Leadership as a subversive activity

John MacBeath (University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK)

Journal of Educational Administration

ISSN: 0957-8234

Publication date: 15 May 2007



Leadership is as widely used as it is misused and misunderstood. This paper seeks to argue that in an educational context it is important not only to revisit and reframe conceptions of leadership but also to see it as having an essentially subversive purpose. The paper aims to dicuss subversion in an intellectual, moral and political sense, as a sacred mission to confront the “noble lies” of politicians, the superficiality of the designer culture and the line of least resistance opted for by overworked and demoralised teachers.


The empirical base for this paper is a seven‐country three‐years study entitled Leadership for Learning which brought together staff from 24 schools in seven countries to explore the connections between learning and leadership and to arrive at some common understanding which could be tested in practice across national and linguistic boundaries.


While recognising the unique contexts and differing cultural traditions as diverse as those of Australia and Austria, the USA and Greece, engaging in an international discourse through face‐to‐face workshops, virtual conferencing and exchange visits led one to five key principles held in common.


The paper offers intriguing and insightful discussion into the subject of leadership as a subversive activity.



MacBeath, J. (2007), "Leadership as a subversive activity", Journal of Educational Administration, Vol. 45 No. 3, pp. 242-264. https://doi.org/10.1108/09578230710747794

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