Book Review

Leadership Through Story: Diverse Voices in Dialogue

by Sarah J. Noonan with Thomas L. Fish, Rowman & Littlefield Education, Lanham, Md., 2007, 282 pp. with index, $85 hardcover, $34.95 softcover

A plethora of self-help books can be found on bookstore shelves these days. What would be nice to have, however, is a book that has all the benefits of self-help but also has a focus on issues specific to school and organizational leadership. I think I found such a book.

Sarah J. Noonan, in her Leadership Through Story: Diverse Voices in Dialogue, has provided school leaders with a readable, relevant and powerful resource for navigating the treacherous waters of the artful leader. Along with her colleague Thomas L. Fish, Noonan has framed a book that is not so much a story in itself but a collection of insightful and engaging conversations about morality, ethics, decision making, innovations, loss, accountability, power and culture, to name a few themes.

Noonan uses the power of narrative to communicate meaning and value as well as to encourage dialogue. She has included others’ stories about topics we all have experienced in one way or another. I found myself nodding in agreement, almost as if I were affirming another, as I read the stories. The themes compelled me to respond rather than sit passively.

Noonan pushes the reader into the middle of the conversation. It is the diverse voices that prod us out of passive reading and more into engaged conversation.

School leaders might find Leadership Through Story a useful tool for engaging key issues in the workplace. Being able to talk about emotional topics in a safe context can go a long way toward building community, trust and openness. Noonan’s work offers us a way to begin the important conversations about things that matter to us all and in so doing help us create true learning communities.

Noonan offers us a space to sit, reflect and interact with others who have struggled with many of the same complex, daunting, ambiguous and important issues that come with living a full life.

Reviewed by Zach Kelehear, associate professor of educational leadership, University of South Carolina, Columbia, S.C.