Invitational Leadership Essay


Leadership, and the study of it, has its commencement in the early civilizations. Ancient rulers, pharaohs, emperors and biblical patriarchs have one thing in common – leadership. Although scholars have been studying this phenomenon for almost two centuries, numerous definitions and theories abound throughout. However, enough similarities exist so as to define “leadership” as an effort of influence and the power to induce compliance (Wren, 1995). Leadership is a process through which an individual influences others to accomplish an objective and directs the organization in a way that makes it more cohesive and coherent.

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This definition of leadership is relatively similar to that of Northouse’s (2007,p.3) And the definition of a leader stipulated by Peter Drucker is someone who has followers. The capacity to influence others is dependent on the power detained.

The leader’s attitudes would definitely determine the level of productivity from his employees. A Task Orientation or Directive Behaviour reflects the concern of a leader for the actual task at hand whereas Employee Orientation or Supportive Behaviours reflects how much a leader is concerned for the people around him, providing support and encouragement for them.

Concurrently, different theories have been developed for the field of leadership but we would be showing more attention to the Invitational Leadership theory. The research on the effects of Invitational Education Theory (IET) in the educational administrative process is relatively new as compared to other theories pertaining to leadership.

Invitational Leadership has a different dimension from the standard theories of leadership that emphasized the process of influencing others through the use of power to an alternative leadership style that promotes collaboration and show consideration and respect for individuals in the educational system. This study comprises of two parts. Firstly, we would see the theoretical introduction of the Invitational Leadership, followed a brief comparison of the theory with other leadership theories possessing more or less the same characteristics and finally, in what ways the Invitational Leadership is more suitable to the educational community. Secondly, we would focus on what the invitational style provides in response to the demands of the school sector. Besides, we would see to what extent the invitational leadership is applied to my profession through examples drawn from my past experiences.

1. Theoretical part
Invitational Theory

Purkey (1992, p.5) defines Invitational Leadership asa theory which “is a collection of assumptions that seek to explain phenomena and provide a means of intentionally summoning people to realise their relatively boundless potential in all areas of worthwhile human endeavour” Invitational Theory is a mode of professional practice that summons the environment and all relationships formed in educational and human service organizations. It is a process for communicating caring and appropriate message intended to invite forth the realisation of human potential. It is also a way for identifying and changing those institutional and relational forces that defeat and destroy potential.

Communication is vital for all social relationships or integration. Schools, as a social institution, send out complex message systems that continuously inform people of their worth, ability, and power to direct themselves. The concept of “invitation” derives from the effort provided by those who seek to communicate ideas. This involves shaping, moulding and changing. The word invite is a derivation of the Latin word invite. It probably began as vito, which means to avoid or shun. In early Roman society, vito was used to express fear of encroachment by other tribes, and to forbid their entry into Rome. As Rome became a dominant force, its citizens felt more secure and opened their borders to the world. In time, the prefix in- meaning “without” or “not,” was added, and the word invite, meaning “to receive politely,” became common and developed into invite. So by definition, an invitation is a purposive and generous act by which the inviter seeks to enroll others in the vision set forth in the invitation. From this we derive the term Invitational Leadership (Purkey & Siegel, 2002, p212).

From an invitational viewpoint, individuals possess the characteristics of being able, valuable and responsible. As such, they are to be treated accordingly. Conversely, we observe a transformation from the appellations used: from “motivate,” “shape,” “reinforce,” “make,” “enhance,” “build,” and “empower” people to that of “offer,” “propose,” “present,” “encourage,” “consider,” and “summon cordially.” Similarly, in the school context, the invitational leader is the one who summons associates to higher levels of functioning and presents them with the opportunity to participate in the construction of something of mutual benefit.

Ultimately, we find that this “something” is a procedure to create a better environment and a way to eliminate inequalities. Invitational Leadership offer a new perspective, an involvement for positive social change. It acknowledges our potential, our integrity, our interdependence and our responsibility to do good. Moreover, a central element in many definitions of leadership is that there is a process of influence. Leithwood et al (1999, p.6) say that “influence … seems to be a necessary part of most conceptions of leadership.” Yulk (2002, p.) explains this influence process: “Most definitions of leadership reflect the assumption that it involves a social influence process whereby intentional influence is exerted by one person [or group] over other people [or groups] to structure the activities and relationships in a group or organisation.”

Yulk’s use of ‘person’ or ‘group’ indicates that leadership may be exercised by individuals as well as teams. Additionally, this opinion is shared by Harris (2002) and Leithwood (2001) who both advocate distributed leadership as an alternative to traditional top-down leadership models.

Invitational leadership as a model of influence

It can be agreed that leadership involves influence and that it may be exercised by anyone in an organisation. In addition, Cuban (1988,p.193) points out to leadership as an influence process. “Leadership then refers to people who bend the motivations and actions of others to achieving certain goals; it implies taking initiatives and risks.” This opinion demonstrates that the process of influence is focused as it is intended to lead to specific outcomes. Furthermore, this notion is reinforced by Fidler (1997, p.25) : “followers are influenced towards goal achievement.” Eventually, a similar concept is used by Stoll and Fink (1996), that of ‘invitational’ leadership explaining how leaders function in schools. “Leadership is about communicating invitational messages to individuals and groups with whom leaders interact in order to build and act on a shared and evolving vision of enhanced educational experiences for pupils.” (p.109)

At this point, I agree to what Stoll and Fink (1996) said; the role of the leader, in the school, is to work together with his collaborators towards making the institution an inclusive school which provides a good education to all pupils, irrespective of their varying abilities. Further to this, communication should be at the base of all decision making to arrive at a consensus between the different stakeholders. As it is stated in the School Management Manual, the Rector should “run the school in close collaboration with the Deputy Rector.” The Rector or the Deputy Rector, should be open to new ideas put forward by staff or pupils. The internal communication (morning assembly, form period, meeting with students’ representatives, teaching staff, head of Department etc.) of the school should be an open platform where leaders create a conviviality atmosphere among each individuals, therefore, inviting others to get engaged in the progression of the school.

As we have compared the close relationship of Invitational Leadership as being a model of influence, equally, the Invitational Leadership Theory reflects a transformational dimension. Transformational Leadership enhanced the motivation, morale and performance of follower’s through a variety of mechanisms. These comprise connecting the follower’s sense of identity and self to the mission and the collective identity of the organization; being a role model for followers that inspires them; challenging followers to take greater ownership for their work, and understanding the strength and weaknesses of followers, so the leader can align them with tasks that optimize their performance.

Similarly, the invitational leader invites the followers by communicating to them the mission and goal of the organisation and by accepting the individual personality. As the leader himself is a role model in displaying invitational qualities, he reinforces these qualities among his/her followers. Becoming an Invitational Leader necessitates that a leader become more consciously aware of his or her self and, by so doing, takes responsibility of how he or she defines that self. If we distinguish ourselves to be lacking in some fundamental leadership quality, then assuredly we will fail to influence others to join our cause.

Furthermore, the invitational leadership enclose these servant types of values : excellence, caring, justice, and faith. Review of current literature supports the need for a change in leadership in order to adequately meet the needs of current educational institutions.

Becoming an invitational leader

“How can I gain the cooperation of those in my environment so that effectiveness and productivity increase and that our group function more smoothly and effectively?” The only way is by inviting, showing trust, understanding and respect (Purkey, Siegel, 2002). Intimidation and coercion, commonly used approaches, are not effective and eventually will prove to be counter-productive. They believe that there is only one motivation inside humans and that is an internal drive and desire to realise one’s own potential. In short we all want to be more, to self-actualise and to put our talents to good use by committing to something beyond ourselves. This can only be achieved by volunteered and not by pressure. Hence, I can affirm the more leaders are viewed as caring, respectful and supportive, the greater their chances of emancipating the talents and energies of their associates. Those in authority must first begin by making others feel valued if they hope to gain respect and cooperation in return.

The first stage toward effective leadership is a wise, rooted sense of self. This means a commitment to find one’s own core values. The authors, Purkey & Siegel (2002) put forward that one cannot empower others without first empowering oneself. These two scholars present various ideas for cultivating all aspects of life from physical and psychological to the spiritual and intellectual. Furthermore, the leader has to present a vision of what a successful organization looks like, to set the proper environment in order to move people to embrace the organisation’s vision and to take on the individual and collective responsibility for the successes and failures of the organization.

This would result in a group of self-actualizing individuals, each committed to the purpose and to one another in a supporting environment. Likewise, the school’s atmosphere should be conducive enough so as to inspire people connected to the school to be committed among themselves. Like indicated initially, the leader, that is the Rector or headmaster of the school, is the one to establish the point of contact between the administration, teaching and non-teaching staff and the students, to create avenues that the personnel would follow. Consequently, the opportunity given to each individual would unleash the potential that reside in them. Similarly, each one would adopt an invitational approach as they are constantly exposed to it in their everyday situation at school.

The ability to challenge the people you lead to perform high quality will only continue over time if the leader has developed his invitational side as well. As stipulated in the School Management Manual of the Ministry of Education, Culture & Human Resources, the Rector, as the leader “builds and accompanies his teams, providing them with the required support and motivation, listening to their views and their problems and valuing their effort, support and contribution.”

Walter Bennis, one of our more dynamic thinkers on leadership, has defined a leader is one who is guided by an “exciting and specific dream and who enrols others in his or her vision.” (Purkey, Siegel; 2002) thus, by providing support and motivation, school’s leaders enroll others by summoning them cordially to realise their potential. Furthermore, support for the importance of values was provided by Stoll and Fink (1996) in their study of leadership in education. They affirmed that successful leaders rely upon a strong set of values to guide their decision-making. We can contrast the decision-making process to the Participative Leadership which is defined by Leithwood et al. (2002) as a leadership style which “assumes that the decision-making processes of the group ought to be central focus for leaders” (p.12).

Invitational Education Theory (IET)

As stated by the author of Fundamentals of Invitational Education, the focus of Invitational Leadership in education is on the message transmitted by people, places, policies, programs, and processes (Purkey, 2008, p.7). Invitational education is based on three fundamental ideas Purkey, W.W., & Novak, J.M. (1996).: the democratic ethos, the perceptual tradition, and self-concept theory. The democratic ethos put emphasize on “deliberate dialogue and mutual respect as people work together to construct the character, practices and institutions that promote a fulfilling shared life.”(p.9) In this democratic style of leadership, it implies that whoever is concerned or affected by decisions should have a say in those decisions. The perceptual tradition states that events are always seen through the individual and cultural filters people use. Thus an important aspect of the inviting approach is to understand and validate the meaningfulness of people’s perceptions and to work with these perceptions to construct shared purposes.(p.10)

Self-concept is the image people construct of who they are and how they fit in the world. “This system of personal beliefs is maintained, protected and by the choices the individual makes.” (p.10). Invitational education is a mode of functioning by which people are cordially, creatively and consistently summoned to realise their potential. As mentioned earlier, its focus is on the messages transmitted. However, the messages that are exchanged are never on neutral basis as they carry positive or negative, inviting or disinviting connotation.

There are four fundamental values, what we call principles, which give Invitational Leaders direction and purpose. Together, these four principles form a basic set of guiding beliefs. These are respect, trust, optimism, and intentionality. Therefore the four principles take the form of propositions that offer a perspective for addressing, evaluation and modifying the total school environment. Purkey, W. W.& Novak, J. M.; (2008) testify that this standpoint allows Rectors or educators to assume an “inviting stance,” which is a focused frame-work for sustained action.


People are valuable, able, and responsible and should be treated accordingly. Respect is an important aspect in Invitational Leadership. It provides a new vision based on the process of summoning people cordially to move in more democratic, creative, and productive directions through non-coercive means. A democratic society emphasizes the inherent worth of all people, believes in their self-directing power, and stressed the importance of personal and social accountability. Invitational schools do the same. Purkey, W. W.& Novak, J. M. (2008) stipulates that responsibilities that are shared based on mutual respect and expectations of positive outcomes results in a cooperative relationship that recognizes each “person’s ability to accept, reject, negotiate, or hold in abeyance the messages sent to them.” (p.12)

Respect is demonstrated in courteous behaviours as civility, politeness and common courtesy. Waterman and Peters (1988), in their book In Search of Excellence, reported that a special characteristic of highly successful companies is the courteous and respectful behaviours of their employees. They are “good listeners, pay attention to their customers, are courteous and treat people as adults. Respect is one of eight major characteristics that distinguish excellent companies.”

Summing up, respect is important in Invitational Leadership because it is the quality that enables leaders to be a beneficial presence that has the ability to take a respectful stance toward colleagues – literally inviting others into a mutually beneficial relationship.


Education is a cooperative, collaborative activity.

Invitational education is based on the fundamental interdependence of human beings. To establish trustworthy pattern, time and effort are necessary. Trustworthy patterns of interaction depend on people who demonstrate the following quality: reliability, genuineness, truthfulness, intent and competence.


The process is the product of making.

A decision to purposely act in a certain way, to achieve and carry out a set of goals (Day, 2001, p.34). Is defined as knowing what we intend to bring about as well as how we intend it to happen gives clarity and direction to our work (Stillion and Siegel, 2OO5, p15).


People possess untapped potential in all areas of humans endeavour.

Invitational educators are committed to the continuous appreciation and growth of all involved in the educative process (Day et. al, 2001, p. 34).

2. Invitational Leadership in practice in the educational community

The focus of this study is to examine the invitational leadership style to verify if it provides the necessary skills needed in today’s educational organisations. In response to the increased need for excellent management and guidance, many leadership models have been planned and implemented to meet the demanding needs of the educational sector. Following this emptiness in the educational community, the invitational leadership was introduced in 2002 by Purkey and Siegel. Stillion and Siegel (2005) summed up the idea behind this new leadership style, “Purkey … having studied human behaviour for four decades, proposed that leaders must take an invitational stance in dealing with others and in developing themselves” (p.4) According to Purkey and Novak (1996), IET is a model of practice: it adopts a systematic approach in the educational development and it provides policies and strategies for making schools more inviting.

Major challenges that the school staff usually face on daily basis are issues pertaining to the students’ welfare such as indiscipline, From my observation at school, lack of guidance and clarified direction has served as a tremendous reduction of energy, time, effort and resource. It would prove difficult to delegate authority to individuals or self-managed groups when “followers do not trust each other, because they will not share information or cooperate in trying to solve mutual problems” (Yulk, 2002,p.109). The lack of invitational characteristics in a leader would slow the effective pace of work. An effective leader will work to bring about positive and long lasting change, when change is necessary within organisation. By doing so, he would invite staff into collaboration, will work carefully to bring about change in a way that the school’s member will not only be involved but would be pleased with the eventual outcome of the change. Schein (2000) discussed, “change programs fail because they do not take into consideration the underlying culture.”

In order for an organisation to survive, it is imperative that strong and healthy relationships are formed. Likewise, these carefully formed relationships can help to formulate a culture of acceptance and desire to achieve excellence. Schein (1996) defined culture as the “set of shared, taken-for-granted implicit assumptions that a group holds and that determines how it perceives, think about, and react to its various environments” (p.236). At the school, the Rector is a vital component in creating the culture. However, the administrators’ role in understanding that culture is equally important. This creates a sense of ownership and a shared leadership.

Respect and trust thus serve as a primary component of an organisation’s healthy culture. To illustrate this idea, it is important that the Rector, educators and administrators understand what takes place within the school. Invitational Leadership argued that leader cannot create a climate of empowerment and participation if the underlying belief of culture is that everyone must do whatever the boss says they should do. I firmly agree that leadership through coercion and fear is not effective when attempting to create a productive team. Additionally, as stipulated by Purkey & Siegel (2002), messages communicate to people which inform them that they are able, responsible and worthwhile.

These messages should be made accessible to every person in the school, conveying the intention of the leaders, so making everyone part of the institution. These messages are corresponded though “inter-personal action, but also through institutional policies, programmes, practices and physical environments” (Day et al., 2001, p.34). Furthermore, Purkey and Siegel (2003) postulate a specific framework by which schools can become “invitational” by concentrating on the five areas contributing to success and failures. Each one of these elements contributes to the creation of a positive school climate and ultimately a healthy and successful organisation.

The Starfish Analogy by Purkey

Invitational leadership focusses on five areas which contribute to the success or failure of individuals. Purkey refers to it as the Starfish Analogy: The starfish lives to eat oysters. To defend itself, the oyster has two stout shells that fasten tightly together and held in place by a powerful muscle. The starfish finds the oyster and places itself on top of its intended victim. Gradually, gently, and firmly the starfish uses each of its five points in turn to keep pressure on the oyster’s one muscle. While one point works, the other four rest. The single oyster muscle, while incredibly powerful, gets no rest. Inevitably, and irresistibly, the oyster is opened and the starfish has its meal. By constant, steady pressure from a number of points, even the strongest muscle (and the biggest challenge) can be overcome.

These five areas “exist in practically every environment” and serve as a means to invite others professionally (Purkey, 1992, p.7) 1. People – Purkey (1992) affirmed that “nothing is more important in life than people. It is the people who create a respectful, optimistic5 visibility. 2. Places – refers to physical environment of an organisation. It has been suggested that places are the easiest of the five areas to change due to their visibility. 3. Policies- “policies refer to the procedures, codes, rules, written or unwritten, used to regulate the on-going functions of individuals and organizations” (Purkey, 1992,p.7) 4. Programs – play an important role in invitational leadership “because programs often focus on narrow objectives that neglect the wider scope of human needs’ (Purkey, 1002, p.7) 5. Processes – The “how something is accomplished” (Purkey & Siegel, 2003, p.125). It can be defined as the way that people, places, policies and programs are evident in schools.

Purkey and Siegel (2003) refer to these five areas as a means to invite others professionally. They affirmed that “the combination of these five areas offers an almost limitless number of opportunities for the Invitational Leader, for they address the total culture … of almost any organisation” (p.104)


This study was to investigate in what ways and to what degree, if any, an invitational leader impacts the overall effectiveness of the school setting. We focused in the first part on leadership qualities and characteristics which lead to success. We arrived at a common consensus that invitational leadership characteristics do influence the development of successful organizations.

The invitational leadership model seeks to invite all interested stakeholders to succeed. As noted by Day, Harris, and Hadfield (2001) invitations are “messages communicated to people which inform then that they are able, responsible and worthwhile” (p.34)

To conclude, it is believed that the invitational leadership model should serve as a practice to emulate in order to achieve positive results in effective leadership in schools. The active use of invitational leadership was proven to be a leadership model that should be considered effective when trying to create a healthy, positive and successful organization.


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3. Peters, Tom J. & Waterman, Robert H. (1988), In Search of Excellence – Lessons from America’s Best-Run Companies, HarperCollins Publishers, London.

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8. School Leadership: Concepts and Evidence; Full Report/Spring 2003. National College for School Leadership:

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