Book Review – ET Summer 2015


Uplifting Leadership:  How Organizations, Teams, and Communities Raise Performance

Review by Melanie Tait

If the highest aim of a captain were to preserve his ship, he would keep it in port forever.

– St. Thomas Aquinas

Uplifting Leadership: How Organizations, Teams, and Communities Raise Performance is a book with a positive and inspiring message. Andy Hargreaves led the writing team that included Alan Boyle and Alma Harris and an extensive list of international researchers. The book uses real-life examples to examines uplifting leadership and is an easy read with its engaging style and straightforward language. The introduction piques the interest of the reader and is followed by seven chapters, an appendix, a notes section, acknowledgements and an index.

To compile this book, the authors looked at more than 300 successful global businesses and organizations over seven years, asking, “What characteristics make organizations of different types successful and sustainable, far beyond expectations?” Their investigation identified six interrelated key factors of uplifting leadership, which were chosen as chapter heads: dreaming with determination; creativity and counter-flow; collaboration with competition; pushing and pulling; measuring with meaning; and sustainable success. The seventh chapter, “Uplifting Leadership,” reviews and summarizes the ideas in the first six.

Every chapter begins with an inspirational quote that reflects its theme. Frequent illustrations of each factor, many of them challenging long-held beliefs and intuitions, are included in each chapter. The examples are real, and drawn from a wide range of sources, from manufacturing, sports franchises and inventions like the telephone and the Model T to school districts and improvements.

Chapter 1, “Dreaming with Determination,” begins with the following: “When Martin Luther King Jr. stood before the Reflecting Pool in Washington DC on a late August day in 1963, he did not declare that he had a
strategic plan.” This chapter explores the nature of dreams, which the authors say are most powerful when held collectively by a community and when connected to improving entire organizations and communities. Inspiring dreams extend beyond numerical targets; they express a sense of collective identity and show connections and continuity between valued heritage and necessary progress.

Chapter 2, “Creativity and Counter-Flow,” explores the value of taking an opposing approach, thinking counterintuitively and aiming to take advantage of chances to explore and exploit opportunities that others have missed.

Chapter 3, “Collaboration with Competition,” looks at the merits of “co-opetition,” a term coined by Branderburger and Nalebuff in 1996 that means “cooperating with your competition to your benefit.” There are several clarifying examples from sport, business and education.

In chapter 4, “Pushing and Pulling,” people in uplifting organizations are described as having deep allegiance to their colleagues, to their clients and customers, and to a higher purpose greater than any one individual’s. Uplifting leadership encourages everyone to support and challenge each other in careful balance, with teamwork being a central feature.

In chapter 5, “Measuring with Meaning,” the authors discuss how organizations with uplifting leadership measure, monitor and manage their progress with the judicious use of data that are meaningful, balanced, timely, integrated with professional judgment and embedded in relationships.

Chapter 6, “Sustainable Success,” proposes that the core of uplifting leadership is sustainability. The authors explore several common causes of non-sustainability and lay out the benefits of both long-term and short-term “wins” to the overall well-being of an organization.

This book is filled with rich examples from a wide variety of sources that clarify the authors’ ideas. The concepts and debates in current educational conversations, such as leadership, collaboration and teamwork, testing, charter schools and school improvement, are presented through a refreshing perspective on leadership. Arguments to support the authors’ suggestions and conclusions are well constructed, convincing and thought-provoking.

This book, with its storytelling style and interesting examples, is highly recommended for anyone in a formal or informal leadership position. In the education sector, it would be an inspiration for elected school trustees, district and school administrators, teachers or other leaders.

Melanie Tait is an educational consultant who most recently managed the Fostering Safe, Inclusive and Accepting Schools project, whose online modules are now available to all school boards on the Ontario Education Services Corporation website. Previously, she coordinated the TeachAble Project and worked on school trustee professional development modules. This year, she has taught courses at the Ontario Institute of Studies in Education in the master’s of teaching and initial education programs.

Uplifting Leadership: How Organizations, Teams, and Communities Raise Performance
Andy Hargreaves, Alan Boyle and Alma Harris
Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, 2014
228 pages, $35.00 (cloth)