15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on December 10, 2006
I just finished reading Leadership Agility and was very impressed with the contents of the book. As a leadership development professional who tries to read everything there in the field, I felt the book offered a very fresh and unique look on leadership development that helped frame many of my experiences with developing leaders. I felt the biggest contribution was showing how the "Outside-In" and "Inside-Out" dimensions of leadership development connected and changed within a leader. Because leadership development books tend to emphasize either an Outside-In (competency-based models) or Inside-Out (i.e. authentic leadership/emotional intelligence) approach, it was so rare to see such a thorough treatment of both dimensions of leadership development. Since reading it, I've given out several copies to my leadership development colleagues.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on December 25, 2006
I met Bill Joiner and Stephen Josephs at the 2006 Organizational Development Network Conference and was truly impressed by both. This book is an important contribution to the field of management and leadership development. In fact, it is one of the first (in my significant reading of the literature in this arena) that makes an attempt (a successful one at that!) in bringing developmental stage theory and integral theory to bear on the topic. Many books on management development can (in my opinion) often be distilled into a 1-2 page synopsis as the concepts are just that simple. However, I cannot say that about Leadership Agility as nearly every page has many nuggets of practical wisdom. It is worth reading the whole thing.
As other reviewers have noted, Leadership Agility brings together both Outside-In (competency-based) development theory with Inside-Out (self knowledge, values, authenticity and Emotional Intelligence) understanding.
The core of the book revolves around a 5-stage developmental theory that is reflective of literature research as well as interviews completed in the last decade by Bill and Stephen. In essence, people go through identifiable developmental stages each with their own strengths and liabilities: Expert, Achiever, Catalyst, Co-Creator, and Synergist. Each of the 5 stages is cross-referenced to these 4 competencies:
What I especially appreciate is the naming of both Awareness and Intent as a progressive unfolding skill in the agile leader. At each level of development, the person in consideration is able to increasingly step back and take a broader perspective on both themselves and the context-situation-world they operate in. In this manner, the leader is 'transcending and including' (in Ken Wilber's terms) the ideas, concepts, observations, values, and ways of being from previous levels. Not going beyond and leaving behind, but rather including and going even further in the ability to see one's self and the situation.
The Intent element is where "action" in traditional terms takes place. After developing a broader and deeper perspective, the leader also develops the ability to take action in more skillful ways. Action then is the ability to engage other stakeholders in realizing THEIR full potential. Moreover, at each succeeding stage, the authors show how the data supports the finding that more developed agile leaders have an enhanced 'world-centric' perspective and concern. The objectives that previously satisfied them (increasing bottom-line results, increasing market-share, professional progress, etc...) are supportive (i.e., adequate but not totally sufficient) of deeper objectives of serving the development of people and the improvement of the environment both inside and outside the organization. This is genuinely inclusive leadership.
After defining leadership and leadership agility, the authors go on in Part Two to explore the competencies of each stage of leadership. Scenarios are used to explain how several leaders model this development, and tables and graphs are used appropriately to educate the reader on the essentials. Examples are drawn from real life experiences of leaders interviewed by Bill and Stephen in both corporate and educational settings.
In Part Three, both assessment and developmental recommendations are given. Of interest is the fact that high performing, agile leaders all share the trait of having a contemplative practice, whether that be meditation, yoga, contemplative prayer, tai-chi, or other practices that involve taking time to reflect on experience as a leader. Contemplative practice is (in my opinion) critical for any leader or person interested in developing further and gaining improved results in work and life.
The appendix is also a well-written explanation of the research and data that went into and support the findings in the book. This part of Leadership Agility really grounds the material and helped me understand how valid the authors' model and suggestions for development really are.
My one hesitation about giving the book 5 stars (and why I did not) is that, as valuable as the Leadership Agility frame work is, it is not truly "integral" as espoused by Ken Wilber and the Integral Institute. Integral would include more of the "whole person" and the authors chose to make this applicable to leaders in business and other organizations. So the content is geared towards leader behaviors specifically. However, I do not believe that is the intention either. So do not let that put you off. I just think that could be more explicitly examined (Bill and Stephen - Any plans for a follow-up book?)
I highly recommend Leadership Agility to those in leadership roles, consultants, coaches, and anyone else who supports others in a leadership capacity. I know it will be a core part of my library going forward as it has changed my own thinking as a consultant and coach of executives and line managers. Thanks Bill and Stephen!
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on September 20, 2007
I have been working in the field of adult development psychology in various ways since about 1985, having had the privilege to be able to read most of the research that has been published quite thoroughly: Loevinger, Kohlberg, Kegan, Torbert, Lasker, Fowler, Rosenberg, Selman, Cook-Greuter, etc., etc. I have carried out a handful of research projects using adult development psychology to analyze meaning-making in workplace conflicts, security politics and organizational change. I have also for the last few years been leading workshops for organizational consultants, coaches and leaders on adult development psychology.
I have read Leadership agility very thoroughly over the past months and I must say I am still awed by the richness and new insight offered by the authors. This is a most significant contribution not only to our understanding of leadership, but also to the theoretical understanding of adult development in general. The latter aspect of the book risks to go unnoticed because the authors have aimed at reaching an audience of practitioners, using well-chosen case stories and an accessible writing style. The book is very useful not only for leaders, but perhaps in particular for coaches, organizational consultants and change agents. However, it is a veritable goldmine for people like me, who are interested in developing a keener and more differentiated understanding of what adult development really is. The authors could certainly have written a more academic book with a conceptual framework that would more readily appeal to the research community. For scholars of adult development, it should be evident with a more attentive reading that the theoretical framework informing this book takes our understanding several steps beyond what Jane Loevinger, Robert Kegan, Bill Torbert and even Susanne Cook-Greuter have to offer. I bow to this remarkable achievement. It will take me a couple of years to digest and put to work all the insights and distinctions Joiner and Josephs have to offer.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on October 31, 2006
This book is a wonderful and easy read.
Whoever heard of a book that imparts so much insightful and serious content in an engaging, story-driven format! In what I know is a rare achievement, it presents leadership, within a developmental context, and makes it accessible, acceptable, and actionable, for leaders in all walks of life. Anybody who has investigated developmental psychology, even minimally, knows that it is complex territory. What complicates it further, is that many people tend to resist its implications. And often, what drives the last nail in, is the lack of a clear model or framework for action.
Joiner and Josephs have busted all three hurdles, in this great book. They invite us, the readers into the evolution of leadership, not in a dry, academic way, but rather by enabling us to trace our own leadership journey. In the course of doing so, we realize that not only have we understood a fairly complex model, but also identified with it in our own lives. Further, we have in our hands, a highly actionable tool that can continue to shine a light on our leadership journey in the future.
For me, the most compelling aspect of the book lies in its clarity; its ability to explain succinctly, what actually grows within us, when we evolve as human beings.
I am very excited about this work and look forward to having it open new doors for many of us, everywhere.
22 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on December 27, 2009
Years ago, cantankerous therapist Fritz Perls famously accused psychologist Abraham Maslow of being a "sugar-coated Nazi." Maslow's "hierarchy of needs" theory remains popular and influential today, a half-century later, despite its flaws. The major flaw of Maslow's theory is its arbitrariness-posing-as-universality: Maslow's view of the "self-actualized" person is what Larry Kohlberg called a "bag of virtues," which is a set of arbitrary traits and values organized according to "a conventional standard which is both psychologically vague and ethically relative." Psychologist Robert Kegan, when discussing the arbitrary nature of Maslow's theory--and, really, any hierarchical theory of "levels of mastery"--invoked the same conceptually totalitarian tendencies that led Perls to call Maslow a Nazi: "It is comforting to think," Kegan wrote, "that, in totalitarian societies, where troublesome people are often psychiatrically hospitalized, the indigenous mental health professionals are themselves aware that their behavior is nakedly political and actually aimed at social control rather than the health of the person." But, Kegan pointed out, modern attempts to help people "develop" to "higher" levels of functioning may often serve the same function of oppressive social control, intentionally or unintentionally.
Maslow came to mind as I was reading Leadership Agility. Authors Joiner and Josephs have constructed their own hierarchy of "levels of mastery" which amounts to their own carefully sorted and stratified "bag of virtues." The book reminded me, as I was reading, of my years as a Boy Scout. In the Boy Scouts, gaining a certain number of merit badges and other accomplishments permits one to earn a higher rank, and each rank can't be earned without gaining the proper merit badges and passing through the previous ranks. Likewise, the theory of leadership development espoused by Joiner and Josephs proposes increasing "levels of agility" (like Boy Scout ranks) that are acquired by gaining new abilities (like merit badges) in four general functions: context-setting agility, stakeholder agility, creative agility, and self-leadership agility. These new abilities lead to increasingly "agile" performance in pivotal conversations, team initiatives, and organizational initiatives, according to the authors. Development is one-way and rigidly hierarchical: Higher-level (later) abilities cannot be consistently exercised without first passing through lower (earlier) levels of agility, although persons of higher-level agility can temporarily "unintentionally downshift" into lower levels. As the authors describe the process: "You master each level of play by using the abilities you already have to successfully meet the challenges you encounter. Each successful encounter stretches you, giving you new powers or abilities. By the time you've mastered all the challenges on a particular level, you've also gained a new set of abilities. Once mastered, these abilities provide you with the foundation you need to enter the next level." If this description sounds familiar, it may be because it bears some resemblance to the formal school system from which most of us have graduated. Joiner and Josephs are proposing a kind of universal post-graduate curriculum for leadership development.
The highest level of agility (equivalent to Eagle Scout) that Joiner and Josephs propose, the "Synergist," is basically a super-powered version of Maslow's ideal of the fully self-actualized person. The Synergist "experiences leadership as participation in a palpable life purpose that benefits others while serving as a vehicle for personal transformation." Although this "highest level" may seem "highly developed" to some people, it is, as Kohlberg described the bag of virtues, "psychologically vague and ethically relative." Some readers may like this myth, but unfortunately the "levels of agility" proposed in this book have all the objectionable features of stereotypes, and it is easy to imagine these stereotypes becoming a kind of oppressive social control if used as a tool for categorizing oneself, other persons, and other groups of people.
Although I enjoyed reading the book and I was stimulated by a few of the authors' ideas--and I have spent about a year thinking about it before writing this brief review--other books on leadership provide similar insights without the serious limitations of this book's Boy-Scout-like myth. I should note that I'm not against the Boy Scouts! Nor am I against Maslow or Joiner or Josephs, whom I'm sure are (or were) all wonderful persons. The relevant analogy here is that not every leader is, or wants to be, a Boy Scout. Any theory that claims that all leaders are, or should be, Boy Scouts could amount to a kind of "sugar-coated Nazism." I think we need to avoid this kind of coarsely typological thinking and create models that can handle the amazing diversity and complexity of people's experiences of leadership in space and time. In my own experience, there is no universal curriculum for leadership development. There are as many paths to mastery in leadership, and as many stages of those paths, as there are leaders.
Postscript, December 9, 2011: In the two years since writing this brief review, I've read numerous new articles and books that offer strong arguments against the conceptual weaknesses that I identified in Joiner & Josephs' book. Here's a subset of the growing literature that casts serious doubt on many of Joiner & Josephs' assumptions and methods: David H. Barlow & Matthew K. Nock (2009). Why can't we be more idiographic in our research? Perspectives on Psychological Science, 4(1), 19-21. / Michael Basseches & Michael F. Mascolo (2009). Psychotherapy as a developmental process. New York: Routledge. / Lars R. Bergman & Håkan Andersson (2010). The person and the variable in developmental psychology. Zeitschrift für Psychologie - Journal of Psychology, 218(3), 155-165. / T. S. Conner, H. Tennen, W. Fleeson & L. F. Barrett (2009). Experience sampling methods: a modern idiographic approach to personality research. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 3(3), 292-313. / Nicholas R. Eaton, Robert F. Krueger, Susan C. South, Leonard J. Simms, & Lee Anna Clark (2011). Contrasting prototypes and dimensions in the classification of personality pathology: evidence that dimensions, but not prototypes, are robust. Psychological Medicine, 41(6), 1151-1163. / Alexander von Eye (2010). Developing the person-oriented approach: theory and methods of analysis. Development and Psychopathology, 22(2), 277-285; discussion 287-294. / Kurt W. Fischer, Zachary Stein, & Katie Heikkinen (2009). Narrow assessments misrepresent development and misguide policy. American Psychologist, 64(7), 595-600. / Aaron J. Fisher, Michelle G. Newman, & Peter C. M. Molenaar (2011). A quantitative method for the analysis of nomothetic relationships between idiographic structures: dynamic patterns create attractor states for sustained posttreatment change. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 79(4), 552-563. / Marc A. Fournier, Debbie S. Moskowitz, & David C. Zuroff (2008). Integrating dispositions, signatures, and the interpersonal domain. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 94(3), 531-545. / Kathleen Gallagher, editor (2008). The methodological dilemma: creative, critical, and collaborative approaches to qualitative research. London; New York: Routledge. / Paul van Geert (2011). The contribution of complex dynamic systems to development. Child Development Perspectives, 5(4), 273-278. / Paul van Geert & Kurt W. Fischer (2009). Dynamic systems and the quest for individual-based models of change and development. In: John P. Spencer, Michael S. C. Thomas, & James L. McClelland, editors. Toward a unified theory of development: connectionism and dynamic systems theory re-considered, pp. 313-337. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press. / Susan W. Gray & Mark S. Smith (2009). The influence of diversity in clinical supervision: a framework for reflective conversations and questioning. Clinical Supervisor, 28(2), 155-179. / Nick Haslam, Elise Holland, & Peter Kuppens (2011). Categories versus dimensions in personality and psychopathology: a quantitative review of taxometric research. Psychological Medicine, [Epub ahead of print]. / Nick Haslam & Jennifer Whelan (2008). Human natures: psychological essentialism in thinking about differences between people. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 2(3), 1297-1312. / Adele M. Hayes, Jean-Philippe Laurenceau, Greg Feldman, Jennifer L. Strauss, & LeeAnn Cardaciotto (2007). Change is not always linear: the study of nonlinear and discontinuous patterns of change in psychotherapy. Clinical Psychology Review, 27(6), 715-723. / Kenneth S. Kendler, Peter Zachar, & Carl Craver (2011). What kinds of things are psychiatric disorders? Psychological Medicine, 41(6), 1143-1150. / Michael F. Mascolo & Kurt W. Fischer (2010). The dynamic development of thinking, feeling, and acting over the life span. In: Richard M. Lerner, editor. The handbook of life-span development, vol. 1, pp. 149-194. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons. / Sandra D. Mitchell (2008). Explaining complex behavior. In: Kenneth S. Kendler & Josef Parnas, editors. Philosophical issues in psychiatry: explanation, phenomenology, and nosology, pp. 19-37. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. / Sandra D. Mitchell (2009). Unsimple truths: science, complexity, and policy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. / John R. Nesselroade & Peter C. M. Molenaar (2010). Emphasizing intraindividual variability in the study of development over the life span: concepts and issues. In: Richard M. Lerner, editor. The handbook of life-span development, vol. 1, pp. 30-54. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons. / Antonio Pascual-Leone, Leslie S. Greenberg, & Juan Pascual-Leone (2009). Developments in task analysis: new methods to study change. Psychotherapy Research, 19(4), 527-542. / Krista Langkamer Ratwani, Stephen J. Zaccaro, Sena Garven & David S. Geller (2010). The role of developmental social networks in effective leader self-learning processes. In: Mitchell G. Rothstein & Ronald J. Burke, editors. Self-management and leadership development, pp. 395-428. Cheltenham, UK; Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar. / Gregory T. Smith (2009). Why do different individuals progress along different life trajectories? Perspectives on Psychological Science, 4(4), 415-421. / Sonya K. Sterba & Daniel J. Bauer (2010). Matching method with theory in person-oriented developmental psychopathology research. Development and Psychopathology, 22(2), 239-254. / Arthur A. Stone, editor (2007). The science of real-time data capture: self-reports in health research. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press. / Jaan Valsiner, Peter C. M. Molenaar, Maria C. D. P. Lyra, & Nandita Chaudhary, editors (2009). Dynamic process methodology in the social and developmental sciences. Dordrecht; New York: Springer.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on November 21, 2006
The authors present a stage-theory of leadership development in line with the work of Jane Loevinger and Bill Torbert. What distinguishes Leadership Agility, however, is a thorough examination of the supportive capacities that underlie maturing leadership skills at the various stages of development. Through a variety of case studies and other examples, the authors are able to demonstrate the way these supportive capacities develop and mature as a leader moves from one stage to the next.
But, Leadership Agility is more than a psychological theory. It's an actionable framework, immediately applicable to coaching and team development work. It compellingly portrays leadership agility as a seamless blend of "being" and "doing." Readers of Ken Wilber will also find Leadership Agility to be a relevant contribution to the emerging dialogue about integral leadership.
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on May 20, 2008
I have one big problem with this book. The authors claim to test for levels of development using a method that does not go to the levels they claim. Loevinger's testing manuals do not go to the levels claimed. Loevinger herself did not think that it was a good idea to work on later levels and evidently chastised the one researcher who systematically studied those levels (Cook-Greuter). The authors credit only Loevinger so I am not sure how they can claim to test at those levels. Recent research has also found that the last three levels discussed by Loevinger (and even Cook-Greuter) are in need of a revised testing manual.
Don't get me wrong. I read the book cover to cover in one sitting and enjoyed it. My sense was that the authors were in over their heads with the later levels and at times seemed to use temporary state experiences and a mystical postmodern ways of thinking to justify the latest level of development. In my opinion mystical experiences don't have much to do with later levels of development but are often mistaken as so.
It seemed to me that the authors took a modernist-like perspective of leadership but I am not sure that is the way to find leaders that represent later levels of development. Some research indicates that people that test at the latest levels of development take a very long term perspective. Short-term profit etc and even the likes of Jim Collins level five leaders may represent a somewhat earlier level of development while a leader at very late levels of development may be more like Lao Tzu's great leader (a great leader, when his work is done, they (followers) say they did it themselves). A great leader by modernist/postmodernist standards likely does not fit the frame of a great leader by later levels of development. They probably look little like claimed in this book and are probably almost impossible to find.
This book is likely a great perspective for leadership taken one step further in a more modern/postmodern frame. I have worked with an organization that has taught a similar frame for years and it has proven to be effective. I just don't think it goes to the territories it claims to go. My sense is that if you toss out their work on their last level of development and are somewhat skeptical of the one before that, you will find this book very useful.
I would also add that it is easy for me to criticize. The authors of this book took a bold step in writing this book and doing this research. Writing about levels of development can be reasons for a lynching in some quarters. I could also be criticized in that I have been working with similar perspectives for the last 6 years and found little that was new here but there is very little written and the authors should be applauded for writing this book. I would be very interested to hear their explanation for their testing methodology though.
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on September 12, 2007
As a psychologist and leadership consultant with a constructive-developmentalist perspective I was excited to learn about this book. I was even more excited when reading the reviews here.
Thus, I didn't wait for LEADERSHIP AGILITY to come out in paperback...
Alas, I just couldn't finish the book. Part of it is style: I tire easily of illustrative stories about "Bob" and "Susan." Also, any clarity that was generated got lost in later, unnecessary complications.
So... I wanted to like this book. I was thrilled someone was tackling leadership with a "stage" theory.
And... I was disappointed.
If you are interested in this book: (a) wait for the paperback, (b) get a secondhand copy or, best, (c) visit your local library.
If you are genuinely interested in this subject matter and willing to do a little brain work, you can't go wrong with Robert Kegan's THE EVOLVING SELF and IN OVER OUR HEADS. These books are the classics.
Dr. Kirtland C Peterson
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on November 14, 2006
The authors have provided a wonderful body of work on leadership. Josephs and Joiner have penned a complimentary yet fresh perspective to works by Senge, Greenleaf, and Covey. Being cognizant of ones leadership style while understanding the ways in which to mature and nurture it is what this work is all about. While some of the personal stories within the various levels are a bit lengthy, patience provides a wealth of fruit for the reader. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and recommend it highly. Well done and kudos to Steve and Bill!
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on October 3, 2007
Leadership Agility is a breakthrough book, a deep artesian well overflowing with innovative insights and practical strategies for leaders, their coaches, and the scholars who serve them.
If you lead an organization, you know that your agility--how adept you are at dealing effectively and wisely with change and complexity--is the name of the game. Leadership Agility is like a playbook for taking your game to a whole new level. Check out your current agility level on pages 8 and 9, read the corresponding chapter to confirm your hunch, and read the following chapter to figure out your next moves. With twenty-two real-life stories, this is a great read--the book I keep putting in the hands of my CEO friends.
If you coach leaders, as I do, Leadership Agility is like a GPS system for navigating the fast-changing terrain. This book enables you to pinpoint for your clients their current location and to map out with precision what their next destination is. Part Three is especially useful in this regard. An invaluable tool!
If you are a scholar of leadership, as I am, in Leadership Agility you'll find a magisterial synthesis drawing on a diverse array of sources. It constitutes a fresh rethinking of what stage-development psychology can offer leadership theory and practice. (For details, see preceding reviews.) The range and depth of this synthesis are stunning, reflecting the long and varied careers of its two authors. Forty-five pages of footnotes, an Appendix on the research behind the book, and a judicious bibliography make this book a great resource for further investigation.
In a word, Leadership Agility has set a new gold standard in the leadership field, making it a primary resource for leaders, coaches, and scholars alike.