Book Reviews

Ethical Leadership

by Robert J. Starratt

Reviewed by Zach Kelehear
Associate Professor of Educational Leadership, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham , Ala.

More than ever, school leaders are being challenged by national and state efforts to become more accountable for student learning. In response, educators have resorted to testing students more frequently with irrelevant, technical material, according to Robert Starratt, author of Ethical Leadership.

The result of high-stakes testing, he claims, will be students void of ethics and purpose. In his book, the Boston College professor charges that the new accountability measures imposed from on high are contributing to “inauthentic learning, superficial learning, fake learning, make-believe learning, rather than something that intrinsically adds value to students’ lives.”

As a former principal and a longtime researcher on ethics in leadership, Starratt offers today’s school leader a powerful combination of practical understanding of daily school life and important philosophical underpinnings needed for ethical leadership. To Starratt, ethical leadership comes from the combination of three virtues: responsibility, authenticity and presence.

At the outset of his book, the author presents us with an educational leader who is grappling with the moral dimensions of his decisions. Starratt then steps away from the present story and challenges us to reflect in profound ways on the nature and role of responsibility, authenticity and presence in informing ethical decision making. At the end we return to our story, enriched by thoughtful and meaningful reflection, prepared to confront the moral dimensions of leadership.

Over the years I have found Starratt’s writings helpful to both practitioners and students of leadership because of his skill in combining the theoretical with the practical. His treatment of the issues embedded in ethical leadership is clear and compelling.

(Ethical Leadership by Robert J. Starratt, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, Calif., 2004, 158 pp. with index, $20 softcover)