The leadership model most closely aligned with political models is that of transactional leadership. “Transactional leadership is leadership in which relationships with teachers are based upon an exchange for some valued resource. To the teacher, interaction between administrators and teachers is usually episodic, short-lived and limited to the exchange transaction” (Miller & Miller, 2001, p. 182).
This exchange process is an established political strategy. As we noted earlier, principals hold power in the form of key rewards such as promotion and references. However, they require the co-operation of staff to secure the effective management of the school. An exchange may secure benefits for both parties to the arrangement. The major limitation of such a process is that it does not engage staff beyond the immediate gains arising from the transaction. Transactional leadership does not produce long-term commitment to the values and vision promoted by school leaders.
The Limitations of Political Models
Political models are primarily descriptive and analytical. The focus on interests, conflict between groups, and power provides a valid and persuasive interpretation of the decision-making process in schools. However, these theories do have four major limitations:
- Political models are immersed so strongly in the language of power, conflict and manipulation that they neglect other standard aspects of organizations. There is little recognition that most organizations operate for much of the time according to routine bureaucratic procedures. The focus is heavily on policy formulation while the implementation of policy receives little attention. The outcomes of bargaining and negotiation are endorsed, or may falter, within the formal authority structure of the school or college.
- Political models stress the influence of interest groups on decision-making. The assumption is that organizations are fragmented into groups, which pursue their own independent goals. This aspect of political models may be inappropriate for elementary schools, which may not have the apparatus for political activity. The institutional level may be the center of attention for staff in these schools, invalidating the political model's emphasis on interest group fragmentation.
- In political models there is too much emphasis on conflict and a neglect of the possibility of professional collaboration leading to agreed outcomes. The assumption that teachers are engaged in a calculated pursuit of their own interests underestimates the capacity of teachers to work in harmony with colleagues for the benefit of their pupils and students.
- Political models are regarded primarily as descriptive or explanatory theories. Their advocates claim that these approaches are realistic portrayals of the decision-making process in schools and colleges. There is no suggestion that teachers should pursue their own self-interest, simply an assessment, based on observation, that their behaviour is consistent with apolitical perspective. Nevertheless, the less attractive aspects of political models may make them unacceptable to many educationists for ethical reasons.