Leadership from within

The definition of leadership is much contested.  Leadership has been studied from various perspectives, from a one-person leader (as in solo leadership) to distributed leadership (as in shared leadership) and we are still nowhere near to understanding it.  Putting aside what leadership is, as a practitioner of leadership, I believe it is more important to know what good leaders do.  Good leadership is about being passionate and loyal to the purpose of the organization in which the leader leads.  Such a leader makes sure that everyone is moving in the same direction and thrives on developing others so as to build capacity, which is to develop the people associated with the organization.  This rings true for schools.

It is common knowledge that the principal working alone, having to oversee curricular and instructional responsibilities, and at the same time making sense of education reforms and that they are interpreted correctly and implemented effectively, is not only impractical but also not viable (Jimerson & Fuentes, 2020).  The principal needs a team, which works together with him/her, in order to help realize the vision of the school.  It will be much more effective than getting help from outsiders as they do not have the intimate knowledge of the school; in terms of the challenges that need to be addressed nor its strengths that could be used to address the problems. 

Who would have the best knowledge of the school?  They are the people who are associated with the school; the principal, teachers, parents and the community in which the school serves.  So a good leader would share leadership with all these various stakeholders; appealing for their help when needed and developing them when able, so that they become more capable and empowered to help when needed.   Loosely based on what Reid (2018) wrote, I would like to put my share of what leadership from within the organization entails:

  • When leadership is shared, a sense of belonging is created, leading to ownership of what is happening in the school.  With success, there will be a sense of pride all around and with challenges, everyone would be anxiously committed to resolve the issues.  There is an exhilarating sense of ‘we have done it’ showing solidarity and togetherness. 
  • When leadership is passionate, it inspires others and draws the best out of everyone in the school.  Everyone wants to contribute to the success of the school.  It is passion that builds commitment and energize others and excite others in their work.
  • When leadership has a purpose, the values and mission of the school acquire reality.  The leader works together in harmony with other members of the school to act out the values with integrity and add meaning to them.  In this sense, values, mission, targets, expectations together with other innate values comes ‘alive’.
  • When leadership faces failure, it adds strength and resilience to the team.  It means working together to face the setback with fortitude by all the members of the team within the organization.  Embracing failures creates a learning organization, which further provides opportunities for creativity and building a stronger bond among the members of the school.

By engaging others within the school has enabled me to take up an unexpected opportunity that came our way.  A musical band from a university in the USA was making its bi-annual tour and their itinerary took them to our neighbouring country.  I was asked if I wanted to invite them to perform in my school in Malaysia and I jumped at the opportunity, mainly because I wanted my school band to play with them and experience a “once in a lifetime” opportunity to play music with people from another country.  However, the huge amount of expenditure was a hurdle as we need to provide accommodation and food for more than 30 members of the band and seven professors who accompanied them.  I appealed to the teachers, parents and the community for help.  In no time, each member of the band from USA was hosted by parents and that took care of the expenses for accommodation and food.  We even managed to organize trips to the nearby island and the various nature parks for our guests when they were with us.  The bus company took them around without asking for a fee.  The whole event climaxed with “A Night of Music”.  Everyone, including the whole community, was proud of the event because they were the ones who made it possible.  I believe leadership when shared becomes more powerful.


Jimerson, J. B., & Fuentes, S. Q. (2020). Approaches to instructional leadership: Organizational

influences in contexts of (Mis)match. Journal of School Leadership. journals.sagepub.com/home/jsl   DOI: 10.1177/1052684620980359, pp. 1-25 Available at http://sage.cnpereading.com/paragraph/download/?doi=10.1177/1052684620980359

Reid, L. (2018). 4 essentials of meaningful leadership: Leading from within. Available at 

Published by Dr Ashley Ng

Dr Ashley Yoon Mooi Ng AMN is Associate Professor in Education at The University of Nottingham Ningbo China, where she coordinates the post graduate research programmes. Her expertise is in Educational Leadership and Management and taught it in the University of Nottingham Malaysia and now she teaches International Higher Education in the University of Nottingham Ningbo, China. She supervises on both the EdD and PhD programmes, specifically on Educational Leadership and Management. She started her career teaching Geography in secondary schools and rose ranks to Head of Department to Principal in Malaysia. His Majesty the King of Malaysia conferred her the AMN (Ahli Mangku Negara) award in 2009 for her contribution to education in Malaysia. Among her other achievements are the Excellent Awards for Performance Beyond Expectation by the Malaysian MoE (2010) and UNM (2017 and 2018) and was nominated as Inspirational Woman in conjunction with International Women’s Day (2019).

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