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Invitational Leadership: An Essential Guide

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As today's school leaders seek to acquire the skills and knowledge that are necessary for effectiveness in current educational institutions, they should know that there are no simple answers or shortcuts to achieving leadership excellence. The most important task is to find the right combination of qualities and characteristics that will consistently provide the leader with the skills and knowledge required to succeed.

Researchers Purkey and Siegel made an attempt to blend several leadership qualities, values, and principles when they created the invitational leadership theory. They described the model as shifting from emphasizing control and dominance to focusing on connectedness, cooperation, and communication.

Invitational leadership aims at "inviting" all interested stakeholders to succeed. It involves sending positive messages to people, making them feel are valued, able, responsible, and worthwhile. The messages are often delivered through the institution's policies, programs, practices, and physical environments. These are referred to as the five P's of invitational leadership.

The personality of a place is noticeable at the first glance. Is the environment empty, sterile, and lifeless? Or is it warm, exciting, and filled with the personalities of the inhabitants? Physical environments are the easiest to change, and offer a direct opportunity for immediate improvement.

Policies are also a component of success or failure in invitational leadership. School leaders must create productive opportunities for the institution, without stifling creativity and individuality. School policies that are both successful and create a positive school culture seek to encourage a win/win result.

Schools with a positive school culture appear to make greater efforts to provide a variety of creative and attractive programs. Rigorous and comprehensive academic courses taught by outstanding teachers serve to increase the effectiveness of the instructional program while raising the standards for academic.

Another important component of the invitational leadership model is processes. In most schools, the participation process is confined to "here's the deal, take it or leave it." Effective leaders will forgo the quest for absolute power, however. Schools that have a positive school climate encourage decision-making through participation, cooperation, and collaboration. Students feel encouraged to take responsibility, be involved, and speak their minds.

The most crucial element for building a successful school is the people who comprise the school. Investment in people often results in effective change. Therefore, we find that involvement of people in many cooperative activities is an excellent way to build strong teams. Involvement helps develop a more positive working and learning environment. It is important to provide people with the recognition they have already earned, and to encourage the formation of positive relationships.

These P's also assist in making invitational leadership a unique and holistic leadership model. It is the connection between the five P's and the four basic assumptions that makes the invitational leadership model comprehensive. There are four basic assumptions, which exemplify the characteristics of invitational leaders:

  • Optimism -- The belief in people's untapped potential for growth and development.
  • Respect -- The recognition that every person is an individual of worth.
  • Trust -- Possessing confidence in the abilities, integrity, and responsibilities of ourselves and others.
  • Intention -- A decision to purposely act in a certain way to achieve and carry out a set goal. It's knowing what we intend to accomplish, as well as how we intend to go about it.

It can be said that the prime function of a leader is to keep hope alive. An optimistic leader sees difficulties rather than impossibilities, embracing challenges and change. Respect among organizational members leads to an inviting, inclusive workplace where diversity is seen as the norm and every individual can flourish. Trust is an important value, contributing directly to an organization's success. Conversely, lack of trust is a barrier to teamwork -- making trust a critical part of effective leadership. Developing and maintaining specific, clear intentions facilitates organizational growth and success.

When implemented in the educational setting, the elements of invitational leadership combine to create an environment that is cohesive, efficient, and conducive to learning. Invitational leaders "invite" everyone who has a stake in the success of the school to participate, and synergy is generated as all work toward a common goal.