Book Reviews

Book by Adrianna J. Kezar, Rozana Carducci, & Melissa Contreras-McGavin
Review by Arin Ely
McCoy College of Business Administration Advising Center
Texas State University-San Marcos

Rethinking the “L” Word in Higher Education: The Revolution of Research on Leadership (Kezar, Carducci, Contreras-McGavin, 2006), is an updated version of the original volume (1989) that was tasked with defining leadership, its importance in higher education, and six theories of focus.  The authors state that the six theories discussed in the first volume, Making Sense of Administrative Leadership: The “L” Word in Higher Education (Bensimon, Neumann, and Birnbaum, 1989), place less importance on the role of learning for leaders.  More recent research on leadership theory suggests that the capability to learn and intellectually evolve is directly correlated to effective leadership.  Research discussed in the newer volume indicates that historically, learning and intellect were downplayed when it came to leadership (49).  The newer volume emphasizes the importance for leaders to continuously improve their emotional intelligence (147), practice the theory of empowerment (140), and take insight from partnerships and group collaboration (144).  Several researchers have made a link between “emotional intelligence among leaders and the ability to successfully collaborate, empower, and provide ethical leadership” (147).
I found this book not only engaging, but also easily digestible for a reader new to leadership theory.  The content became most interesting after the author summarized and critiqued historical leadership theories and shifted focus to defining the theories that are valued today.  The first few chapters discuss outdated theories and leadership traits that were a focus of the past.  The authors discuss why there was a shift in theories and what caused the newer theories to be born: cultural influences, social changes, and a focus on entrepreneurism and globalization.  Readers will enjoy when half way through the book, the authors provide practical implications for how these theories can be applied to higher education.

One theory I found most relevant to all positions in higher education is the Team or Relational Leadership Approach, in which “leadership happens as an outcome of team processes” (66).  The theory, described as an approach in which “process and mutuality are emphasized over the individual leader or group” (64), is a theory that has withstood the test of time and was historically recognized and continues to be a valued leadership approach.  With all approaches discussed in this book, the authors emphasize that it is critical for leaders to understand their institution’s unique culture, degree to which it is decentralized, and have a familiarity with the faculty, staff, and organizational dynamics (124).  

I recommend this book to anyone in higher education that is interested in leadership theories and someday advancing in higher education.  Although academic advisors and those new to higher education may be interested in the topics covered, the application may not be as relevant in lower level positions.  I strongly recommend this book to anyone advancing to or currently in a leadership position in higher education.  There is a focus on leadership as it relates to positions much higher up than academic advising in the University chain of command, primarily at the Dean’s and Department Chair level.  Although readers will close this book with a better understanding of the different types of leadership and characteristics that make leaders succeed, the book lacked application as it relates to advising.  Advising professionals who pick up this book should expect to take the overall ideas about leadership and apply them to their own positions; I’ll warn to expect limited research and discussion as it relates to academic advising, and to expect an emphasis on leadership at or near the Dean’s level.

Rethinking the “L” word in higher education: The Revolution of research on leadership: ASHE, Volume 31, Number 6. (2006). Book by Adrianna J. Kezar, Rozana Carducci, & Melissa Contreras-McGavin. Review by Arin Ely. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.  240 pp., $29.00, (paperback), ISBN # 978-0-7879-8677-3

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