secure data which can’t be obtained through written responses or observations (Kvale, 1996). The main aspects of similarity between the questionnaire and the interviews is comparatively evident in interviews where differences lay in the fact that the investigation is achieved through face-to-face interaction rather than through mails (Sharma, 2006). Compared to a questionnaire, the major benefit of interview method is its extensive flexibility that researcher can inquire more detailed questions which help interviewees give precise answers and avoid error arisen from confusing questions (Bailey, 2008). However, a structured questionnaire with open-ended questions can be appropriate for serving the same objective. It may be helpful to permit free and thoughtfully selected responses from the interviewees (Kothari, 2004). In this study, mixed methods are deliberately adopted to offer the investigator a great deal of flexibility while addressing the questions (Hall, 2008). Questionnaires and interviews are utilized to meet this objective.
- Data Collection
This sphere of research is relatively qualitative. It sets the stage for the use of qualitative instruments to reach into the practices of leadership in educational institutions. Well organized and planned qualitative approach help the conduct of an in-depth investigation of the leadership practices that affect school development (Darroch 1992). A qualitative approach involves a number of instruments to collect data. These include direct observation, participant observation, open-ended questionnaire, in-depth interviews, recorded documents, case studies and journals (Lal Das 2008). Qualitative inquiry allows themes to arise from particular observations and discussions. (Denzin & Lincoln (2000) points out that the researcher uses qualitative tools to describe practices and phenomena which is not well understood (Denise & Beck 2013). In this study, a qualitative research is conducted to explain the outcomes resulting from a survey investigating the phenomenon of leadership and its practises among the personnel of Oued Sakia El-Hamra high school. This study focuses on questionnaire and interviews as primary source for gathering information. Participants are selected for the convenience of the research as well as their willingness to contribute to the investigation (Black 2008). The survey is addressed to 5 members of management team including the headmaster, dean of Studies, two deans of students, and bursar in addition to 35 workers from the teaching staff. The respondents are inquired either through a questionnaire sent to them via emails or through paper and pencil interview (PAPI), questionnaires or verbal face-to-face interviews in case more clarification is needed from the participants. During interviews, the investigator allows respondents to extensively describe their personal experiences and views. In this way, the researcher ensures that all relevant issues are dealt with in detail (Patton 2002)
Oued Sakia El-Hamra high school is one of the popular operating educational institutions in Es-smara city. It is a public school with 52 staff including both management team and educational personnel with an estimated 728 students. Like any Moroccan high school, Oued Sakia El-Hamra administration is based on the structure of the educational system in Morocco which is hierarchical. Head leaders are appointed officials and basic educational policies and decisions are taken by central government. However, local school administrations are allowed a number of powers and authorities to help their staff engage in local decision-making and autonomous initiatives. High school administrators are the leaders of the high school. The headmaster is the most high-ranking worker of the high school. He is responsible for daily supervision and management as well as respect of laws and regulations of the school. Dean of Studies is committed to the application and management of all parts of the academic programme, including the administration of the teaching staff and their performance. Deans of students are administrators who are in charge of student discipline. Bursar is responsible for managing the financial affairs of the school. In addition to the main management team, another administrative support group is available to provide assistance for the main school board in different tasks. The school also consists of educators who are involved in providing instruction.
The setting for this research consists of a survey conducted among numbers of workers in both management and non-management positions chosen to serve the goals of this study. Respondents include the headmaster, dean of Studies, two deans of students, Bursar and other 35 educators. The workers are given a similar set of questions to reply either through a questionnaire or face-to-face interviews. Their responses are used to finalize the outcomes of this study. While the choice of setting serves to determine the relationship between leaders and other staff considering an example of Moroccan public high school in general, it also helps understand if democratic leadership style is best fit for Oued Sakia El-Hamra high school as a case study.
The following part of the research covers the results inferred from the investigation of leadership style conducted among both management team and the teaching staff working in Oued Sakia El-Hamra high school. The primary purpose of this research is to conclude whether democratic style is generally approved by its staff to be best appropriate for the educational institution under study. In the earlier stages of research, the investigation has sought to determine the prevailing leadership style favoured by the working staff in the school among other common styles including autocratic and laissez-faire. Based on a number of in-depth interviews and structured questions, the results of this research indicate that democratic style is the most common used in Oued Sakia El-Hamra high school as well as the most preferred by almost the majority (32) of its staff. The following table presents the ratio of preference of staff for leadership style resulting from investigation.
Table 1.1: Ratio of preference for Democratic Leadership Style in Oued Sakia El-Hamra high school
|Question?||Strongly disagree||Disagree||Not sure||Agree||Strong agree|
|Do you think the leadership style in Oued Sakia El-Hamra high school is Democratic?||0||4||6||22||8|
|Do you think the leadership style adopted in Oued Sakia El-Hamra high school is the best fit?||2||5||5||19||9|
The interviewed workers are also asked to provide reasons behind their preference for Democratic Leadership Style in Oued Sakia El-Hamra high school. The interviewers cite some justifications that have led their choice of democratic pattern as an effective style of leadership could be chosen to fulfil their objectives. In this context, the investigation resulting from the interviews describes certain key aspects of leader conduct believed to standardize effective leadership. These include:
- Democratic leaders show great willingness to listen to others and sympathetically care about their concerns
- Democratic leaders need to preserve trust and integrity as a basis for good governance
- Effective leadership involves effective group participation
- Great leader should be charismatic, inspiring and influential as well as knowledgeable
The major aspects of effective leadership derived from the outcomes of the interviews are, thus, roughly coherent with those originating from the literature study. No single aspect is heavily focused by all interviewees as the only feature that characterise effective democratic leadership style. However, some attributes are repeatedly highlighted by all interviewers as indispensible features that the workers think it should be associated with an influential leader. This was that a leader should build a positive rapport with other members of the team as well as develop collaborative relationship based on trust and respect as a norm.
Almost Two thirds of respondents (N28) shared consensus on the democratic nature of leadership in Oued Sakia El-Hamra high school which is associated with democratic involvement of school staff in making decisions.
The findings also disclose a harmonious relationship between all members of the staff Oued Sakia El-Hamra high school and almost total agreement that democratic leadership style fit best their institutional education through which they can reach their shared objectives. In an interview with the headmaster of Oued Sakia El-Hamra high school, he explains that
Leaders need to choose the style which they think it suits best their final goals. In our school, we preferred to adopt a democratic approach where decisions are taken by all members of both management team and the teaching staff. Rather than taking decision by yourself, you collaborate with everyone to help make correct decisions based on a consensus.
However, 7 respondents express their dissatisfaction with the democratic leadership style which they consider as ineffective due the following reasons:
- At times, democratic leadership style necessitates huge efforts to build a consensus regarding decisions making.
- In democratic leadership, it sometimes takes too much time to come to final decisions
- Democratic style is employed by leaders to manipulate (us) and exploit (our) innovative ideas without appreciation or empirical reward.
In general, since some members express different views about how effective leadership should be, it seems that it is not easy to form a unique view regarding the best attributes of effective leader and leadership. However, opinions expressed about appropriate attributes often stress the necessity for creating an encouraging environment that serves the final goals of the group. The majority of Oued Sakia El-Hamra high school workers think this can be facilitated through a democratic style which suggests that the core of democracy is based on how people govern themselves as opposed to how people are governed by others (Williams, 1963). This result urges the researcher to conduct a further inquiry about the benefits gained from the implementation of this style in the school. The research has revealed a number of important findings about the gains that can be brought from using democratic style in the school. These findings can be summarised in the words of the dean of studies in Oued Sakia El-Hamra high school:
As we all work together for the benefit of our school, democratic leadership is strongly needed to serve this purpose. I have found that all the staff members in our school respond positivity to this approach through which the final decision is shared among all the staff and they are all responsible about its outcome. Doubtless, Productivity is always obtained through collective decision making. Democratic leadership style can help frontline workers get feedback from other members of the group and collaborate in recommending innovative ideas.
In view of this, democratic style which emphasises teamwork seems to be a need to the school in the sense that democratic leadership is required in ensuring benefits in terms of considerable managerial and academic outcomes (Woods 2005). Schools which are filled with a democratic soul often have strong relationships among their personnel and, therefore, build a productive atmosphere in the school. The latter idea is shared by almost most respondents who stress the importance of adopting democratic leadership style in Oued Sakia El-Hamra high school and agree that this style is best appropriate to serve the welfare of their school.
The survey provides an insight into the perception that democratic leadership is the best way to describe the approach which Oued Sakia El-Hamra high school adopts. This expectation of labelling Oued Sakia El-Hamra high school as a democratic leadership style school is supported by mean of practices, and collaborative relationship between its workers. The interrelationship and ease of communication between leaders and the other members of the staff must have an impact on the school. The outcomes indicate that respondents hold positive expectations about democratic leadership and their readiness to abide by an insightful democratic leadership style in Oued Sakia El-Hamra high school. Respondents also acknowledge the need for constant democratic leadership to enhance the goals of the team. They also express their preference for particular attributes of democratic leadership style that should be adopted by leaders and facilitated by other members of the staff. On top of these attributes rests participation which can be considered as the essence of democracy (Luthar, 1996). This demonstrates the workers’ awareness of the style they want to follow. Grant and Singh (2009) argue that if an approved practice of shared leadership was collectively approved, the mechanisms of hierarchy would be abandoned and collaborative manner of leadership would persist. In this regard, as each educational institution has its own unique style of leadership, transparent and shared leadership practices should be encouraged (De Villiers, E., & Pretorius, S.G. 2011). Carl E. H. (2007) argues that deep understanding of the needs of school brings about the enhancement of instructional outputs. Certainly, the group’s awareness of their needs has helped the staff of Oued Sakia El-Hamra high school develop their own perception of leadership needed in their school by emphasising the democratic leadership style as primary choice.
In short, one can conclude that democratic leadership style remains the style favoured best by the staff of Oued Sakia El-Hamra high school. The workers seem to be greatly satisfied that democratic leadership style is the best fit for their school. This conviction complies with a number of leadership theorists who believe in the effectiveness of democratic leadership style. Lewin (2009) has favoured democratic leadership style as largely more effective than autocratic leadership style in the sense that in democratic leadership, team members perform well even in the absence of a leader (Daft, 2000).
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