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Leadership Is an Art Paperback – May 18, 2004
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In what has become a bible for the business world, the successful former CEO of Herman Miller, Inc., explores how executives and managers can learn the leadership skills that build a better, more profitable organization. Leadership Is an Art has long been a must-read not only within the business community but also in professions ranging from academia to medical practices, to the political arena. First published in 1989, the book has sold more than 800,000 copies in hardcover and paperback. This revised edition brings Max De Pree’s timeless words and practical philosophy to a new generation of readers. De Pree looks at leadership as a kind of stewardship, stressing the importance of building relationships, initiating ideas, and creating a lasting value system within an organization. Rather than focusing on the “hows” of corporate life, he explains the “whys.” He shows that the first responsibility of a leader is to define reality and the last is to say thank you. Along the way, the artful leader must: • Stimulate effectiveness by enabling others to reach both their personal potential and their institutional potential • Take a role in developing, expressing, and defending civility and values • Nurture new leaders and ensure the continuation of the corporate culture Leadership Is an Art offers a proven design for achieving success by developing the generous spirit within all of us. Now more than ever, it provides the insights and guidelines leaders in every field need.
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When I opened the book this past summer, I was amazed by two things. I was amazed that I had not opened this book in more than two decades. And, I was amazed at how many things in this book had become part of the tapestry that is the way I think about leadership.
Max DePree speaks to me in an especially strong voice because we start from a similar place. We are both Christians, and that affects how we try to live our lives. We both believe that leadership is a servant role and that what leaders are challenged to do is unleash the potential of others.
Now, if any of that bothers you, you won’t enjoy this book. If you think any mention of faith is inappropriate in a business book or that servant leadership is mushy nonsense or that leaders are there to show people the way, not to unleash their energies, you won’t like this book. Don’t buy it. Don’t read it. If you do choose to buy it, here’s what you’ll find.
There is a retired executive that I see frequently. We share good meals and good wine and other drinks. Occasionally, we have a cigar together. Some of the time we talk about what it’s like to be the person responsible for a group.
My friend was an executive vice president in a Fortune 200 company. He created their international business in the 50s and 60s. He knows a lot about people and leadership and doing the right thing. Over meals and cigars and drinks and sometimes just sitting on the deck, we talk about those things.
Reading Leadership is an Art is a lot like having a conversation with my friend. He’s principled and clear-thinking. He will challenge you from time to time.
I suggest that if you buy this book you do a couple of things to get the most out of it. The first one is read the preface that DePree wrote for the latest edition of the book. The original book was published in 1987, DePree’s preface is from 2003.
Then just start reading, but keep a pencil or highlighter or digital voice recorder handy. The first thing you’ll find in the book is a short true story called “The Millwright Died.” It sets the tone for the rest of the book. Make sure you read it. Mark the page so you can get back to it.
Then read. Make notes. Take time to reflect. This is not a book about techniques or tricks or processes. It is about how a thoughtful and caring leader approaches his or her work. So, keep the book with you. Dip into it from time to time. Take time to reflect on what you learned and your insights.
One more thing. When you finish Leadership is an Art, go back to it frequently. Don’t make this mistake I did and put it back on the shelf for a decade or more.
Leadership is an Art is a good book for leaders and employees. Like many work-related books, most of the topics in here aren't completely new ideas you've never heard of or thought. The concepts shared are certainly at the higher to idealistic level but I think readers will still see many ways they can "go in that direction" and still see real improvements in their work life. De Pree gives very clear examples and deconstructs the pieces of the company-manager-supervisor-employee relationship in a way that makes sense to me, in words I've not been able to find. In short, he shows us the ideal work environment from all perspectives.
Although the book may seem to be aimed at leaders, I think even job-seekers might find this book helpful in showing them what kind of work they should pursue and what kind of company they should eventually seek, even if they can't start there. I believe there are certainly lessons I've learned from De Pree that I can use to fix some work issues.