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Reading is Fundamental
A not so scholarly book review

Reading books assigned to me during my walk in graduate school has been a bit like a crapshoot. Some books I have been forced to read caused me feel like a winner (or a potential winner), others left me feeling like the “biggest loser,” confused, depressed and convinced leadership is just not for me. The book, Cultivating Leadership in Schools: Connecting People, Purpose and Practice by Gordon Donaldson Jr. made me feel like a winner…with loosing tendencies.

The first big idea takeaway for me was that there were five activities (identifying, keeping, focusing, giving and protecting) that leaders are to be engaged in, according to Heifertz, in order to facilitate resolution of deep adaptive issues. Another big idea was that there is “now a widespread assumption that public schools need to change” and that has “thankfully brought our classical notion about leadership fully under the microscope.” 

Donaldson presents three leadership streams, which collectively represents another significant big idea for me, especially because the first stream begins with the notion of, “trusting, affirmative relationships,” which I have rarely enjoyed. In any work environment, as a leader, this is where the work really begins. Not a new big idea, but an important one from this text, is that, “You (the Leader) alone are not enough.” Enough said.

My final big idea to take away comes from chapter seven’s nurturing a belief in action-in-common and the fact that it’s both an asset and a liability that, “You are the boss.” I had two favorite quotes from the text as well, “Those who choose to lead resolve to act,” and “Leaders help their groups face problems, not avoid them or accommodate them with technical Band-Aids.”

In my ideal organization, I will be able to utilize the text as a guide, because in my organization, I will have had the time to really dig into the book, talk to others, learn from them, and see the writing in action. Still, having read this book has informed my thinking, as I know more about formal ways to connect leading to the people I will be leading, their purposes and my own. I have learned new ways of putting leadership into practice. Because I read this book quickly and for the purpose of responding in the course, I do feel like I need to read it again, in order to examine certain concepts more closely and perhaps discuss elements of the book with a mentor or a book group. I would then be able to make a more literate recommendation as to who else should read this book.

If you are dying of curiosity, get your own read of Donaldson, Jr., G.A. (2006). Cultivating leadership in schools: Connecting people, purpose, & practice. New York, NY: Teacher’s College Press.

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