Book Reviews: Spring 2008

The Soul of Leadership: Journeys in Leadership and Achievement with Distinguished African American Nurses

By Hattie Bessent, EdD, MSN, RN, FAAN

W.K. Kellogg Foundation; American Nurses Foundation, 2006

$35 (paperback)

This beautifully designed large-format book, with its dramatic full-page photo portraits of trailblazing African American nursing leaders, is handsome enough to display on your coffee table. Yet it is so full-to-overflowing with inspirational stories, words of wisdom, lessons learned and practical leadership advice for nurses of color that you’ll want to keep it at your workplace and consult it every day.

The Soul of Leadership presents, in their own words, the courageous personal and professional journeys of 11 highly accomplished black nurses whose outstanding leadership skills enabled them to break through barriers of racism, poverty and sexism to advance to preeminent positions as nursing educators, executives, administrators, researchers and policymakers. These first-hand accounts are supplemented with insightful essays on leadership principles by Dr. Bessent, herself one of the profession’s most visionary African American nurse leaders.

Nurses profiled in the book include Barbara Nichols, who tells of how she successfully battled prejudice, negativity and organizational bureaucracy to be elected the first black president of the American Nurses Association in 1978. Dr. May Wykle, dean of Case Western Reserve University’s Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing, describes how, in the early days of her career, she learned to persevere against rampant racial discrimination, both in nursing school and in the hospital setting. Dr. Elnora Daniel, president of Chicago State University, shares her thoughts on “leadership by doing” and the importance of maintaining work/life balance, while Vernice Ferguson, retired assistant chief medical director for nursing programs at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, offers this advice: “Leadership takes courage, leadership takes guts. Enter each day with the joy of battle.”

The Soul of Nursing grew out of a 2004 symposium held for fellows of Project LEAD (Leadership Enhancement and Development), the groundbreaking leadership training program for African American nurses directed by Dr. Bessent and funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. The book’s final chapters explore leadership strategies based on the Project LEAD model and showcase the program’s current fellows, mentors and advisors.

To order the book: The Soul of Nursing can be ordered directly from Dr. Bessent. Contact her at or 5622 Sophist Circle South, Jacksonville, FL 32219.

Conversations With Leaders: Frank Talk From Nurses (and Others) on the Front Lines of Leadership

By Tine Hansen-Turton, BA, MGA, JD, Susan Sherman, RN, MA, and Vernice Ferguson, RN, MA, FAAN, FRCN

Sigma Theta Tau International, 2007

$29.95 (paperback)

Like Dr. Bessent’s book, Conversations With Leaders grew out of a successful leadership education program–in this case, a long-running series of informal seminars for community health professionals in the Philadelphia area. Sponsored by the Independence Foundation and the National Nursing Centers Consortium, these small, intimate gatherings featured distinguished nurses and other professionals speaking candidly about their personal leadership journeys and the principles they learned along the way. By collecting a selection of highlights from these talks in book form, Conversations With Leaders is designed to let a wider, national audience listen in on–and learn from–these stimulating discussions.


Co-edited by Vernice Ferguson, one of the nurses profiled in The Soul of Nursing, this book presents 22 compelling “conversations” with outstanding local, national and international leaders from a variety of fields–primarily nursing, but also law, journalism and organizational development. In addition to Ferguson, minority nurses are represented by Barbara Nichols, Dr. Beverly Malone and Dr. Gloria Smith (who are also featured in The Soul of Nursing), plus Dr. Afaf Meleis, dean of the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, and retired nurse executive Dr. William Warfel.

Conversations With Leaders is organized into six thematic sections, such as “Leadership Is. . .Transformative” and “Leadership Is. . .Collaborative.” Recognizing that today’s busy nursing professionals don’t have much time to sit down and read, the authors/editors have made the book extremely user-friendly. The chapters are short and lively. The text is liberally sprinkled with bulleted lists (e.g, “Lessons Learned”) and pithy quotations (“Failure is not fatal; it can be character building”). Best of all, there are dozens of hands-on leadership tips set in boldface type so that they practically jump off the page.

In fact, you could almost give yourself a crash course in leadership just by flipping through the book and reading all those highlighted sentences. Enable the visible success of others. Recognize discrimination. Find the right mentors. Feed your enemies with a long-handled spoon. Know when it is time to cut your losses and go. But if you have the luxury, Conversations With Leaders is a book you’ll want to spend some quality time with–and read from cover to cover.

To order the book: Conversations With Leaders can be ordered from Sigma Theta Tau International, the Honor Society of Nursing, at or