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What are merits and demerits of formal and informal leadership practices in schools?

What are merits and demerits of formal and informal leadership practices in schools?

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In educational settings, formal leadership practices offer mechanisms for structure, for guidance, and an acknowledged and identifiable operational and strategic decision-making hierarchy; responsibilities may be clearly delineated (Leithwood et al, 2006). Effective formal leadership may be, outside of classroom practice, the most influential aspect on learners’ educational success (Leithwood et al, 2006). Formal leadership offers the potential to embody the setting’s mission statement and ethical principles, and to provide identifiable role models for learners. Effective formal leadership will enhance community and stakeholder relationships as well as lead the organisation. Formal school leadership may, though, be slow to react and respond effectively to emerging issues, and decision-making may be delayed through the issue being deferred through the setting’s reporting structures (Buck, 2016). Informal leadership practices may promote empowerment among those who do not hold a managerial office, and can offer flexibility and responsiveness, as operational decisions may be taken quickly by those adopting or assuming informal leading roles (Danielson, 2007). Informal leadership may also help identification of candidates for more formalised leadership roles (Schiavo, Kannapel, and Miller, 2010). However, there is a need to be assured that informal leaders subscribe to the same organisational objectives as formal leaders within the educational setting, that local departmental practices are consistent across the setting, and that informal leadership does not clash with formal leadership roles and personalities (Bolden, Petrov, and Gosling, 2009).
Effective school management may well incorporate aspects of both formal and informal modes of leadership (Anderson, 2004). The challenge is for educational settings to balance structure and agency so that the aspects of informal leadership beneficial to learners and the organisation may be nurtured by the formalised elements of the management structure.


Anderson, K.D. (2004) ‘The nature of teacher leadership in schools as reciprocal influences between teacher leaders and principals’, School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 15(1), pp. 97–113. doi: 10.1076/sesi.
Bolden, R., Petrov, G. and Gosling, J. (2009) ‘Distributed leadership in higher education: rhetoric and reality’,Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 37(2), pp. 257–277. doi: 10.1177/1741143208100301.
Buck, A. (2016) Leadership matters: how leaders at all levels create great schools. London: John Catt Educational.
Danielson, C. (2016) Educational leadership: Teachers as leaders - the many faces of leadership. Available at: (Accessed: 27 August 2016).
Leithwood, K., Day, C., Sammons, P., Harris, A. and Hopkins, D. (2006) Seven strong claims about successful school leadership. Available at: (Accessed: 27 August 2016).
Schiavo, N., Kannapel, P. and Miller, B. (2010) MSP knowledge management and dissemination preparing teachers for formal and informal leadership roles: The case of Nebraska’s math in the middle MSP. Available at: (Accessed: 27 August 2016).