Thank you for visiting the ISU Ed. Leadershop. Our intent over the past few years has been to field-test community-engaged writings for PK-20 practitioner conversation -- quick, 5-minute "read's" that help put into perspective the challenges and opportunities in our profession. Some of the writings have remained here solely; others have been developed further for other outlets. Our space has been a delightful "sketch board" for some very creative minds in leadership, indeed.

We believe that by kicking around an idea or two and not getting too worked-up over it, the thinking and writing involved have even greater potential to make a difference on behalf of those we serve. In such, please give us a read; share with others. We encourage your thoughts, opinions, feelings, and reactions to our work and thank you for taking your time. You keep us relevant.

[Technical Note: If you find that your particular web browser does not allow you to view our articles for a full-text read, please simply select another browser and enjoy.]

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Of Benefit and Burden, Leadership's Call

Of Benefit and Burden, Leadership’s Call

By Dr. Steve Gruenert
Associate Professor and Department Chairperson

Dr. Ryan Donlan
Assistant Professor

Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University

Of benefit and burden, leadership’s call. 

Often we find people using analogies to help us understand how leadership resembles other aspects of life. We hear such comparisons as:

Farming – Leadership is like leading cattle or planting seeds;
Military – Leadership is like taking a group into battle to accomplish a mission;
Orchestra – Leadership is like coordinating many pieces to make one opus;
Home building – Leadership is when we have a strong foundation so as to bring together independent contractors to build a unifying vision.

Is it possible that leadership theory can help us respond better to alternative issues in life?  Can it be of benefit in that regard?  Does leadership’s practical application create within us the tools for unlocking situations unrelated to its mainstream definition?

Further, does it make us better teachers, parents, friends, drivers, or bowlers? Does it support our efforts in playing golf, buying food, or planning a vacation? What about fishing or wine collecting?

Before we move deeper into the philosophical, think about how many uses a paperclip might have, other than that of clipping papers:

Unlocking a door;
Pushing the reset button on a remote WIFI;
Hanging an ornament;

Think similarly about the many alternative uses for a plastic bottle, other than holding liquids:

Cutting the top off and using as a funnel;
Filling with sand and using as an anchor;
Filling with air and using as a float.

Is leadership a paper clip?  A plastic bottle? 

The point is to think about something that has a more profound impact on what it was not intended for, than upon what it was. Yet, in doing so, that “something” might have an adverse impact on itself.  We could say that it has a burden that its benefit might beget.

What’s the point?

Helping others to become effective leaders is what we do.  If one registers for our classes, completes our assignments, and then never becomes a leader, did she or he waste time? Or conversely, are there positive payoffs come from knowing this stuff, even if not operationalized directly as coursework would suggest?

Principal interns who never become principals tell us that they are better teachers because of the experience during their final semesters.  They note developing qualities such as the following, even through the study of theory alone at times, and how each contributes to something different than our intended destination for them:


Yet, at the same time, Principal Interns who never seek the principalship mention that they can never really “go back.”  “We’re thinking differently than our classroom neighbors,” they say. 

Leadership: Of benefit or burden?

Think about the leadership skill-sets that might make one particularly successful in the following:

Selling a Car
Joining a Church
Going on a Diet

Yet, can leadership become as much one’s millstone as it does one’s magic wand?

Consider an airline pilot’s burden while not in the cockpit, yet while flying as passenger.  Or how Presidents age through knowledge of our country’s affairs.  Coherence is oftentimes borne of an aggravated acuity, offering weight among wisdom. 
Some contend the middle ground, a pedestrian’s existence, is actually preferred. They note being follower accords folks their “9-to-5’s,” yet more importantly, “their weekends.”  We know first-hand how difficult it is, for better or worse, to “turn it off,” and with that inability, sometimes we become the turn-off’s.  

Of benefit and burden, leadership’s call. 

Except in rare circumstances that we must accept as our millstones, we’re glad we answered the call, and hope you will too.


This week’s Leadershop contribution by Dr. Steve Gruenert and Dr. Ryan Donlan is much like the conversations they inspire during class each week – Tools to invite transformation of one’s intra- and inter-professional journeys into something much different than when they began.  If you would like to unlock something disparate within you as you work to unlock others, please feel free to contact Dr. Gruenert at or Dr. Donlan at


  1. The long story short? Sleep with your students. It makes the job more entertaining.

  2. They can call them selves doctor if they can pass an advanced calculus class, or do more with integers besides determining the hotel room number they tell their students to meet them in. The chickens eventually come home to roost.