Book by Anthony F. Smith
Review by Jennifer Brown
Department of Economics
University of Southern California
Advisors often wonder how an important decision was made by leaders at their institutions. By the time many decisions are implemented they can be seen as somewhat arbitrary or perhaps even contrary to their intended purpose. Often administrators who must handle and adapt to system changes are not part of the decision making process; in many cases the leader making the decision may seem removed from the actual work. At larger institutions, leaders can seem even more distant due to the layers of bureaucracy between advisors who work directly with students and a president, provost or dean holding a decision making role.
In this text Anthony F. Smith addresses the ten taboos he sees as central to the leadership role in order to “bridge the gap of understanding between employees and leaders” (xxii).
Smith stated purpose is to provide a descriptive look at the realities of leadership and he succeeds in doing so. Here he reveals what he views to be the top ten secrets of leaders. The taboos Smith discusses are issues that readers will find familiar. All of the taboo examples are rooted in the demands of the leadership role and are based upon leaders he has known. In order to effectively lead a large, prosperous institution, leaders must be charismatic, political, dedicated, and self-interested. These characteristics are only four of the ten taboos that also include grooming successors, playing favorites and being lonely.
Although Smith states he is not trying to provide a prescription for addressing specific problems, his purely descriptive approach seems a bit subjective. In the final chapter Smith tackles this issue by leaving the decision up to the reader: “how you use the knowledge you have gained about taboos is up to you” (p. 150). Increasing knowledge about leadership is useful for anyone working in a hierarchical organization, but its value in everyday job responsibilities is not likely to be high. Still academic advisors will find that this book can provide a new lens with which to view the actions and decisions of our institutional leaders.
The author provides great stories to illustrate and contextualize his 10 taboos. Although these stories make the book enjoyable they also are primarily anecdotal. Smith’s years of experience are valuable and provide depth to his description of the taboos however the reader would be wise not base his or her entire understanding of leadership on this book. For the reader interested in understanding leadership from a new point of view or pursuing future leadership roles this book will provide further understanding of leading an organization. While it is an interesting read, this book’s usefulness regards to the work of advising is limited.
The Taboos of Leadership: The 10 secrets no one will tell you about leaders and what they really think. (2007). Book by Anthony F. Smith. Review by Jennifer Brown. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 192 pp. $24.95. ISBN # 978-0-7879-9852-9