From Publishers Weekly
Leadership gurus since Machiavelli have argued over whether a leader should be loved or feared. In this evenhanded primer, Nye, a professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and soft power theorist, takes a resolute stand in between the two sides. Modern leadership, he contends, requires smart power, a judicious situational balance of hard power (getting people to do what you want, with carrots, sticks and bullying) and soft power (getting people to want what you want, with inspiration, charisma and propaganda). Nye embeds his argument in a lucid, if somewhat dry, survey of leadership studies, touching on everything from bonobo behavior to Freudian psychology, and illustrates it with references to noted leaders like former General Electric CEO Jack Welch, Lincoln, Hitler and Subcomandante Marcos. (George Bush's presidency provides a recurring object lesson in bad leadership.) The author takes a skeptical, down-to-earth view of leadership fads and hype. But he can't quite break free of mystical notions like vision or vague buzz concepts like contextual intelligence (a head-scratcher that boils down to judgment and wisdom); his smart power formula is therefore more truism than concrete guide to action. Nye's is a useful introduction to the theory, but not the practice, of leadership. (Mar.)
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Nye, a distinguished academic, explores leadership as it relates to hard power (coercion) and soft power (influence and persuasion), and he calls the mixture of these powers smart power. He urges soft power whenever possible and defines power as the ability to obtain outcomes through others, noting the difference between wanting to dominate followers and sharing influence with them. Some leaders succeed in one context but fail in another, and Nye discusses contextual intelligence, which is an intuitive diagnostic skill that helps a leader to align tactics with objectives to create smart strategies in varying situations. It includes the ability to identify trends in complex circumstances and being adaptable while trying to shape events. The author quotes an ancient source, Lao Tzu: A leader is best when people barely know he exists; not so good when people obey and acclaim him; worst when they despise him. This excellent book offers important insight into leadership with valuable analysis and anecdotes for leaders and aspiring leaders. --Mary Whaley