Book by Susan Madsen
Review by Christy Nosek Carter and Susan Calabrese
College Advisors
Student Academic Success Center
Wilbur Wright College

Whether you are in the process of developing leadership competencies yourself or in the position to mentor others for leadership, On Becoming a Woman Leader provides valuable insight about the development of leaders by focusing on the lives of ten female, university presidents. Developing women leaders requires professionals to have a full repertoire of tools from which to choose. Although there is still a lack of women in key leadership positions, particularly in higher education, cultivating the skill of mentoring students is an extension of intrusive advising that will help women become successful in life and leadership. 

On Becoming a Woman Leader, shares scholarly research that is unique, interesting and ground-breaking.  Madsen focuses on the lifetime development of leadership competencies of ten female, university presidents. The reader is treated to a picturesque view of these remarkable women’s journeys from their youth, throughout their high school and college years, including family life, community and organizational activities that influenced their development of the competencies and confidence required to become leaders. Also highlighted are the obstacles to their career paths, leadership motivation, styles, philosophies, and future advice and implications for the reader to ponder.

The intended audience for the book would include advisors, college students, faculty, administrators and beyond. These professionals will benefit from the insights afforded by this book as they stand on the front lines working to prepare, mentor and develop women students to move into management and leadership positions on campus and in society.

Perhaps the greatest strength of On Becoming a Women Leader is the sheer uniqueness of the research itself and the way the reader is able to catch a glimpse of how “these university presidents’ life experiences and opportunities have come together to create their unique hearts and minds” (p. 90).  A common theme among these female presidents is their persistence, their openness to new opportunities, and their ability to self-reflect and learn from failure throughout their lives. More so, personal advice is dispensed from them regarding achieving dreams, much of it having to do with a desire to be of service and make a difference in the world. Furthermore, this book provides valuable research regarding women’s management styles that needs to be reiterated in print and further substantiated. Of great significance is the recognition that women’s paths to leadership positions are non-linear unlike their male counterparts.  

An inherent weakness of the text is, perhaps, the lack of an appendix of learning activities. This type of supplement would have been helpful in giving those in higher education the practical applications that they so often look for in mentoring and leadership development.  

Otherwise, we highly endorse this text as a unique sharpening tool for professionals seeking to better prepare their mentoring abilities. It is extremely helpful for advisors as we provide academic and career advising to women students who are the leaders, university presidents, and CEOs of tomorrow. This text provides inspiration for those learning to lead. 

On becoming a woman leader: Learning from the experiences of university presidents. (2008) Book by Susan Madsen. Review by Christy Nosek Carter and Susan Calabrese. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 352 pp., $40.00. ISBN 978-0-470-19762-2
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