Book Reviews

Book by Jeffrey L. Buller
Review by Jamie Thomas-Ward
Director, Pre-Law Advising Services
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


This book is a practical guide containing daily entries full of insight and suggestions to help administrators seek and improve upon our professional development. The book can be consulted daily, or the thorough index allows for selectively focusing on a particular skill or topic such as “removing obstacles”, “setting expectations”, and “strategic leadership”. I decided to use the book first by consulting a daily entry on multiple days, and then by reviewing entries for the topics “students” and “time management”.

November 16, 2010
Today’s entry is about establishing boundaries, reminding me that the lack of effective boundaries leads to stress and burnout. The entry suggests reviewing my responsibilities and giving myself permission to delegate. I think about my responsibilities and decide to assign a website task to my graduate assistant. I also assign an upcoming workshop to a co-worker, and I consider other delegating options.

November 24, 2010
“Embrace your greatest frustration,” reads today’s entry, which encourages me to “try today to find some way in which your life actually benefits from this often-maddening relationship”. Currently trapped in a relentless grading issue with a student, I think carefully about it and decide that this particular situation has given me insight into how to build better relationships with students, and I have jotted notes for future changes to the class format to allow for clearer expectations. Afterward, I feel more productive and positive about my current frustrations.

November 28, 2010
Today I read with interest the entry about changing my environment. I am encouraged to “prevent the familiar from becoming too routine”, a definite problem for me. I decide to remove some never-used items and to bring in different pictures to “refresh” my office environment. 

December 8, 2010
“Notice where the shoe pinches.” Today’s entry is about identifying elements of the job that I do not enjoy, and brainstorming new ways to approach them or delegate them. The entry suggests that I speak with my supervisor to determine how he would prioritize the tasks (which frankly never occurred to me). I consider some upcoming unappealing tasks, and after my boss confirms that he feels they are a priority, I brainstorm ways to make them more appealing to me. 

The direct, thoughtful suggestions in this book are valuable both for seasoned professionals and for mid-level professionals aspiring to a higher position. The advice and suggestions often encourage the reader to reflect and reconsider why you perform your job duties a certain way, helping to alleviate ruts and tunnel vision. The holistic approach of the book encourages professionals to consider their physical space, intrinsic strengths, areas for growth, and personal relationships. Guidance on personal issues (such as stress and fun) and the elusive “work/life balance” issue so common in higher education can be found throughout.

I found this book to be an excellent resource, and I have referred to it multiple times over the past few months. This book continually reinforces the idea that building our professional skills requires reflection, intention, and persistence. It also validates the effort expended on building professional skills as important and worthy of our time. Many of the entries are deceptively simple, yet surprisingly effective. The book is well-written, easy to use, motivating, and practical. I highly recommend it for those of us who are beyond entry-level and interested in integrating professional development into our jobs in meaningful ways.


Academic leadership day by day: Small steps that lead to great success. (2010). Book by Jeffrey L. Buller. Review by Jamie Thomas-Ward. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 315 pp., $25.00. ISBN # 978-0-470-90300-1
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