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Pipelines, pools and reservoirs: building leadership capacity for sustained improvement

Dean Fink (Dean Fink Consulting Associates, Ancaster, Canada)

Journal of Educational Administration

ISSN: 0957-8234

Article publication date: 27 September 2011




A crucial aspect of a school's capacity to promote and sustain change and improvement in student learning is the depth, breadth and endurance of both its formal and informal leadership. Shortages of willing leaders, however, have forced governments around the world to expend a considerable amount of time, effort, and money to fill up the leadership “pipeline” with qualified candidates for leadership positions. This paper aims to address these issues.


This paper uses the examples of school districts in Ontario, Canada, in England and in the eastern United States to look beyond the common practice of merely filling up “pipelines” with credentialed leaders to an examination of the development of leadership “pools” and “reservoirs” of leadership capacity through distributed forms of leadership.


It is found that there has been a subtle but important shift in thinking over the past few years. Where once money spent on leadership recruitment and development was considered a cost, it is now viewed as an investment and as a result some school authorities have shifted focus from “replacement planning” in which specific people are identified to fill certain jobs, to a “succession management” approach which involves building an organization's leadership capacity by identifying, recruiting, and developing a “pool” of high‐potential individuals for both current and future roles.


The paper shows that developing this pool depends in large measure on the “reservoir” of leadership capacity in an organization and perhaps most importantly, the willingness of potential leaders to come forward.



Fink, D. (2011), "Pipelines, pools and reservoirs: building leadership capacity for sustained improvement", Journal of Educational Administration, Vol. 49 No. 6, pp. 670-684.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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