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Leading from the middle: its nature, origins and importance

Andy Hargreaves (Lynch School of Education and Human Development, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, USA)
Dennis Shirley (Lynch School of Education and Human Development, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, USA)

Journal of Professional Capital and Community

ISSN: 2056-9548

Article publication date: 15 January 2020

Issue publication date: 22 January 2020




The purpose of this paper is to cover a 10-year period in ten of Ontario’s 72 school districts on the nature, origins and importance of “leading from the middle” (LfM) within and across the districts.


The research uses a self-selected but also representative sample of ten Ontario school districts. It undertook three-day site visits in each of the districts, transcribed all the interviews and compiled an analysis into detailed case studies.


LfM is defined by a philosophy, structure and culture that promotes collaboration, initiative and responsiveness to the needs of each district along with collective responsibility for all students’ success.

Research limitations/implications

To be sustainable in Ontario, LfM needs support and resourcing from the top. The current environment of economic austerity therefore threatens sustainability. Globally, examples of LfM are emerging in at least three other systems. The analysis does not have identical questions or respondents in phases 1 and 2. Ontario’s version of LfM may differ from others. The collaborative design may downplay criticisms of LfM.

Practical implications

LfM provides a clear design for leading in complex times. Compared to top-down leadership the whole system can address the whole of students’ learning and well-being. LfM is suited to systems and cultures that support local democracy, community responsiveness and professional empowerment and engagement.


LfM is an inclusive, democratic and professionally empowering and responsive process that differs from other middle level strategies which treat the middle merely as a way of connecting the top and bottom to get government policies implemented more efficiently and coherently.



Hargreaves, A. and Shirley, D. (2020), "Leading from the middle: its nature, origins and importance", Journal of Professional Capital and Community, Vol. 5 No. 1, pp. 92-114.



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