Book Review                                      Online Exclusive



How Leaders Gain and Lose It, Why People

Demand It 

by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, Calif., 2011, 272 pp. with index, $27.95 hardcover


Most school leaders probably have read Leadership Challenge, an earlier title by Santa Clara University’s James Kouzes and Barry Posner, or completed the pair’s Leadership Practices Inventory or perhaps heard one of them speak at a conference.

So, the content and the extensive background research that went into their 2011 rewrite of Credibility: How Leaders Gain It and Lose It will not come as much of a surprise. Their conclusions: Credibility does make a difference. The process of building and sustaining credibility requires leaders to know themselves, appreciate stakeholders, affirm shared values, develop capacity in staff, serve a higher purpose and keep hope alive within the organization. Nothing new here.

The final chapter, The Struggle to be Human, might be of the most interest to superintendents. Here, the authors discuss the tension that often exists when leaders try to respond positively to constituents while, at the same time, remaining true to their values. Think typical superintendent-board tensions over micromanaging personnel decisions or struggles to implement student grading and promotion policy changes when the values of the district are more focused on meeting the adults’ needs than on those of the students.

Ironically, leaders who are closest in touch with their constituents — and therefore likely to be perceived as credible — will experience the pain most intently. The authors’ suggestion is to learn to love the struggles. Where there is tension, they proclaim, there is movement, and, where there is movement, there is chance for progress. And making forward progress (or leaving a school district in a better place than you found it) is the ultimate measure of leadership.

Because, as Kouzes and Posner accurately report, “uncertainty is the new normal” in today’s education arena, learning to love being in the center of the fray might be their most valuable advice of all.

Reviewed by Ronald S. Thomas, associate director, Center for Leadership in Education, Towson University, Baltimore, Md.


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