Book by Mary Lou Higgerson & Teddi A. Joyce
Review by Michelle M. White
Department of Academic & Student Development
Millersville University of Pennsylvania
National changes in higher education bring new and difficult challenges for chairs and deans.
The authors recognize that leadership demands on chairs and deans are varied and significant and that they are expected to be the catalysts for and implementers of change. As part of the institution’s leadership team, they are expected to understand and persuade others about the context and reason for change. With leadership responsibilities to faculty and administration, they find themselves considering both perspectives. This important “in-the-middle-position” means that a significant portion of their job is to manage conflict. Conflict can be especially difficult to manage unless chairs and deans are able to practice one central leadership communication skill—the ability to consider both first-person and third-person perspectives. This skill is the underlying premise for this book. If attempting to manage conflict occurs from the first-person perspective, it may be virtually impossible to understand the perspective that created the conflict or identify common ground that could permit a resolution. It is the ability to consider the third-person perspective that provides the insight essential to effective conflict management.
The authors assert that chairs and deans must manage the inevitable tensions that develop between faculty, staff and central administration. Chairs and deans must inform, motivate, counsel, persuade, critique, facilitate, build consensus and maintain credibility. They must also manage resistance, conflict, change, workloads, shrinking resources/budgets, student academic achievement, program quality and avoid favoritism. By discussing leadership expectations for chairs and deans, the authors do not suggest that they have similar duties. Chairs occupy the front-line positions and deans occupy a middle position of leadership. This book addresses the specific communication skills and strategies needed by chairs and deans to mange conflict as they carry out assigned responsibilities that yield both institutional and professional success.
The book contains sections on establishing a foundation for effective leadership communication, developing a fair and effective leadership communication style and using leadership communication to manage especially difficult people—the Pot Stirrer/Troublemaker, Prima Donna/Drama Queen, Confrontation Junkie and the Passive and Indifferent Soul. The examples are real, and describe situations that chairs and deans are likely to encounter. The text allows a reader to consider what serving as a chair or dean is like, explore their personal comfort associated with exercising effective leadership communication and envision how to successfully lead through specific situations experienced by chairs and deans on any campus. A major strength of the book is a series of questions/prompts to guide the reader though hypothetical but realistic situations at the end of each chapter.
As the title suggests, this book is targeted for chairs or deans in higher education. It is a well- written professional development resource but can be a text for leadership development programs. While the stated audience is chairs and deans, advisers and advising administrators will find the text filled with helpful information in navigating the highly political environment of higher education. In conclusion, the text offers a guide for individuals to execute their duties for more effective outcomes. The authors also recommend re-visiting the text often—like one might require a “booster shot” to sustain a vaccine inoculation against a disease. I highly recommend this book as a reference to any individual seeking to improve the communication aspect of leadership, and enhance their professional and personal success.
Effective Leadership Communication: A Guide for Department Chairs and Deans for Managing Difficult Situations and People. (2007) Book by Mary Lou Higgerson & Teddi A. Joyce. Review by Michelle M. White. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 280 pp, $40.00, (hardback), ISBN # 978-1-933371-19-1