The Potential of Positive Leadership for School Improvement

A Cross-Disciplinary Synthesis


  • Karen Seashore Louis University of Minnesota
  • Joseph F. Murphy



leadership, positive psychology, school improvement


In this paper, we undertake four formative assignments: (1) We introduce the idea of positive school leadership (PSL) based largely on theory and research conducted outside the educational sector and introduce four orientations that anchor PSL; (2) we develop ideas about how asset-grounded concepts of leadership can be incorporated into schooling; (3) we examine how concepts underlying PSL may affect schools, classrooms, teachers, and students; and (4) using narrative research and grounded theory we introduce an overview of empirical evidence linking PSL and valued outcomes. We conclude by discussing the significance of PSL for organizational theory and leadership preparation and professional development.


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biography

Joseph F. Murphy

Joseph F. Murphby is the Frank W. Mayborne Chair of Education and associate dean at the Peabody College of Education at Vanderbilt University


Alvesson, M., & Sveningsson, S. (2003). Good visions, bad Macro-management and ugly ambiguity: Contradictions of (non-)leadership in a knowledge-intensive organization. Organization Studies, 24(6), 961–988.

Avolio, B. J., Zhu, W., Koh, W., & Bhatia, P. (2004). Transformational leadership and organizational commitment: Mediating role of psychological empowerment and moderating role of structural distance. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 25(8), 951–968.

Bass, B. M., & Avolio, B. J. (1993). Transformational leadership and organizational culture. Public administration quarterly, 17, 112–121.

Berg, J. M., Dutton, J. E., & Wrzesniewski, A. (2013). Job crafting and meaningful work. In B. J. Dik, Z. S. Byrne, & M. F. Steger (Eds.), Purpose and meaning in the workplace (pp. 81–104). Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.

Blumberg, A., & Greenfield, W. (1986). The effective principal: Perspectives on school leadership. Newton, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Böhlmark, A., Grönqvist, E., & Vlachos, J. (2012). The headmaster ritual: The importance of management for school outcomes, Working Paper, IFAU No. 2012:16, Institute for Evaluation of Labour Market and Education Policy, Uppsala.

Bono, J. E., Foldes, H. J., Vinson, G., & Muros, J. P. (2007). Workplace emotions: the role of supervision and leadership. Journal of Applied Psychology, 92(5), 1357.

Boyd, D., Grossman, P., Ing, M., Lankford, H., Loeb, S., & Wyckoff, J. (2011). The influence of school administrators on teacher retention decisions. American Educational Research Journal, 48(2), 303-333.

Burrello, L. C., Beitz, L. M., & Mann, J. L. (2016). A Positive Manifesto: How Appreciative Schools Can Transform Public Education. Chicago: Elephant Rock Books.

Chen, G., Kirkman, B. L., Kanfer, R., Allen, D., & Rosen, B. (2007). A multilevel study of leadership, empowerment, and performance in teams. Journal of Applied Psychology, 92(2), 331.

Collins, J.A. & Fauser; B (2005) Balancing the strengths of systematic and narrative reviews. Human Reproduction Update, 11(2), 103–104.

Crippen, C. (2004). Servant-leadership as an effective model for educational leadership and management: First to serve, then to lead. Management in Education, 18(5), 11–16.

Damanik, E., & Aldridge, J. (2017). Transformational leadership and its impact on school climate and teachers’ self-efficacy in Indonesian high schools. Journal of School Leadership, 27(3), 269.

Derue, D. S., Nahrgang, J. D., Wellman, N., & Humphrey, S. E. (2011). Trait and behavioral theories of leadership: An integration and meta‐analytic test of their relative validity. Personnel Psychology, 64(1), 7–52.

Dauvrin, M., & Lorant, V. (2015). Leadership and cultural competence of healthcare professionals: a social network analysis. Nursing research, 64(3), 200.

Day, C. (2002). School reform and transitions in teacher professionalism and identity. International journal of educational research, 37(8), 677–692.

De Jong, J. P., & Den Hartog, D. N. (2007). How leaders influence employees' innovative behaviour. European Journal of Innovation Management, 10(1), 41–64.

Deal, T. E., & Peterson, K. D. (1994). The Leadership Paradox: Balancing Logic and Artistry in Schools. Jossey-Bass Education Series. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Dempster, N., Freakley, M., & Parry, L. (2001). The ethical climate of public schooling under new public management. International Journal of Leadership in Education, 4(1), 1–12.

Dik, B. J., Steger, M. F., Fitch-Martin, A. R., & Onder, C. C. (2013). Cultivating meaningfulness at work. In J. A. Hicks & C. Routledge (Eds.), The experience of meaning in life (pp. 363–377). Dordrecht, NL: Springer.

Driscoll, C., & McKee, M. (2007). Restorying a culture of ethical and spiritual values: A role for leader storytelling. Journal of Business Ethics, 73(2), 205–217.

Duignan, P. A., & Bhindi, N. (1997). Authenticity in leadership: An emerging perspective. Journal of educational administration, 35(3), 195–209.

Dutton, J. E., Roberts, L. M., & Bednar, J. (2010). Pathways for positive identity construction at work: Four types of positive identity and the building of social resources. Academy of management review, 35(2), 265–293.

Emery, F., & Thorsrud, E. (1976). Democracy at work: The report of the Norwegian industrial democracy program. Leiden, NL: Martinus Neijhoff.

Fineman, S. (2006). On being positive: Concerns and counterpoints. The Academy of Management Review, 31(2), 270–291.

Friedkin, N. E., & Slater, M. R. (1994). School leadership and performance: A social network approach. Sociology of Education, 67(2), 139–157.

Garcia, S. B., & Guerra, P. L. (2004). Deconstructing deficit thinking: Working with educators to create more equitable learning environments. Education and urban society, 36(2), 150–168.

Gardner, W. L., & Schermerhorn, J. (2004). Unleashing individual potential: Performance gains through positive organizational behavior and authentic leadership. Organizational dynamics, 33(3), 270–281.

Geijsel, F., Sleegers, P. J. C., Stoel, R. D., & Krüger, M. L. (2009). The effect of teacher psychological and school organizational and leadership factors on teachers' professional learning in Dutch schools. The Elementary School Journal, 109(4), 406–427.

Glaser, B. G., &. Strauss, A. L. (1967). The Discovery of Grounded Theory: Strategies for Qualitative Research. New York: Aldine De Gruyter.

Goddard, R., & Salloum, S. (2012). Collective efficacy beliefs, organizational excellence, and leadership. In K. S. Cameron, & G. M. Spreitzer (Eds.), Oxford handbook of positive organizational scholarship (pp. 642–650). New York: Oxford.

Grant, A. M. (2007). Relational job design and the motivation to make a prosocial difference. Academy of management review, 32(2), 393–417.

Green, T. L. (2015). Leading for urban school reform and community development. Educational administration quarterly, 51(5), 679–711.

Greenleaf, R. K. (1998). The power of servant-leadership: Essays. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Hannah, S. T., Lester, P. B., & Vogelgesang, G. R. (2005). Moral leadership: Explicating the moral component of authentic leadership. In W. L. Gardner, B. Avolio, & F. O. Walumbwa (Eds.), Authentic leadership theory and practice: Origins, effects and development (pp. 43–81). Bingley, UK: Emerald.

Hess, F. M., & Kelly, A. P. (2007). Learning to lead: What gets taught in principal-preparation programs. Teachers College Record, 109(1), 244–274.

Ilies, R., Morgeson, F. P., & Nahrgang, J. D. (2005). Authentic leadership and eudaemonic well-being: Understanding leader-follower outcomes. The Leadership Quarterly, 16(3), 373–394.

Jarl, M., Fredriksson, A., & Persson, S. (2012). New public management in public education: A catalyst for the professionalization of Swedish school principals. Public administration, 90(2), 429–444.

Jung, D. I., Chow, C., & Wu, A. (2003). The role of transformational leadership in enhancing organizational innovation: Hypotheses and some preliminary findings. The Leadership Quarterly, 14(4–5), 525–544.

Kärkkäinen, M. (2000). Teams as network builders: Analysing network contacts in Finish elementary school teacher teams. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 44(4), 371–391.

Kellerman, B. (2004). Bad leadership: What it is, how it happens, why it matters. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business Press.

Kotter, J. P. (1996). Leading Change. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Leithwood, K., & Duke, D. L. (1998). Mapping the conceptual terrain of leadership: A critical point of departure for cross-cultural studies. Peabody Journal of Education, 73(2), 31–50.

Leithwood, K., & Jantzi, D. (2000). The effects of transformational leadership on organizational conditions and student engagement with school. Journal of educational administration, 38(2), 112–129.

Leithwood, K., & Jantzi, D. (2005). A review of transformational school leadership research 1996–2005. Leadership and policy in schools, 4(3), 177–199.

Leithwood, K., Louis, K. S., Anderson, S., & Wahlstrom, K. (2004). Review of research: How leadership influence student learning. Retrieved from New York:

Liden, R. C., Wayne, S. J., Zhao, H., & Henderson, D. (2008). Servant leadership: Development of a multidimensional measure and multi-level assessment. The Leadership Quarterly, 19(2), 161–177.

Louis, K. S. (1998). Effects of teacher quality of work life in secondary schools on commitment and sense of efficacy. School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 9(1), 1–27.

Louis, K. S., & Murphy, J. (2017). Trust, caring and organizational Learning: The leader’s role. Journal of educational administration.

Louis, K. S., Murphy, J., & Smylie, M. (2016). Caring leadership in schools Findings From exploratory analyses. Educational administration quarterly, 52(2), 310–348.

Louis, K. S., & vanVelzen, B. (Eds.). (2012). Educational policy in an international context: Political culture and its effects. New York: Palgrave/MacMillan.

Luthans, F., Luthans, K. W., & Luthans, B. C. (2004). Positive psychological capital: Beyond human and social capital. Business Horizons, 47(1), 45–50.

Masten, A., Herbers, J., Cutuli, J., & Lafavor, T. (2008). Promoting competence and resilience in the school context. Professional School Counseling, 12(2), 76–84.

Miles, M. B., Huberman, A. M., Huberman, M. A., & Huberman, M. (1994). Qualitative data analysis: An expanded sourcebook. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Mitchell, M. M., Bradshaw, C. P., & Leaf, P. J. (2010). Student and teacher perceptions of school climate: A multilevel exploration of patterns of discrepancy. Journal of school health, 80(6), 271–279.

Moos, L., Krejsler, J., & Kofod, K. K. (2008). Successful principals: telling or selling? On the importance of context for school leadership. International Journal of Leadership in Education, 11(4), 341–352.

Murphy, J. F., & Louis, K. S. (2018). Positive school leadership: Building Capacity and Strengthening Relationships. New York: Teachers College Record.

Oldham, G. R., & Hackman, J. R. (2010). Not what it was and not what it will be: The future of job design research. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 31(2‐3), 463–479.

Parsons, T. (1959). The school class as a social system. Harvard Educational Review, 29(4), 297–318.

Popay, J., Roberts, H., Sowden, A., Petticrew, M., Arai, L., Rodgers, M., Britten, N., Roen, K., & Duffy, S. (2006). Guidance on the conduct of narrative synthesis in systematic reviews. A product from the ESRC methods programme Version, 1, b92. Retrieved from

Paulsen, J. M., & Høyer, H. C. (2016). External control and professional trust in Norwegian school governing: Synthesis from a Nordic research project. Nordic Studies in Education, 36(2), 86–102.

Przytuła, S., Rozkwitalska, M., Chmielecki, M., Sułkowski, Ł., & Basinska, B. A. (2014). Cross-cultural interactions between expatriates and local managers in the light of Positive Organizational Behaviour. Social Sciences, 86(4), 14–24.

Reave, L. (2005). Spiritual values and practices related to leadership effectiveness. The Leadership Quarterly, 16(5), 655–687.

Riley, K. (2017). Place, belonging and school leadership: Researching to make the difference. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Riley, K. A. (2013). Walking the leadership tightrope: building community cohesiveness and social capital in schools in highly disadvantaged urban communities. British Educational Research Journal, 39(2), 266–286.

Rogers, G., Elston, J., Garside, R., Roome, C., Taylor, R., Younger, P., Zawada, A., & Somerville, M. (2009). The harmful health effects of recreational ecstasy: a systematic review of observational evidence. Health Technolgy Assessment, 13(6): iii–iv. ix–xii, 1–315.

Rosenholtz, S. J. (1989). Teachers' workplace: The social organization of schools. Addison-Wesley Longman Ltd.

Sammons, P. (2007). School Effectiveness and Equity: Making Connections. A review of school effectiveness and improvement research-its implications for practitioners and policy makers. Retrieved from:

Sanders, M. G., & Harvey, A. (2002). Beyond the school walls: A case study of principal leadership for school-community collaboration. Teachers college record, 104(7), 1345–1368.

Santamaría, L. J., & Santamaría, A. P. (2013). Applied critical leadership in education: Choosing change. New York: Routledge.

Seligman, M. E., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Positive psychology: An introduction. American Psychologist, 55(1), 5–14.

Seligman, M. E., Ernst, R. M., Gillham, J., Reivich, K., & Linkins, M. (2009). Positive education: Positive psychology and classroom interventions. Oxford review of education, 35(3), 293–311.

Sergiovanni, T. J. (2000). Leadership as stewardship. In M. Fullan (Ed.), The Jossey-Bass reader on educational leadership (pp. 269-286). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Somech, A. (2005). Directive versus participative leadership: Two complementary approaches to managing school effectiveness. Educational administration quarterly, 41(5), 777–800.

Somech, A., & Ron, I. (2007). Promoting organizational citizenship behavior in schools: The impact of individual and organizational characteristics. Educational administration quarterly, 43(1), 38–66.

Stahl, G. K., & De Luque, M. S. (2014). Antecedents of responsible leader behavior: A research synthesis, conceptual framework, and agenda for future research. The Academy of Management Perspectives, 28(3), 235–254.

Starrat, R. J. (2001). Democratic leadership theory in late modernity: an oxymoron or ironic possibility? International Journal of Leadership in Education, 4(4), 333–352.

Van Der Vegt, G., Emans, B., & Van De Vliert, E. (2000). Team members’ affective responses to patterns of intragroup interdependence and job complexity. Journal of management, 26(4), 633–655.

van Dierendonck, D., & Patterson, K. (2015). Compassionate love as a cornerstone of servant leadership: An integration of previous theorizing and research. Journal of Business Ethics, 128(1), 119–131.

Wahlstrom, K. L., & Louis, K. S. (2008). How teachers experience principal leadership: The roles of professional community, trust, efficacy, and shared responsibility. Educational administration quarterly, 44(4), 458–495.

Walumbwa, F. O., Avolio, B. J., Gardner, W. L., Wernsing, T. S., & Peterson, S. J. (2008). Authentic leadership: Development and validation of a theory-based measure. Journal of management, 34(1), 89–126.

Walumbwa, F. O., Wang, P., Lawler, J. J., & Shi, K. (2004). The role of collective efficacy in the relations between transformational leadership and work outcomes. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 77(4), 515–530.

Walumbwa, F. O., Wu, C., & Orwa, B. (2006). Leadership, procedural justice climate, work attitudes, and organizational citizenship behavior. Leadership Quarterly, 19(2), 251–265.

Weick, K. E. (1995). Sensemaking in organizations. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

West, M. A., Hirst, G., Richter, A., & Shipton, H. (2004). Twelve steps to heaven: Successfully managing change through developing innovative teams. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 13(2), 269–299.

Woods, P. A., Woods, G. J., & Cowie, M. (2009). ‘Tears, laughter, camaraderie’: professional development for headteachers. School Leadership and Management, 29(3), 253–275.

Wong, P. T. (2011). Positive psychology 2.0: Towards a balanced interactive model of the good life. Canadian Psychology/Psychologie Canadienne, 52(2), 69.

Youngblade, L. M., Theokas, C., Schulenberg, J., Curry, L., Huang, I.-C., & Novak, M. (2007). Risk and promotive factors in families, schools, and communities: A contextual model of positive youth development in adolescence. Pediatrics, 119(Supplement 1), S47–S53.

Zhu, W., May, D. R., & Avolio, B. J. (2004). The impact of ethical leadership behavior on employee outcomes: The roles of psychological empowerment and authenticity. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, 11(1), 16–26.




How to Cite

Louis, K. S., & Murphy, J. F. (2018). The Potential of Positive Leadership for School Improvement: A Cross-Disciplinary Synthesis. Nordic Journal of Comparative and International Education (NJCIE), 2(2-3), 165–180.