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Leadership: an uncle's guide

William Lewis finds a new leadership book like tea with a much-travelled relative: full of rich insights and anecdotes - but it does go on a bit

Educational leadership: personal growth for professional development. By Harry Tomlinson. Sage Publications, 2004. ISBN 0-7619-6777-X, pound;19.99

Everyone should read this book, but no one should read all of it. It is like going round for tea with a much-travelled uncle who's been there, done it and worn out the T-shirt.

At first the stories are thoughtful and absorbing, but by the end of the book you're stuffed to surfeit: "No uncle, please, no more tales of Chimborazo, no more guides to life, no more cream cakes, no more knowledge management checklists, no more business process re-engineering."

The book's subtitle is a better guide to its focus than its title. It isn't primarily about educational leadership. As Tomlinson says: "There have been too many books and articles written on leadership for those who wish to be leaders." He argues that professional development can only occur through the growth of self-awareness and emotional authenticity during a career.

These qualities are as important for new teachers as for senior managers in large organisations.

As resources for this journey, the book assembles an extensive collection of topics and references, mostly from education, but also from business.

There's wisdom and insight in the discussions of development issues facing education professionals at all stages of their careers. For new teachers there is understanding of the issues around growing into a new role, and important reminders about the value of life outside work - family and friends - in the new circumstances.

Senior managers, too, will recognise in the chapter on emotional intelligence the dilemmas around decision-making, communication and personal values.

Tomlinson is at his best when he gives himself room to reflect on the landscape through which he travels.

The downside is that the range of the book means that a number of key areas are dealt with superficially: snapshots of the main sights before being ushered back onto the tour bus.

Consequently it's hard to know what value people will get from them. Those for whom the ground is familiar, will probably learn very little, while the territory will remain strange and unexplored for those new to the material.

The deeper knowledge remains sealed and the reader is excluded.

Tomlinson, perhaps aware of this, attempts some dialogue with readers through questions which appear at the end of each sub-section. They're good questions, too, and have the capacity to initiate productive reflection and dialogue.

Unfortunately, there is no space for follow-up discussion as the tour bus thunders on. ("Don't interrupt your uncle, dear.") But this is, undeniably, a terrifically rich and well-researched source text which could be the starting point for a variety of personal development journeys.

It has enormous value in asserting the importance of personal growth as the foundation for professional development. Nevertheless, if its itinerary were less ambitious, and its pace a little less relentless, it would be a much better book.

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