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What School Leaders Can Learn From Entrepreneurs

EducationWorld Q&A columnist Dr. Matthew Lynch is an associate professor of education at Langston University. Dr. Lynch provides expert advice on everything from classroom management to differentiated instruction. Read all of his columns here, and be sure to submit your own question.

This week, reader Todd asks:

I have noticed that schools are slowly starting to recognize entrepreneurial leadership as a viable model. When it comes to entrepreneurial leadership, what can schools learn from the business sector?

Dr. Matthew Lynch


Todd, this is a very good question, and I am glad you sent it my way. Efforts in the business world to improve leadership were ignored by school administrators for a long time, but this is beginning to change. Researchers are scrambling to propose models that would steer the education sector to new heights.

Most of the efforts to improve leadership have sprung from the fact that now, more than ever, there is increasing pressure on school leaders from the government, communities and various highly placed observers, all of whom are concerned about the state of education in America. This is especially true in light of reports that have found American education lacking when compared with other developed countries.

One new school-improvement model being considered is entrepreneurial leadership. Entrepreneurs are known for creativity and the ability to spur economic growth, both highly desirable commodities globally. School leaders therefore can draw valuable lessons from entrepreneurs when it comes to being innovative, motivated and goal-oriented.

Many studies have addressed entrepreneurial leadership in the business sense, especially for small enterprises, but few studies have linked entrepreneurial leadership to school leadership. Perhaps this is due to the fact that business success is measured in dollars, while a school’s success is assessed in other ways. Despite this difference, schools and businesses do share an emphasis on obvious, measurable results.

The entrepreneur’s drive has been the main focus of research. Schumpeter describes this drive as “the will to conquer,” “the dream and the will to found a private kingdom,” and “the joy of creating and of getting things done.” While these accurately describe an entrepreneur’s desire to succeed, they do not explain the origin of the so-called “Schumpeterian entrepreneurial endowments.”

Recently, researchers have recognized that entrepreneurs do not successfully build new ventures without possessing effective leadership behavior traits. A good example of this is the requirement that business founders create a vision for their firm, and inspire or influence others to see and understand their dreams. This is a good trait for attracting employees and acquiring the necessary resources for growing new ventures.

Entrepreneurs have to set the initial goals in a way that rewards workers. They need to show leadership because they are founders of their ventures; there are no established standard operating procedures or tried-and-true strategies that they can fall back on. This is the main difference between entrepreneurs and corporate managers, since the latter often have more well-defined goals, objectives, structures and work procedures to guide them.

Though we know leadership is important to entrepreneurs, there has been a lack of research on the most effective leadership behaviors. Additionally, much of the literature on entrepreneurial leadership has been one-sided, focusing mainly on empowering leadership behaviors. The failure to include the conditions caused by other behaviors—such as directive leadership—may be harmful to any entrepreneur. More specific research is needed to explore the benefits of entrepreneurial leadership for schools; after all, an educational breakthrough could be just around the corner.

About Dr. Lynch

Dr. Matthew Lynch is a Chair and Associate Professor of Education at Langston University and a blogger for the Huffington Post. Dr. Lynch also is the author of the newly released book It’s Time for a Change: School Reform for the Next Decade and A Guide to Effective School Leadership Theories. Please visit his Web site for more information.

If you have a question for “Ask Dr. Lynch,” submit it here. Topics can be anything education-related, from classroom management to differentiated instruction.


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