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Leadership Without Easy Answers

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Leadership Without Easy Answers

Belknap Press,

15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

Communities facing a crisis or great change need leaders most. Here’s how to lead in difficult times.

Editorial Rating



  • Innovative
  • Applicable


This book provides a discussion of just how complicated leadership is and how challenging it can be to lead in a responsible, ethical fashion. Ronald A. Heifetz analyzes a number of leaders who faced not just crises, but transformational situations. As the book’s title promises, Heifetz doesn’t take shortcuts; he carefully looks at the complexities that leadership, power and authority involve. His examples range from Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. to former U.S. president Lyndon B. Johnson to Adolf Hitler. To make his point, he uses metaphors from biology, music and the military and draws lessons from history. getAbstract recommends this thoughtful look at leadership to all serious students of the topic. It will force you to reject the easy, superficial answers that make up so much of leadership literature. In their place, Heifetz offers approaches for observing contexts, balancing various factors and monitoring growth.


Establishing a Framework for Leadership

The “great man” theory is a dominant philosophy of leadership. It says leaders are simply more “heroic” than others, and their innate qualities empower them to shape events. This theory oversimplifies leadership. Leaders do not single-handedly produce the vision that will guide their people to a better future. A contrasting theory argues that specific situations generate the leaders people need, through social and political forces acting on society. This theory doesn’t tell the whole story, either.

A more realistic view of leadership synthesizes these ideas and draws on human psychology as well as disciplines like military and business command. It concludes that a leader’s role is contextual. As a leader, your governing style should fit the situation. Like other biological organisms, you must adapt to a larger environment. That means navigating social systems that have specific histories, that make certain demands on you and that enable you to perform particular tasks. The “social contract” or “social habit” that exists between leaders and their followers further heightens your challenge. People have empowered you for a reason...

About the Author

Ronald A. Heifetz is the founder of Harvard’s Center for Public Leadership, and the co-author of Leadership on the Line.

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