The Best Leadership is Useful Leadership

Ever talk with someone joining the community college world as an employee who doesn’t know all that much about community colleges? If I could only recommend one book – and that person was going to take some sort of leadership role – I would definitely recommend  Practical Leadership in Community Colleges: Navigating Today’s Challenges. It is clear, easy to read and to use, and comprehensive without going too deep in the weeds. It is a spot on guide.

The authors are George R. Boggs, the emeritus president of the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), and Christine J. McPhail, former president of Cypress College and emerita professor/founder of Morgan State University’s Community College Leadership Program. Both have been extraordinarily successful and influential in shaping the community college world and preparing folks for leadership roles. They know the lay of the land, remain active in understanding the changing landscape, and are keen on sharing what they can so that “strong, stable, courageous, and effective leadership” can happen.  The chapters of the book are grounded in theory but the focus is on practical action. It need not be read sequentially. This is a book for preparing, considering and doing.

The chapters cluster questions, issues, problems and ways of taking action. They include: Leadership Issues Management; Mission; Accountability (Scorecards, Regulations, Accreditation); Finance, Cost and the Economy; Diversity, Equity and Inclusion; Governance, Communication and Media Relations; Organizational Change to Promote Student Success; and Safety and Security. Each chapter has a small number of subsections, called out, that frame particular concerns. The entire chapters and/or the subsections could be used as refreshers or for ongoing professional development. And even though Practical Leadership is not a textbook, it does contain many “Issues to Consider” and “Scenarios” to make the content all the more real.

I have worked in higher education for a while. I’m now in my sixth year as a community college president, so there was not much in this book that was unexpected. In fact, the topics would be familiar to many who have years of experience and have been fortunate with their  professional development. That said, it was still a very productive read. I learned from the book and was especially grateful for consistent and thoughtful linkage of research, theory, and action. The environment in which we operate is far too complex to rely on instinct. Data, structure and scholarship are essential. Very useful to those entering the community college world, the book is also a welcome refresher and guide.

Practical Leadership in Community Colleges is a strong addition to my higher education bookcase. I will use it and loan it. I also expect that it will find its way to more than a few syllabuses in higher education leadership programs.

David Potash

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