Book Review

Soft Leadership for Hard Times

by George A. Goens, Rowman and Littlefield Education, Lanham, Md., 157 pp. with index, 2005, $38.95 softcover

In his text, Soft Leadership for Hard Times, George Goens takes a new approach in defining leadership through the extensive use of poetry and metaphors and includes citations from the likes of Carl Jung and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi to reinforce his unique perspective. Goens, a former superintendent and university professor, focuses on those aspects of leadership pertaining to building relationships and the personal qualities of leaders that go beyond the simple analysis and use of quantitative data and traditional strategic planning.

A good leader, according to Goens, is like a jazz musician. When playing jazz, musicians have a framework over which they have the creative freedom to play their melodies as they see fit. Each note is not scripted and every performance, even of the same piece of music, is different. Their success is based on their ability to improvise by creating a series of harmonious sounds in sync with the chord changes and rhythmic structure as performed by the rest of the band.

Leadership involves the ability to improvise and be creative. The framework for leadership consists of those guiding principles and values on which the leader is able to improvise solutions to problems and navigate through situations without prior rehearsal. Just as the notes improvised by the jazz musician have not been scripted, so too are the actions of the leader. No two performances are exactly the same and no two situations addressed by a leader are exactly the same.

Goens also uses scenario planning as an option to strategic planning. He downplays the effectiveness of strategic planning because of its inability to accurately assess or measure people-driven organizations such as schools. According to Goens, scenario planning is better suited for schools as it takes into account the issue of critical uncertainties defined as unpredictable issues connected to emotion, opinion, intuition or chance.

Reviewed by Ronald A. Styron Jr., assistant professor of educational leadership, University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg, Miss.