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Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading Hardcover – April 18, 2002


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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Climbing Mount Everest: dangerous. Hitchhiking in Colombia: very dangerous. Leading through change: perilous. Perilous but possible, say Heifetz and Linsky in their encouragingly practical guide to putting yourself on the line and negotiating the hazards of leadership. As the authors acknowledge, many leadership books are "all about inspiration, but downplay the perspiration." This one doesn't. Leadership is always a risky business, but those risks can be understood and reduced. Effective leadership comes from doing more than the technical work of routine management; it involves adaptive work on the part of the leader, and a willingness to confront and disturb people, promote their resourcefulness, and engage their ability to adjust to new realities. But adaptive change always encounters resistance. Heifetz and Linsky examine four forms of resistance--marginalization, diversion, attack, and seduction--before presenting a number of practical resistance-response skills to nurture and employ. Some are fairly obvious (like developing and maintaining perspective, and holding steady in the midst of change), and others more complex (like thinking politically when dealing with friends, foes, and fence sitters), but shimmering nuggets of insight and practical wisdom can be found in each. The dangers of leadership also spring from within, however, and the book's final section addresses ways to recognize and manage competing "hungers" and learn to distinguish one's roles from one's self. The authors' points are illustrated by the experiences of leaders from all walks of life, making this a useful and inspiring manual for anyone hoping to put themselves on the line and make a difference in the lives of others. --S. Ketchum

From Publishers Weekly

Recognizing that it can be both lonely and difficult at the top, the authors faculty members of Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government set out to lend emotional and practical support. Whether leaders represent a local planning board or a Fortune 500 company, they "live dangerously," say the authors, "because when leadership counts, when you lead people through difficult change, you challenge what people hold dear their daily habits, tools, loyalties, and ways of thinking with nothing more to offer perhaps than a possibility." To that end, Heifetz and Linsky offer useful strategies leaders can employ, such as building political constituencies, trying to orchestrate the inevitable conflict, and forcing those who cause problems to actually solve the problems. Indeed, the book does dwell on the negative aspects of leadership, serving more as a troubleshooting guide than a how-to leadership handbook. Some of the examples are informal (e.g., the 1994 Chicago Bulls), while others are more traditional (e.g., city planning and politics). Showing a sympathetic side, Heifetz and Linsky offer tactics to help leaders not to take conflict personally. Remember, they counsel, you are more than your job. This book will undoubtedly provide leaders and managers comfort on days when everything seems to be going wrong in their department or organization.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 252 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press; 1 edition (April 18, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1578514371
  • ISBN-13: 978-1578514373
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.3 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (81 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,212 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

This book is an easy read.
B. Goodman
Yet, their real-world examples blend well with their leadership theory to present a useful guide to leadership.
Rolf Dobelli
I recommend it highly to any and all leaders, managers, and students with professional aspirations.
M. Pardee

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

64 of 69 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 13, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Those who read Heifetz's previously published Leadership Without Easy Answers will be interested to know that the final section in that brilliant book ("Staying Alive") led to the development of this book which Heifetz co-authored with Linsky. "We wanted this second book to be more focused, more practical, and more personal. We hope this book will be accessible, eminently usable, and inspiring in your life and work." The material is presented within three Parts: The Challenge (which explains "why leadership is so dangerous and how people get taken out of the game"), The Response (which provides "a series of action steps designed to reduce the risk of getting pushed aside"), and Body and Soul ("which discusses "ways that people contribute to their own demise"), followed by a Notes section filled with especially informative annotations. Pogo once said "we have met the enemy and he is us." More often than not, I think that is true. I also think that most human limits are self-imposed. That is probably what Henry Ford had in mind when he observed "Whether you think you can or think you can't, you're right."
According to Heifetz and Linsky, "To lead is to live dangerously because when leadership counts, when you lead people through difficult change, you challenge what people hold dear -- their daily habits, tools, loyalties, and ways of thinking -- with more to offer perhaps than a possibility. Moreover, leadership often means exceeding the authority you are given to tackle the challenge at hand. People push back when you disturb the personal and institution equilibrium they know. And people resist in all kinds of creative and unexpected ways that can get you taken out of the game: pushed aside, undermined, or eliminated.
Read more ›
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53 of 57 people found the following review helpful By M. Pardee on May 15, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Serious scholars of leadership will already be well-acquainted with the path-breaking work of Ron Heifetz. His "Leadership W/out Easy Answers" and other significant contributions to "The Harvard Business Review," for instance, have already established him as one of the foremost authorities in the field.

I believe that "Leadership W/out Easy Answers" is one of the top 5 works on leadership. I recommend it highly to any and all leaders, managers, and students with professional aspirations. "Leadership on the Line" reiterates several of the previous book's compelling themes--but with a more informal, user-friendlier tone. I'd recommend that discerning readers sample this (more recently published) one first, and then proceed to Heifetz's earlier title (publ'd in 1994) if they're curious to read more.

In their "Introduction" to this new volume, Heifetz and Linsky explain that "We wanted this second book to be more focused, more practical, and more personal [than "L'ship W/out Easy Answers"]. We hope this book will be accessible, eminently usable, and inspiring in your work and life." Happily, they've accomplished their mission this time around, too!

This narrative is even more readable, more anecdotal, and less jargon-laden than its "more academic" predecessor. It should thus reward an even broader audience of readers (including more committed "generalists").

If one of James MacGregor Burns's seminal contributions to the field was the distinction between transactional and transformational leadership, Heifetz's elucidation here of "adaptive vs. technical leadership" merits similar distinction, in my view. "Leadership on the Line" speaks to the heart and soul as well as the mind. Most of us are likely to have plenty to glean from the incisive leadership insights it offers.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Maxim Masiutin on November 29, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"Leadership on the Line" appends and fulfils Ron's original framework first presented in the "Leadership Without Easy Answers". If you didn't study the framework closely, learn it and come back.
While "Leadership Without Easy Answers" explains bit by bit the perils of adaptive change and the importance of orchestrating the conflict, giving the work back, managing appropriate pace and keeping the holding environment, it gives only a quick (not quite sufficient) glance at getting on the balcony, finding partners and distinguishing allies from confidants.
The first six chapters of the "Leadership on the Line" are purposed to complete the framework.
Chapters seven to nine is a highly practical cookbook: how to take the heat and hold steadily, how to manage your hungers and keep sanity, how to deal with sexual and intimacy issues, how to distinguish role from self.
The final, very provocative chapters are philosophical and spiritual. Poignantly, they raise a question: what is this all for? Devote a thought to love, innocence, curiosity and compassion -- the virtues of an open heart.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By William Pinches on August 12, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Let's face it: leadership is dangerous. As Heifetz and Linsky write in their introduction, "Each day brings you opportunities to raise important questions, speak to higher values, and surface unresolved conflicts. Every day you have the chance to make a difference in the lives of people around you. And every day you must decide whether to put your contribution out there, or keep it to yourself to avoid upsetting anyone, and get through another day. You are right to be cautious. Prudence is a virtue. You disturb people when you take unpopular initiatives in your community, put provocative new ideas on the table in your organization, question the gap between colleagues' values and behavior, or ask friends and relatives to face up to tough realities. You risk people's ire and make yourself vulnerable. Exercising leadership can get you into a lot of trouble."

Anyone who is trying to lead people in today's troubled times knows, from brutal experience, that leadership is a risky business. But, of course, in a theological context, proclaiming the gospel has always been risky business. (Remember what happened to Jesus?) Heifetz and Linsky offer an assessment of the dangers that are routinely faced by a variety of different types of leaders -- managers, activists, presidents of countries, CEOs of multinational corporations, parents, executives, career military, teachers, principals, clergy, and many more. The heart of the book describes in detail five effective responses to the dangers. Four concluding chapters offer suggestions of how to take care of yourself, body and soul, in the midst of leadership.

If you are a leader, read this book. And don't just read it and then put it back on your shelf. Absorb this book. Soak in it. Turn to it time and again. You'll be glad you did.
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