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Thinking about Leadership Hardcover – October 31, 2010

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Editorial Reviews


"Political scientist, political theorist, and former president of Wellesley College and Duke University, the eminent scholar and leader Keohane has applied her considerable talents and experience to help readers better understand the complex world of leadership. . . . [Thinking about Leadership] is a very good introduction to many of the key aspects and controversies in leadership and is recommended for general audience interested in taking a first step into the field of leadership studies."--Choice

"Books about management usually leave me cold. . . . Thinking about Leadership by Nannerl Keohane is better than many I've dipped into. It's sensible, and short, and captures two aspects of leadership that seem pretty fundamental. The first is its definition of leadership. . . . The second is her emphasis on the importance of judgment."--Diane Coyle, Enlightened Economist blog

"[A] gentle, reflective book that examines the relevant literature, supports and refutes it with anecdotal evidence, and sifts everything through Keohane's own experiences as president of Wellesley College and Duke University. . . . She's not telling anyone how to be a leader; she's raising questions that ought to interest anyone interested in the role or the topic."--Sharon Shinn, BizEd Magazine

"Keohane's book is to be recommended, particularly if you are an academic thinking about becoming a leader."--Amanda Goodall, Times Higher Education

"Keohane understands as well that advice about the 'right balance between disparate qualities'--exhibiting warmth or distance; eliciting love or fear--isn't all that helpful because 'it does not come with instructions for knowing when to use one approach and when the other.' Leadership, Keohane reminds us, is as essential in a democracy as it is in a monarchy, oligarchy, or a dictatorship."--Glenn Altschuler, Huffington Post

"Keohane's exploration of the unique demands placed on all leaders, both men and women, in democracies is especially interesting. . . . Keohane's rich personal experiences and her deep engagement with political theory (informed by literature and the arts) therefore provide important insights into leadership."--Haig Patapan, Australian Review of Public Affairs

"The manner in which dilemmas connected with the theory of leadership are presented is noteworthy and thus this book ought to be read by those interested in this issue."--Maciej Hardifiski, Political Studies Review

From the Back Cover

"Nan Keohane breaks down leadership to the fundamentals--a combination of innate ability and acquired skills that helps motivate others to work toward a common goal. This book is about inspired leadership--and inspiring 'followership'--and should be required reading from the classroom to the boardroom."--John Mack, chairman of the board, Morgan Stanley

"Nan Keohane's book is well-titled. Its focus is on thinking about leadership--exploring its many facets, complexities, and conundrums. It is not a 'how-to-do-it' book, but rather a sophisticated amalgam of the reflections of an author who is both a political philosopher and an experienced leader. Readers will enjoy--as well as learn from--the many references to the experiences of well-known leaders such as Mandela and Lincoln as well as to the voluminous literature on leadership."--William G. Bowen, president emeritus of Princeton University and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

"Drawing on her impressive skills as a leader and political theorist, Nan Keohane has made a major contribution to the study of leadership. This book is both thoughtful and wonderfully readable. The chapter on gender, alone, is worth the price of admission!"--Joseph S. Nye, Jr., Harvard University, author of The Powers to Lead

"A wonderfully thoughtful meditation on what it means to lead, and to follow, by a noted political philosopher who knows the boardroom as well as she knows the seminar room. This study of leadership stands out for its clarity, candor, depth, and humanity. A must-read for anyone--leader or follower--confronting the manifold opportunities and dilemmas of power."--Josiah Ober, Stanford University

"Nan Keohane is both an insightful political theorist and an experienced leader who is uniquely suited to thinking about leadership. This refreshing and richly textured discussion raises fundamental questions--why we need leaders, how leaders differ from followers, what is good leadership for democracies--and provides strikingly original observations in response."--Ruth Grant, Duke University

"Thinking about Leadership is replete with important, telling, and original insights and information. The book addresses key questions about leadership that, while not necessarily new, need to be posed, over and over again. Nannerl Keohane does not know how to write a bad sentence or make an uninteresting point."--Barbara Kellerman, author of Bad Leadership: What It Is, How It Happens, Why It Matters

"Thinking about Leadership is one of the best books on leadership I have ever read. If more people--especially leaders and would-be leaders--were to read it, it would broaden their assumptions about what they could and should do. Keohane draws upon impressive, high-level personal experience as a leader. Her reputation as a scholar is equally and deservedly superb."--Joanne Martin, Fred H. Merrill Professor, emerita, Stanford University


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 280 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; First Edition edition (October 31, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691142076
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691142074
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #911,592 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Owen Pieters on November 24, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Thinking about Leadership is a rare book: informed both by the thoughts of political theorists across the centuries about leadership and the experiences of a successful contemporary leader -- the President of Wellesley College, 1981-93, and of Duke University, 1993-2004. Thinking about Leadership provides insights into the nature of leadership, the role of followers, why some people are leaders and others are not, how context affects leadership, gender and leadership, the role of judgment, how leadership works in a democracy, and much more. Although she refers to writers as diverse as Niccolo Machiavelli, Max Weber, Richard Neustadt, and William Golding, Keohane displays her erudition lightly, with sparking, clear prose. Vivid examples featuring prominent leaders of the past -- including Queen Elizabeth I, Winston Churchill, and Nelson Mandela -- liven its pages. Keohane occasionally, but very sparingly, refers to her own experience, used only to make important points, never to glorify herself.

This is a book that should be read by leaders, and aspiring leaders, in business and politics as well as education. John Mack, chairman of the Board of Morgan, Stanley, writes in his comment on the back cover, that "this book is about inspired leadership -- and inspiring 'followership' -- and should be required reading from the classroom to the boardroom." In her comment, Barbara Kellerman of the Kennedy School at Harvard caught the spirit of the book in her comment: `Nannerl Keohane does not know how to write a bad sentence or make an uninteresting point.'"
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Wanda B. Red VINE VOICE on March 1, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As Nannerl Keohane explains modestly, the purpose of her book on "leadership" is "to clear away some of the underbrush that prevents us from seeing clearly" what we mean by the term. She accomplishes this and much more by asking fundamental questions -- for example about what distinguishes leaders from followers, how leadership works in a democracy, whether men and women lead differently, whether power really does corrupt absolutely and universally. She draws her examples from philosophers and literary authors, from the monumental rulers of the past to the maneuvering politicians of the present (or should it be the reverse?). Thinkers from Aristotle to Wittgenstein, literary writers from William Shakespeare to William Golding provide the backdrop. And she seems effortlessly always to have the perfect example to hand, just as her simple but elegant prose is exactly tuned to her topic and her audience (which could and should be any thoughtful person).

She provides not so much answers as further and more probing, provocative questions, leaving the reader with genuine ideas that engage thought. Her "conclusions" (if they can be called that) are surprisingly undoctrinaire: paradoxes do not have to be resolved; not every powerful leader IS corrupted by his role; gender may not make as much difference as culture. Indeed, the book is refreshing in many ways -- both for its method (nothing could be further from the leaden "case studies," surveys, diagrams, and other forms of "management" research that adorn the syllabi of business schools) and for its openness to new thinking about a very old topic.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By awoo on October 29, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Interesting, informative, and easy to read, I very much enjoyed reading Thinking About Leadership. I liked how Keohane applied her understanding of political philosophy with real life leaders, big and small, famous and not-so-famous. My only disappointment was in her decision to share just a few of her own experiences as president of two high educational institutions. Her reason being that she didn't want to turn this book into a memoir Having attended Wellesley myself, I had looked forward to learning how a well-respected teacher/scholar integrated her background and grew to lead a very vibrant academic community. - Looking forward to the memoir, Nan!
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By Harry P Montoro on December 30, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Was as expected
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