Book by Manual London & Marilyn London
Review by Amy Urbanek
Academic Advising Coordinator
University of Utah
Most advisors find that committee work is an expected part of their duties and many find that they are asked to chair a committee at some point. Those who have never led a group may find this a daunting task. London & London wrote First Time Leaders of Small Groups as a guide to help those leading for the first-time.
The strength of this book is in the help it provides to the first time leader who wants to get the group off to a good start. In the first section, Preparing to Lead, the authors do an excellent job addressing important issues to consider before the first meeting. How large is the group? Who are the members? What expertise do they bring? How are they likely to interact with each other? And, perhaps most importantly, why are they there? Do committee members want to be part of the group or were they assigned the task? The first chapter teaches the reader how to do a thorough assessment of the group, something often experienced leaders neglect to do, and highlights some of the likely challenges based on the assessment outcome.
In section 2, Taking the Lead, the most helpful part again deals with the beginning of the group—how to set up the structure and culture of the group from the beginning to maximize the group’s potential for success. Chapter 5 provides strategies to help the new leader plan and organize the first meeting—setting the agenda, making introductions, setting up explicit expectation and procedures—in a way that will minimize problems down the road.
The reader looking for a “how to” manual with detailed instructions and activities may be disappointed. While the authors do an excellent job helping the reader set up a group, they are short on specific strategies for working through day-to-day activities and problems. The examples, exercises and strategies are vague and general and, in my opinion, the authors are too quick to suggest hiring a facilitator whenever the discussion turns to dealing with group problems or difficult members. They provide only a few general strategies for these situations. Since these are two of the main challenges of group leadership, more guidance should have been provided.
The extensive appendixes are perhaps the most useful parts of the book. Appendix A, A Quick Start Guide, provides a concise overview of how to plan, prepare for, and run the first few meetings as well as how to track the group’s progress. This section condenses much of the important information in the book into 12 pages for easy reference. Appendix B supplies an overview of conflict resolution strategies, and Appendix C offers advice on giving feedback.
This book was written for a wide audience and the information is applicable in any group setting. I believe advisors leading a group for the first time would find this book helpful. It could also be a useful resource for new student leaders although younger college students would be best served if guided through the information by an advisor.
First-time leaders of small groups: How to create high-performing committees, task forces, clubs and boards. (2007). Book by Manual London & Marilyn London. Review by Amy Urbanek. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 288 pp., $45.00 (hardback), ISBN # 978-0-7879-8650-6