Making a Difference in Christian Higher Education
Edited by Karen Longman
Abilene Christian University Press
Reviewed by Jo Kadlecek
There's no shortage of books these days on leadership. Whether books that promise 21 indispensable qualities or seven steps to becoming highly effective, today's shelves are crowded with secrets and tips for creating extraordinary—or at least great—leaders. With so much expertise available, it's a marvel we haven't yet ended poverty.
Missing from the popular genre, however, is authentic narrative. So it's refreshing to find a book that actually explores the nuanced struggles and joys of real leaders in real institutions talking about real experiences. Thriving in Leadership: Strategies for Making a Difference in Christian Higher Education takes a more inviting approach than the other industry formulas and gives readers authentic stories. With contributions from 16 senior leaders in Christian colleges across the US, the book reflects not so much their concern about becoming extraordinary leaders but what they've experienced when providing extraordinary opportunities for their respective campuses.
Edited with an inspired hand by Karen Longman, professor and education director at Azusa Pacific University, the book feels like a long and thoughtful conversation with some of the most respected provosts, VPs, and presidents (or emeriti) within the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. That might be because the project itself was born in summer gatherings that the Council's Leadership Development Institutes (LDI) organized.
A longtime scholar on leadership trends and the cofounder for the LDI programs, Longman laments that much of higher education has not been good about developing effective leaders. The book, therefore, brings readers alongside, mentor-style, by providing hard-won counsel grounded in actual (and personal) frameworks—leadership examples for Christian campuses that are essential if "the complex challenges facing today's colleges and universities are to be effectively addressed."
The book is divided into three parts, with the authors exploring tough and sometimes territorial issues, but always with an eye toward "thriving" in their respective leadership roles, that is, living the abundant life to which Christ invites followers. Whether examining the interior life of thriving leaders (Part I) or the social intelligence of thriving leaders (Part II), or discerning how leaders can shape a thriving organizational culture (Part III), these essays combine scholarship and professionalism with healthy doses of wit, honesty, and insight.
Key topics include resilience and relationships; honoring giftedness; storytelling as a visionary tool; building trust; and embracing failure, balance, and hospitality for creating Christ-centered communities. Regardless of what stage a leader and his/her institution might be in, this book addresses it in one of these interesting and astute essays.
The best part of Thriving in Leadership?—the brave and vulnerable first-person narratives from these leaders who are, like many of us, working at becoming faithful Christ-followers, not experts. They seem to know that leading is not easily discovered in formulas or principles, but in life-long journeys of service, humility, and community.
Oh, and did I mention each author is a woman? Neither did they.
Jo Kadlecek is the senior writer and journalist-in-residence at Gordon College in Wenham, Mass.