Summary of The Powers to Lead

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Author, statesman, university dean and agency director Joseph S. Nye Jr. has led – and has closely observed leadership – from the highest levels. His earlier writings forged the theory of “soft power” to denote persuasive leadership. In this book, Nye traces leadership lessons from Sun-Tzu to George W. Bush, citing historical events and their impact over the span of centuries. He defines which qualities mark successful and failed leaders. Nye’s writing style is dense, and almost every sentence is a thesis. You may find yourself holding a page open with a fingertip as you gaze up from the book, digesting all that Nye conveys and applying his illustrative lessons to whatever dilemmas you might face as a leader or a follower. And to Nye – as he makes clear – everyone is usually both. getAbstract recommends Nye’s compelling insights to CEOs, executives and managers who want to become more effective leaders, to anyone who aspires to lead, and to everyone who needs to learn the art of following.

About the Author

The former dean of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, Joseph S. Nye Jr. is currently a professor at Harvard and the author of The Paradox of American Power.



Leadership in History

Leadership means getting others to do what you want. And that requires shaping a group’s activities and goals. It is not about having the best idea and waiting for others to recognize it. Leaders lead because they possess a kind of power. The leadership strategist Machiavelli believed a leader who is feared – a form of “hard power” – is more effective and certain to rule longer than a leader who is loved – a form of “soft power.” But, as Machiavelli counseled, wise leaders foment both emotions in their followers. Machiavelli also cited two other crucial aspects of leadership: It always depends on “context,” and it always concerns an ever-changing relationship among leaders, followers and situations.

In ancient times, people regarded the hero-warrior, such as Hector or Achilles from The Iliad, as the ideal leader. Modern hero-warriors include Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was first a general and then a president. However, even without extensive military service Franklin D. Roosevelt proved a worthy, respected president and leader. By overcoming his physical limitations – Roosevelt suffered from polio – he demonstrated a different kind of heroism...

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    S. F. 7 years ago
    As the review states, Nye has a dense writing style, not for the dense then! I for one am therefore grateful for the Getabstract summary that can reduce the excellent and thoughtful ideas contained in the book to a more readable format. Soft power is becoming all the more important with the democratisation of information on a global scale.