The book is purposely organized into short, self-contained chapters that invite the busy reader to digest one set of ideas at a time. Its main topics include definitions of leadership, interpersonal competencies, group dynamics, crisis management, and public relations. Shaw's ideas are firmly rooted in a conventional human relations approach to organizational change and leadership. He defines leadership as persuasion and the primary presidential role as "keeper of the vision." He emphasizes skills for managing group dynamics, effective communication, and conflict resolution. The key to leadership success is finding the right balance in the exchange equation of individual needs and organizational needs. His chapters on interpersonal competence and group knowledge are Shaw's primer on motivation and leadership self-awareness.
Having worked with Buzz Shaw for eight years, I clearly recognize his strategies for group management. He offers several rules of thumb for the aspiring leader: The most effective task group has between five and nine people; the efficacy of speeches, meetings, and ceremonies can be improved by cutting their time by at least 35 percent; the number of people who report directly to you should be limited to between 5 and 10; and more. Shaw's insights about organizational "grief" sensitize new leaders to their role in helping people let go of the past in order to move forward. At Syracuse University, this meant moving beyond finger pointing and into constructive planning for the future. Each idea is nicely illustrated by concrete examples in one of the book's eight chapters, or in an appendix containing samples of BuzzWords, the Chancellor's newsletter for the campus community. Throughout the book, Shaw challenges readers to appraise their own leadership skills and motives. He provides several personal inventory exercises that assess whether the university presidency fits with one's personal goals and character.
This book clearly reflects Shaw's innate trust that faculty, staff, and students will make rational decisions that benefit the university. The leader is responsible for framing, guiding, and constantly reminding members about the institution's purpose and goals so this rationality prevails. His treatment of "currencies," or motivators, is emblematic of this belief. There are inspiration-related currencies that fulfill people's desire to be associated with some higher purpose; position-related currencies acknowledge the needs for recognition, visibility, and reputation; task-related currencies address resource and expertise needs; and so forth. The leader judiciously uses currencies to motivate action, realigning the equation as prevailing currencies shift. One method of articulating a group's currencies that Shaw advocates is the budget trade-off exercise. Shaw believes that making trade-offs engages members in ways that disclose their views and needs as well as builds consensus for the leader's final decision. The book is less explicit, though, about how to navigate among various constituency views and conflicting currencies, or how to avoid the short-term, rational calculus inherent in trade-off exercises that may mask more difficult, fundamental moral obligations for the institution.
Some readers may be disappointed that the book does not provide a more personal leadership portrait of Kenneth A. Shaw. The closest glimpse comes in his caution that higher education leaders cannot expect the same kinds of friendships that others enjoy. Yet his optimistic, pragmatic personality shows through in the upbeat tone of the writing. Similarly, new college leaders might be eager to learn how a chancellor discovers the core institution values from among the many competing viewpoints on a campus that is experiencing organizational grief, as Shaw obviously did in articulating the student-centered research vision for SU. The book's somewhat thin account of Syracuse's transformation, however, does not illuminate this point. Of course, it was never Shaw's goal to include all of these details in this volume. Perhaps these aspects of Kenneth A. Shaw's leadership legacy will appear in his next book. I'll look forward to reading it.
Steven T. Bossert, Ph.D., is dean of the School of Education and professor of teaching and leadership. His scholarly work focuses on the sociology of organizations and learning. Currently, he is principal investigator of the Living SchoolBook Project, which studies how teachers and students use network technology to transform their teaching and learning.