Book review: The Truth about Leadership


Whether it's at home or work or church or in other contexts, we have a desire to influence others. Influence is also called leadership. We are all leaders (or want to be leaders) in one way or another. The question is, will we work on getting better at it?

If your answer is yes, I have a book recommendation: The Truth about Leadership by James Kouzes and Barry Posner. They have been researching and studying leadership issues for 30 years. They have found that although the context for leadership has changed a lot (cultural shifts to postmodernism, globalization, multiculturalism, economic downturn, etc.), the content of leadership has remained the same. In other words, what people considered important about leaders 30 years ago has remained the same through all the changes in cultural context. The primary question of the book is: what are those enduring qualities of leadership that stay the same no matter what else is happening? What is the real truth about leadership?

The result is one of the most solid books on leadership I have ever come across. As I look over the ten leadership qualities, I realize I am pretty good at some and need work on others. But knowing what we need to work on is half the battle.

Here are the ten enduring leadership qualities Kouzes and Posner identify:

  1. Believing that you can make a difference
  2. You must have personal credibility in order for people to follow you
  3. People will be most committed to what they value most deeply
  4. Leaders pay a lot of attention to the future
  5. You can't do it alone -- making a difference in our world is a team sport
  6. Establishing and maintaining trust is vital
  7. Encountering deep challenges is the crucible for greatness
  8. You either lead by example or you don't lead at all
  9. The best leaders are the best learners
  10. Lead from the heart
There is nothing tremendously surprising here, but then if these are enduring truths about leadership, we shouldn't expect to find hidden secrets or trendy gimmicks (neither of which interest me). Kouzes and Posner give us the tools to sharpen ourselves on the fundamental stuff of leadership. In other words, this is the meat and potatoes of leadership books. If you are only going to read one book on leadership, make it the meat and potatoes.

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