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"Staying in the game"...and then winning it
on May 13, 2002
Those who read Heifetz's previously published Leadership Without Easy Answers will be interested to know that the final section in that brilliant book ("Staying Alive") led to the development of this book which Heifetz co-authored with Linsky. "We wanted this second book to be more focused, more practical, and more personal. We hope this book will be accessible, eminently usable, and inspiring in your life and work." The material is presented within three Parts: The Challenge (which explains "why leadership is so dangerous and how people get taken out of the game"), The Response (which provides "a series of action steps designed to reduce the risk of getting pushed aside"), and Body and Soul ("which discusses "ways that people contribute to their own demise"), followed by a Notes section filled with especially informative annotations. Pogo once said "we have met the enemy and he is us." More often than not, I think that is true. I also think that most human limits are self-imposed. That is probably what Henry Ford had in mind when he observed "Whether you think you can or think you can't, you're right."
According to Heifetz and Linsky, "To lead is to live dangerously because when leadership counts, when you lead people through difficult change, you challenge what people hold dear -- their daily habits, tools, loyalties, and ways of thinking -- with more to offer perhaps than a possibility. Moreover, leadership often means exceeding the authority you are given to tackle the challenge at hand. People push back when you disturb the personal and institution equilibrium they know. And people resist in all kinds of creative and unexpected ways that can get you taken out of the game: pushed aside, undermined, or eliminated." Throughout human history, most of the greatest leaders were "eliminated" precisely because they were perceived to be intolerable threats to what James O'Toole calls "the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom." Draw up a list of the 10-15 greatest leaders in history. How many of them died of natural causes? On my own list, only Winston Churchill and he was twice voted out of office amidst ridicule and even contempt. One of this book's greatest value-added benefits is the brief summary of key ideas which concludes each chapter. I strongly recommend that the book be re-read within 2-3 weeks; also, that at least the chapter summaries be reviewed weekly thereafter.
It is important to understand that Heifetz and Linsky view the subject of leadership in a much wider and deeper context than one normally encounters in a business book. Consider these brief remarks with which they conclude: " Opportunities for leadership are available to you, and to us, every day. But putting yourself on the line is difficult work, for the dangers are real. Yet the work has nobility and the benefits, for you and for those around you, are beyond measure. We have written this book out of admiration and respect for you and your passion. We hope that the words on these pages have provided both practical advice and inspiration; and that you have better means now to lead., protect yourself, and keep your spirit alive. May you enjoy with a full heart the fruits of your labor. The world needs you."
Those who share my high regard for this book are urged to read Heifetz's previous book, Leadership Without Easy Answers. Also David Maister's Practice What You Preach, James O'Toole's Leading Change, and Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan's Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done.