Heroic leadership in Australia, Sweden, and the united states

Lawrie Drysdale, Jeffrey Bennett, Elizabeth T. Murakami, Olof Johansson, David Gurr

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Purpose-The purpose of this paper is to draw from data collected as part of the International Successful School Principalship Project (ISSPP) and present cases of democratic and heroic leadership from three countries, discussing to what extent successful school principals in each of their research sites (Melbourne, Australia; Umeå, Sweden; Arizona and Texas in the USA) carry old and new perspectives of heroism in their leadership. In particular the paper explores two questions: first, how do school principals describe aspects of heroic and post-heroic leadership in their practices? and second, how do these heroic and post-heroic leadership practices meet contemporary demands such as accountability standards and build inclusive and collaborative school communities in challenging contexts? Design/methodology/approach-Multiple-perspective case studies involving semi-structured individual and group interviews with principals, teachers, students, parents and school board members were used to understand the contribution of principals and other leadership to school success. Findings-The definitions of heroic and post-heroic leadership are inadequate in defining successful principal leadership. The Australian, Swedish and American principals showed characteristics of both heroic and post-heroic leadership. They showed heroic qualities such as: inspiring and motivating others; challenging the status quo; showing integrity in conflicting situations; putting duty before self; taking risks to champion a better way; showing courage to stand up to those in authority; advocating for students in struggling neighbourhoods under the scrutiny of both district and public expectations; and, showing uncommon commitment. Yet our principals showed post-heroic leadership such as involving others in decision making and recognising that school success depended on collective effort, and being sensitive to community needs through a deep respect for the local culture. Originality/value-The research shows that we may need to redefine and recast our images of who school principals are today, and what they do to generate academic success for students. Both heroic and post-heroic images of leadership are needed to explain successful school leadership.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)785-797
Number of pages13
JournalInternational Journal of Educational Management
Issue number7
StatePublished - Sep 2 2014


  • Change
  • Culture
  • Effectiveness
  • Leadership
  • Management
  • Performance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management


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