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Heifetz and Linsky's 'Leadership on the Line'

Leadership on the Line
Summary 'Leadership on the Line' Title: Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading; Author: Ronald A. Heifetz and Marty Linsky; Publisher: Harvard Business Press, 2002; ISBN-13: 978-1578514373; 252 pages Review: Leadership on the Line By Rolf Dobelli, Chairman, getAbstract

Leadership isn't easy. The best leaders force their followers to face unpleasant realities and then figure out the solutions for themselves. That's why leadership is so risky, argue Ronald A. Heifetz and Marty Linsky in this engaging tome. The authors analyze the successes and failures of leaders ranging from Yitzhak Rabin to Bill Clinton, with stops along the way to examine the leadership styles of former Coca-Cola CEO M. Douglas Ivester and NBA coach Phil Jackson.

At times, the authors' rules of thumb seem too general. Yet, their real-world examples blend well with their leadership theory to present a useful guide to leadership. getAbstract recommends this excellent book to anyone facing a difficult leadership situation.

Book Summary

The Risks of Leadership

Leading is an inherently risky pursuit. True leaders pose difficult questions and demand change of their followers, and change is never easy. Change means abandoning established ways of acting and thinking. In the political realm, change can menace deeply held values and beliefs. Change means someone loses something. Therefore, even those whom a leader is counting on to enact change feel threatened by it. Those who have a stake in inertia or old patterns erect all kinds of roadblocks to thwart a change-minded leader and, as a result, many leaders fail to implement worthy ideas. A leader who is going to triumph must not only possess vision and courage, but must also know what obstacles will arise and how to surmount them.

The degree of risk a leader faces depends on the situation. Change-minded leaders in corporations might lose their jobs if they push too hard, but a politician in a volatile society risks his life. Consider Yitzhak Rabin, the late prime minister of Israel.

In the early '90s, Rabin slowly had been persuading Israelis to give up some territory to Palestinians in exchange for peace. Some Israelis bitterly opposed Rabin, and ultimately one of Rabin's opponents assassinated him. Rabin was doing what the best leaders always have done: questioning his society's values and challenging his followers to decide what's valuable and what can be left behind. Instead of simply accepting the status quo, Rabin raised uncomfortable issues and suggested sacrifices that he believed would improve his country in the long-term. Indeed, Rabin bucked a piece of conventional wisdom about leadership, which is that followers prefer to be spoon-fed easy solutions, not confronted with unpleasant realities. Like Egypt's Anwar Sadat, Rabin paid the ultimate price for embracing the harder path of leadership.

Despite the dangers, leadership is a worthwhile endeavor. A prevailing leader can improve organizations and communities in wide-reaching and deeply satisfying ways. Remember what constitutes leadership. Simply wielding authority isn't enough. For instance, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani used his authority to crack down on crime, a philosophy that led to high-profile police abuses such as the sexual assault of a black man in police custody and the shooting of an unarmed black man by police. Giuliani exerted his authority, yet a true leader would have posed the broader question of just how harshly police should treat some citizens in their effort to make the city safer...

The Four Faces of Danger

When leaders express visions of change, there's no guarantee they'll succeed. As a leader, you will find that your opponents can use a variety of tactics to sabotage your vision, many of them so subtle you might not even notice the arrows coming until it's too late. Opponents constructing these roadblocks use four primary strategies to make you give up your plan for change. Visionary leaders can find themselves being "marginalized, diverted, attacked or seduced..."

Please click here to read on and receive a free summary of this outstanding book courtesy of getAbstract, the world's largest online library of business book summaries. (Available through May 23, 2010.)

By Andrea Useem

 |  May 17, 2010; 12:01 PM ET |  Category:  Books Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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