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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Leadership through Restraint

Leadership through Restraint

By Dr. Ryan Donlan
Assistant Professor
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University

Over breakfast quite some time ago, a colleague shared with me that true leadership is an ability to recognize that one has power to do something, and then selectively, choosing not to use it (Chadwick, personal communication, August 14, 2001).  Upon trying out that advice, I learned of its merit.

As educational leaders, I’m encouraging you to consider trying one or more of the following by the close of this school year – Leadership through Restraint.

A few options would be as follows:

Consider choosing not to suspend a student whom you bring into your office when you typically would do so.  Ensure that this is not a case of safety or order.  If prudent, perform restraint. Evaluate the consequences.

Consider choosing not to focus on an otherwise-good teacher’s bad day in the classroom if you are evaluating or performing a walk-through. If prudent, perform restraint.  Evaluate the consequences.

Consider choosing not to debate with an angry parent in your office, yet instead listen intently without speaking, offering him/her a sincere affirmation that you want to learn how better to partner with parents. If prudent, perform restraint.  Evaluate the consequences.

Consider choosing not to react when a student becomes very disrespectful toward you in front of others. If prudent, perform restraint.  Evaluate the consequences.

Consider choosing not to respond publicly to negativity bestowed upon your school building or corporation from the press or media. If prudent, perform restraint.  Evaluate the consequences.

This sounds a bit like an argument for inaction, in an arena demanding that educational leaders continually take action.  Maybe it is.

How do you handle of Leadership through Restraint? 

Better question, “Do you?”

If so, will you please let me know how it works for you?


Dr. Ryan Donlan can be reached at (812) 237-8624 or at  Please exercise no restraint and let him know what you think of his perspectives.

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