There is a growing need to develop leaders who are able to deal with the challenges of the constantly changing global landscape of the new millennium. In Asia, where the education system heavily emphasises traditional rote learning, there is an ongoing debate about whether such an education system is able to produce the types of leaders that the region and the world needs. On 18th November 2015, the HEAD Foundation brought together a group of eminent leadership and education experts to discuss this topic. The panel discussion featured distinguished panelists such as Prof. Henrik Bresman, Dr. John A. DeFlaminis, Professor Alma Harris, and Dr. Satryo Soemantri Brodjonegoro. Professor S. Gopinathan, The HEAD Foundation’s Senior Advisor, served as the moderator for the session.
Prof. Harris (Institute of Education, London; University of Malaya) kick off the lively conversation with this question: What does leadership look like in a completely different context or culture? After conducting decades of academic research on Western leadership models, Prof. Harris explained that she now believes that culture and context are more important than we are led to believe. “We have to move back to seeing leadership in context,” she explained, “And to remember that leaders work within cultures.”
Next, Dr. Brodjonegoro posed several provocative questions – How can we lead without power? How can we lead our colleagues without force, but with respect? How can we build respect so that our colleagues will agree with us? With many years of extensive experience with Indonesia’s national education system (Ministry of National Education; Bandung Institute of Technology), Dr. Brodjonegoro believes that education plays a fundamental role in developing next-generation leaders who are able to be influential yet well-respected. He added that the colourful diversity in Asia provides fertile ground for creating creative and effective global leaders.
Dr. DeFlaminis (University of Pennsylvania) shared that when it comes to educational leaders, there are four central elements of leadership: organisational leadership, school leadership, public leadership and instructional leadership. He also emphasised the importance of distributed leadership – effective leadership is not found in any one person, but in teams of individuals. In the school context, effective principles are those who know how to surround themselves with teams of teachers.
Finally, Prof. Bresman, Academic Director of The HEAD Foundation, explained that traditionally, leadership development is all about developing language, knowledge and skills. However, this is alone is not sufficient. Prof. Bresman suggested that one more layer of leadership development is required. He explained: “Effective leaders need to bring their own identity and purpose into their leadership.” Unfortunately, doing this is often difficult for leaders and he suggested that this is where The HEAD Foundation has a real role to play. As a think-tank for education in Asia, The HEAD Foundation can support leaders in becoming even more effective in their roles.