Invitational Leadership


I went to the SELMAS (Scottish Educational Leadership Management and Administration Society) leadership forum on Thursday night.

It was refreshing to hear some alternative leadership perspectives from two people in very different fields. Stéphane Denève and the Honourable Lady Smith

Lady Smith described the decision making process she uses in her very complex job and it was fascinating to gain an insight into a very different world.

However, I was captivated by Stéphane Denève’s description of the conducting process. 

I make it a rule to try to take at least one thing from every presentation I hear – perhaps I can’t comprehend more than one – but it’s proved a useful technique for trying to help me to focus on what a person is saying and relate it to my own work.

The key message for me came when Stéphane was describing the conducting process, where he was telling us about how he uses his hands to direct a musician to commence her/his contribution to a performance. Rather than having a definite downbeat with a distinct finish he opens his hand at towards the bottom of the down beat and “invites’ the musician to choose when best to start – in this way the conductor and musician work together to create a a performance which reflects their combined expertise.

On my drive home I played around with the idea of “invitational” leadership.  

In his article on The Alphabet Soup of Leadership John McBeath described Invitational Leadership as follows:

Invitational leadership. Shared leadership rests on an invitation – the invitation is to join in a common enterprise. It means sharing power and authority, inviting others in to develop the vision. Stoll and Fink (1996) describe its four key features

1) optimism – the belief in people’s untapped potential for growth and development

2) respect – the recognition that everyone is a unique individual

3) trust – the need to trust others and, as leaders, to behave with integrity

4) intention – to be actively supportive and encouraging to others to act with you.   

Invitational leaders dare to give of themselves to release the energy and creativity of others.

(Stoll, et al., 2002: 115)

I reckon Stéphane Denève might be happy with such a definition of what he’s trying to do in his partnership with his musician’s – I think it might also relate to what we’re are trying to do in East Lothian education.

See also Stoll and Fink