The Book: The Truth about Leadership: The No-Fads, Heart-of-the-Matter Facts you Need to Know by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, Jossey-Bass, Hardcover, October 2010.
Leadership is an amorphous topic. The more you try to pin down just what leadership is, and the qualities and actions it requires, the more it seems to squirm away. Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner wrote one of the keystone tomes on leadership thirty years ago—The Leadership Challenge. They proceeded to build a whole product line around that book with supplements, tests and workbooks—a line that still sells astonishingly well because they have come perhaps the closest to determining what leadership really is. Kouzes and Posner's current book, The Truth about Leadership, could be described as the condensed version of their classic. It gets, as it says in the subtitle, to the heart of leadership through boiling down years of studious research into useable advice and memorable mantras.
Kouzes and Posner present readers with ten truths about leadership, including "You Make a Difference," "Credibility is the Foundation of Leadership," and "Challenge is the Crucible for Greatness." Each of these ten truths is a stand-alone chapter and each ends with a marvelous synopsis. For example, they close the final chapter of the book, "Leadership is an Affair of the Heart," with this paragraph:
Leaders put their hearts in their businesses and their businesses in their hearts. They love what they're doing and they stay in love with leading, with the people who do the work, with what their organizations produce, and with those who honor them by using their products and services. They show they care by paying attention to people, sharing success stories, and making people feel important and special. Exemplary leaders are positive and upbeat, generating the emotional energy that enables others to flourish.
Now this may not seem significantly more concrete than any other musings on leadership, but what makes this book so very useable is that the truths stem from the stories of thousands of leaders that Kouzes and Posner have interviewed over decades of research. The Truth about Leadership supports concepts and ideas I have learned over the years, but also opened my eyes to new ways of looking at those experiences. On every page, there are small truths that resonate with great impact, such as:
If you think you're a leader and you turn around and no one is following you, then you're simply out for a walk.
As leaders, we all get off track occasionally when faced with practical challenges of pricing and insurance and a broken copy machine and an angry client and a dissatisfied employee. This is the book to have ready on your shelf when you need to get back to the heart of the matter.
Reviewer Jack Covert is the founder of 800-CEO-READ, a leading bookseller to corporations and large organizations, based in Milwaukee.