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Customer Review

56 of 63 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Adaptive Leadership Shouldn't be Dull, February 8, 2010
This review is from: The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World (Hardcover)
Adaptive leadership is very important. In the few pockets of business and organizational life these days that are untouched by the turbulence around us, business as usual is, it would seem, acceptable. The trouble is that there are so few arenas where that is the case. Finding ways to lead in a way that can adjust to rapid and often unexpected change is critical.

I received a review copy of this book from Harvard Business Press. When it arrived I was very excited to dig in and get jazzed by all the great content. The problem was that the book was about as dull to read as it was to look at (I scrawled this on my cover: "Don't judge a book by its cover. In this case you should. This books cover is really boring"). I was twenty pages in when I felt that they were in trouble. It felt like a Harvard Business Press word container with WalMart content inside. My disappointment was that it lacked any real edge. For people who are deeply immersed in complexity theory and related pursuits that examine how systems change over time, there just wasn't any real insight. For people who don't like that sort of thing, it would, I fear, feel impenetrable.

Reading about next things should be engaging, compelling, shocking even. This book wasn't any of that. I felt genuinely disappointed as I worked my way through out. I just couldn't track with the style or flow. It felt like I was at a really dull meeting that was supposed to be important but somehow wasn't. No Wheatley. No Holling. No Stacey. No Sante Fe Institute. No Kauffman. No cheeky Tom Peters feel. No Dave Snowden deadpan humour. Nothing daring.

There were no expeditions into the heart of real, living organizations where the good, bad and ugly was on display and the authors dared to do battle with their adaptive leadership rocket launchers. No biological modelling, computer simulations, real-time adaptations. After awhile, you just start to feel like the book was off, somehow - like when someone is staring past you. If I was Randy from American Idol, I'd say, "Hey, dog, it's a bit pitchy" or something like that.

In chapter 13 you'll find a six page bit on systems thinking but that's it. An adaptive leadership text without tracking through the latest research and insight on what informs adaptive leadership. There was not good enough evidence that they have their finger on the pulsing neck artery of past, current, and emerging forms of adaptive leadership. A great topic area like this needs to evidence an awareness of adaptive practices in the very delivery of the content but that doesn't happen at all.

I'd love to give it a thumbs up - the title is definitely compelling - but I just can't. I'm happy to be convinced otherwise but all I can think is that I'm glad I had a review copy sent and didn't have to pay for it. The authors are probably very knowledgeable, interesting, and capable consultants but it just doesn't come through in the book, sadly. These are big players with long track records and tons of cultural cache who perhaps need a better way to deliver what they know than a vanilla-looking book that induces yawns.

There are many other books that are in line ahead of this one for developing my teams and thinking. It reminds me of a corporate comb-over. So disappointing. Next time involve a few freaky friends in the book development process.
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Feb 21, 2013 9:00:17 AM PST
Nice review.

You say: "There are many other books that are in line ahead of this one for developing my teams and thinking".

What would you recommend us to read?

Thank you!

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 6, 2013 11:58:58 AM PST
For a dose of rebellion, I have often returned to Tom Peters book "Re-Imagine". He drives you to keep re-considering what makes you and your team tick and has adaptive themes in it without getting into theory. "Getting to Maybe" is another fine text about possibilities (Westley, Zimmerman, Patton). "Leadership and the New Science" (Wheatley) shows why business as usual may be running thin in some spots. I experimented with an e-book on Lulu "Ingenuity Arts: Adaptive Leadership and the New Science" that weaves these themes together as well. That's a few for a start.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 1, 2013 8:50:19 AM PDT
CB says:
I enjoyed your review. Adaptive Leadership has been around for 30 or 40 years now, and I don't think the idea has evolved very much. I do have to disagree with your claim that there are other books in the line ahead of this one. I recommend Barbara Kellerman's book, "The End of Leadership," for a convincing analysis of the flaws within the entire leadership development enterprise.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 4, 2013 1:50:14 PM PDT
Fair enough. I've noted where I was dissatisfied with the book and base my alternatives and line-up comments on that. Someone else may very well find it useful given where they are coming from. I'll take a look at the Kellerman book. Whether leadership can be taught, packaged and dispensed is certainly worth considering. So many seminars, books and materials suggest it can be but I don't think it works quite like that. Thanks for the interaction.
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