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Defining Leadership for Social Workers
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Defining Leadership for Social Workers

Robert Schachter, DSW, LMSW, Executive Director, NASW-NYC

January 2010


Our work is so important, we might call it “sacred”; the daily grind is so great, the meaning may be lost.

The value of recognizing emerging leaders at the Chapter’s Third Annual Awards Dinner was underscored by Willie Tolliver, Associate Professor Social Work at the Hunter College School of Social Work. Dr. Tolliver was asked to relate the idea of emerging leadership to the publication of his new book, written with Hunter Professor Steve Burghardt. The book is titled Stories of Transformative Leadership in the Human Services.

Significantly, the book’s subtitle is “Why the Glass is Always Full”. We are so used to seeing things in routine ways that when Dr. Tolliver was introduced at the dinner, the book’s title was mistakenly given. The glass was described as only “half full”. The tendency to see things as we expect them to be is what this book is trying to change.

Whether we are optimists or pessimists, viewing our situations as half empty or half full may not be sufficient distinctions in the world of social work. The conditions of the work are so challenging that they too often lead to demoralization and a breakdown in our relationships. Professors Tolliver and Burghardt demonstrate that something more is possible, and this can be the basis of leadership.

Moving away from traditional writing for the profession, stories are shared in the book to make reality live.

One story about how funding and other work pressures play out in an agency feels painfully familiar. A second story about how staff in another agency reached for and achieved something more fulfilling is inspiring. More importantly, this experience may be within our own reach.

NASW-NYC does not ordinarily do book reviews. However, improving working conditions and supporting leadership is a Chapter priority. For more material on working conditions, go to

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