If the difference is that managers simply run systems as they are, using a top-down approach, while leaders breathe innovation and collaboration into such outdated structures, then the distinction dating back to Ronald Heifetz is certainly valuable.
But the ideal of the school "leader" also sets unrealistically high expectations for administrators (being able to initiate and guide a movement), while it has little to no currency among those (faculty and staff) supposed to espouse it. Radical activists and cult members might talk about their “leader”, but educators never do.
Is the idea of school “leadership” useful in any way, if it sets up school leaders for failure, including by undermining their credibility from the get-go? Wouldn’t it be more realistic and pragmatic to acknowledge that school administrators are and should be managers?
After all, the word has two very different meanings: the branch manager of a paper product company, but also the manager of an actress, athlete, or any other kind of gifted performer. And this is exactly what educators are: performers. Performers of learning. educators make learning happen. And the role of their managers is to ensure that everything is conducive to their cast’s absolute best performance. Seen this way, the role of school administrators appears in a brand new light, quite different from our usual view. It is not to “lead” at all, but more simply and more importantly to clear the path.
In the end, whatever they do, school administrators can only do one of two things: create or remove obstacles to their teachers’ performance, and thus to students’ learning. Great staff and faculty are not only competent, they are also passionate about what they do. Thus, the role of school managers is to attract and retain such talent by making sure that they have everything they need to do their best as a team. Everything else is secondary.
Getting the best out of the best, this what “managers” do.