Book Review

Surviving and Thriving as a Superintendent of Schools

By Stephen Dlott, Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, Md., 2007, 141 pp., $21.95 softcover

Written by a superintendent and student of presidential history, Surviving and Thriving as a Superintendent of Schools is practical and enlightening. Stephen Dlott is a realist, someone who knows the day-to-day realities as well as the long-term work of superintendents and puts it in context while drawing lessons from eight U.S. presidents facing high-stakes decisions.

The book’s strengths are its credibility, humility and veracity. Dlott is honest about the work and describes it accurately. Without apology, he tells the lessons learned from his errors as well as the successes of his actions.

The topics he covers are those every superintendent faces — vision setting, risk taking, decision making and communicating. While leaders often learn from observing the work of others, comparisons to presidential work may seem grandiose. Humbly, Dlott acknowledges the difference in scale of impact of the decisions, yet he uses this technique to expand the reader’s thinking about goals, plans and strategies. The superintendent’s work does not affect the nation or world, yet it bears a powerful influence on a whole community.

New leaders who honestly assess themselves will relate to the chapter on vision, an area Dlott admits to struggling with during his rookie days. John F. Kennedy faced similar dilemmas and figured out how to craft a vision that inspired others, the author says. Surviving and Thriving is filled with tidbits of advice within larger stories of critical issues. Particularly effective are the reflection points at the end of each chapter. Wise leaders will reread these reflections for a quick refresher course. They also help to get the job, and themselves, back in perspective.

Reviewed by Rene Townsend, managing partner, Leadership Associates, Encinitas, Calif.