Book Review: "Leadership in Higher Education"

This article is part of NASFAA's occasional book review series, where members share their reflections on books, published within the past five years, on higher education themes of interest to financial aid professionals. The opinions offered and statements made do not imply endorsement by NASFAA or the authors' employers and do not guarantee the accuracy of information presented. Would you like to suggest a book for a future review? Email us at [email protected] with your recommendation.

There is a dizzying array of literature about leadership and the concepts thereof, all with their spin on what it takes to be a leader. Many books on leadership echo adages such as “don’t ask anyone to do what you wouldn’t do yourself,” and “set the example through your actions.” Leadership in Higher Education (2019) drives home these points as well, but it also offers novices a readable and relatable introduction to leadership and harnessing the leader within.

Eroica DavisReviewed by Eroica Davis, associate director of financial aid, Florida Institute of Technology

Most of us have heard, or maybe even used, the term “born leader.” Kouzes and Posner reject the concept of born leaders, asserting that anyone at any level of an institution can be a leader given the right tools. The authors are passionate about their charge of “liberating the leader within each and every person” (p. 141), and they encourage readers to explore the potential leader within them. While written for a broad audience, this book speaks mainly to those new to the call to lead or to those who may believe leadership is only for upper management and born leaders.

The framework for Leadership in Higher Education is based on the authors’ extensive research as well as their prior book, Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership: Modeling the Way, Inspiring a Shared Vision, Challenging the Process, Enabling Others to Act and Encouraging the Heart (2019). The concepts presented aren’t necessarily new; however, the authors present their framework within the context of higher education in such a way that individuals at any level within an institution can utilize the skills and techniques described.

Kouzes and Posner dive deeper into the Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership through focused chapters, providing guidance on ways through which one can implement each of the Five Practices. In doing so, they tie  in primary traits, values, or characteristics that people look for in a true leader: honesty, competency, optimism, and foresightedness (p. 14). The result provides a roadmap to harnessing and enriching one’s inner leader.

Throughout the book, Kouzes and Posner relay anecdotes from leaders who shared what the authors refer to as their “personal best” stories. These illustrations help drive home the ways in which a leader can achieve a particular practice of exemplary leadership; however, at times it can feel as if they’re hammering too hard at a point or becoming repetitive. On the other hand, emerging leaders may find the repetition a helpful tool that allows them to envision the concepts in a variety of scenarios.

For example, Chapter 5 describes a program director who learned her team was so disheartened that many were ready to quit. After speaking with each team member, she found that they enjoyed their work but didn’t feel they had the systems or leadership support they needed to be successful. The director led her team to success by creating a cohesive and supportive environment through team building and missions solidification, fostering trust and cooperation within the unit.  With more opportunities to be heard and feel valued, the team took on more responsibility and accountability and ultimately achieved success in their project.

Each chapter ties in one of the five practices with a personal experience and guides the reader through reflection questions. While these questions are common theme in the self-help/business/leadership genres, it is not without good reason. Leadership begins from within, and reflection questions allow the reader to do the work and apply what they have read. Personally, I found that these small sections were my favorite part of the chapters. I found myself looking to these questions before I finished each chapter and reflecting on my leadership journey. The questions prompted me to measure things I had done well and reminded me of things I need to improve upon.

Leadership in Higher Education is a good starting point for someone who is curious about or new to the leadership practice. It provides relatable anecdotes, concepts, and practices that one can easily apply to their daily lives without getting too deep into the weeds. The easy-to-follow roadmap and encouraging stories from the field open the doorway to leadership practices at all levels.

"Leadership in Higher Education" by James Kouzes and Barry Posner. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2019, pp. 208.

Eroica Davis is the associate director of financial aid at Florida Institute of Technology. She received her bachelor's degree in English at the University of Central Florida and master's degree in management from Florida Institute of Technology. Eroica is an active member of NASFAA and the Florida Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (FASFAA).


Publication Date: 11/22/2023

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