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Questions of Character: Illuminating the Heart of Leadership Through Literature [Hardcover]

by Joseph L. Badaracco Jr.
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 1, 2006 1591399688 978-1591399681
The hardest tests for leaders challenge their character as much as their skills, and a growing body of research shows that the self-knowledge gained from such tests is critical to leaders’ success.

In Questions of Character, Joseph L. Badaracco outlines eight fundamental challenges that test a leader’s character, and proposes exploring them through the lens of literature. Badaracco argues that serious fiction provides us with memorable characters facing compelling challenges similar to those that confront business leaders. Through rich analysis of the main characters in The Death of a Salesman, The Secret Sharer, The Last Tycoon, and other stories, Badaracco addresses complex issues leaders face, such as the soundness of their vision, their readiness to take on responsibility, the depth of their compassion, and their ability to manage success.

Presenting classic leadership dilemmas in a novel and valuable light, Questions of Character helps leaders and aspiring leaders prepare for the opportunities and tests before them.

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Questions of Character: Illuminating the Heart of Leadership Through Literature + Christian Reflections on The Leadership Challenge + How Christianity Changed the World
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Badaracco, an academic specializing in business ethics, presents eight fundamental challenges that test a leader's character and proposes exploring them through literary works. His stories include Death of a Salesman, Antigone, and Sir Thomas More's dealings with Henry VIII, which allow the readers to examine their own characters by reflecting upon the actions of notable leaders. His questions include testing the moral compass of individual leaders, who their role models are, and their dedication and commitment to their mission; he explores the emotional and psychological strength needed to actually take command of a situation; and he focuses upon the never-ending challenges for successful leaders. Badaracco contends that, "serious literature offers a view from the inside. It lets us watch leaders as they think, worry, hope, hesitate, commit, exult, regret, and reflect. We see their characters tested, reshaped, strengthened, or weakened." Although using literature to teach character lessons is not a new convention, this is an excellent book and offers important insight for today's leaders and aspiring leaders. Mary Whaley
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved


Named one of the Best Leadership Books of All Time - Inc. Magazine (

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press (April 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1591399688
  • ISBN-13: 978-1591399681
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.5 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #116,023 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
23 of 29 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting book March 31, 2006
This book is well-written. It is easy to read and keeps your interest in general, although it is sometimes a little repetitious and slow. I guess the author repeats the point to make sure you get it.

Some of the author's ideas are new and thought-provoking, but you have to wade through some material which sounds like every other book on this topic, as well. In any case, if you are patient you will take away some neat new ideas that you will find yourself using and referring to.

I like the examples and anecdotes he uses to illustrate his points - they are really interesting and I have found myself using the examples and referring to them in everyday conversations with people, which is great. I only wish that there were some more examples because it is not always easy to see the point when no example is offered.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This outstanding book is an outgrowth of Saturday morning discussions author and Harvard professor, Joseph Badaracco, Jr, had with CEOs (Chief Executive Officers). From these sessions, Badaracco learned that serious fiction opens doors to a world rarely seen and can help leaders confront important and challenging questions. Serious fiction allows discussants to see character tested, reshaped, strengthened, or weakened. They can watch and identify with leaders as they think, worry, hope, hesitate, commit, exult, regret, and retreat. Once they are drawn in and have put on the shoes of the main characters in the fiction, they can share their own (compare and contrast) experiences.

Badaracco has organized the book around eight critical questions leaders must confront and answer for themselves. He then uses a work of serious fiction as a springboard for discussion. Each chapter closes with the author's commentary on each of the "Questions of Character" raised in the discussion and a final reflection. Eg. Chapter, "What is Sound Reflection;" serious fiction used, "Antigone;" Questions raised and addressed, "Can I shift perspective?" " Is my reflection messy enough?" "Am I encouraging real dialogue?" and "Have my analysis and judgment evolved?"

The eight critical questions addressed and corresponding work of fiction used are:

1. Do I have a good dream? - "The Death of a Salesman" by Arthur Miller
2. How flexible is my moral code? - "Things Fall Apart" by Chinua Achebe 3. Are my role models unsettling? - "Blessed Assurance" by Allan Gurganus
4. Do I really care? - "The Love of the Last Tycoon" by F. Scott Fitzgerald
5. Am I ready to take responsibility? - "The Secret Sharer" by Joseph Conrad
6. Can I resist the flow of success?
Read more ›
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One the best leadership books I have ever read June 14, 2006
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This will become a classic leadership / management book. I have read hundreds of books on management, but none illustrate the real challenges of assuming leadership of an organization than this collection of stories from literature. I highly recommend this book to any student of management or leadership.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Literature elevates our senses to beauty October 11, 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Every corporate leader should read this book which combines the wonderful elements of literature and the value that it adds to our lifes through elevating our senses to beauty as well as the unique leadership lessons to be learnt i.e the mistakes they can avoid by learning through others' examples, or the qualities they should have in order to retain and develop their leadership values.
What is leadership ultimately? courage, passion, patience and doing the right thing, having a vision for the best!
This is an interesting approach, very unique in nature. Joseph Badaracco has done a great job using those wonderful stories as best practice examples. Kudos! I recommend this book to everyone, for personal use as well as a great gift idea.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Life is not answers, but search for one November 22, 2012
I had great regad for this author after reading "Defining Moments". That regard has only deepened after reading this work which makes one ask questions of oneself, expands one's ability to accommodate situations and people that may go against one's cherished beliefs or values. Overall it is a treatise in acknowledging, realizing our humanness and then recognizing our ability and courage to move beyond and be a little more than who we think we can be.
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