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on July 12, 2012
This is one of the best leadership books I have ever read. It is more than a business book, there is a spiritual component to it. The book talks about the difficulty of leadership, and mostly about staying alive in the process. In leadership, you are dangerous to people. The reason is that you are challenging the norm, which is unnerving for people. You are moving a group of people forward, and people feel a loss. But the key is moving people forward at a rate they can handle. As ministers, this is important lessons. A leader might too quickly move forward, not realizing the emotional attachment to the past. When you do this, there are going to be consequence, you can become attacked, marginalized, diverted, or seduced. There are natural tactics for those who are seeking to stop the progress. The book deals with some uncommon material, but not uncommon areas of concern for leadership. It talks about keeping security around you. This is a group of people who are trusted, and will tell you the truth, it means keeping your wife close, because a leader can be seduced with sex. This book comes to the heart of leadership, and the pleasure and pains of it better than almost all books on the topic. It talks about pre-meetings, not that this has happened in the church. It talks about stalk holders, are those with the most to lose with a change. Often a leader surrounds themselves with those who agree, but in reality, he needs to stay most connected to those who disagree. The people who are the quickest to stand with you, are often the ones with the lest to loose. Therefore those who oppose you, are the ones that will stand most with you in the long run. It talks about handling distress. Ok, this book talks about the heart of leadership, and there are so many topics that are addressed, it is just one of the best, and for preachers, it is a key book. Sometimes I am excited for a book, and there are times when this book should be in the classroom of every graduate school across the nation. It is that good and helpful.
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on October 3, 2009
Heifitz and Linsky write that leading people through difficult change, challenging what they hold dear, can be a dangerous enterprise. They say, "This book is about putting yourself and your ideas on the line, responding effectively to the risks, and living to celebrate the meaning of your efforts" (3). The book is arranged according to three fundamental questions the authors attempt to answer: Why or how is leadership dangerous? How can a leader respond to the dangers? And how can a leader keep his or her spirit alive when leading becomes difficult?
First, why or how is leadership dangerous? One persistent perception in leadership is that most people are resistant to change. Heifetz and Linsky posit that it is not change per se that people resist, but loss (11). Leadership becomes dangerous when leaders question people's habits, values, and beliefs and people cannot see the bright future leaders ask them to sacrifice for, but see only suggested possibilities requiring great loss (12). It is adaptive change rather than technical challenges which cause so much of the danger in leading (13). Technical problems are the ones for which the organization already has the answer. Adaptive challenges require painful transition in attitudes, values, and/or behaviors. Adaptive change must be internalized by the people with the problem. Hearts and minds must change not just preferences or routine behaviors (60). People can push back against leaders during adaptive change in a variety of ways. Leaders are in danger of being marginalized and attacked personally under the assumption that if you take down the leader the issues will go away. Leaders can be seduced by their own human appetites or their need for approval and lose their sense of purpose (32-45).
Secondly, how can leaders respond to the dangers of leading through adaptive change? It is necessary for leaders to practice the discipline of gaining perspective in the midst of battle, including the ability to see the leader's own role in the conflict (51-54). Leaders will also need to learn how to operate in the midst of the various relationships within the organization - including partners, opponents, and the uncommitted mass of people the leader is attempting to move through adaptive change (89-100). Another way leaders can respond to the dangers is to orchestrate the conflict by creating holding environments in which to work through the process of change, knowing how to manage the stress within the organization, pacing the work, and continually casting a vision of the future (102-120). Leaders can also work to take the burden for change off of their own shoulders and appropriately place the work with the people within the organization (123). Leaders must also learn to maintain a steady course throughout the change process by knowing how to take the heat from angry followers, allow for the appropriate time to act on issues, and keep everyone's attention focused on the issues (141-154).
Third question: how can a leader keep his or her spirit alive when leading becomes difficult? Heifetz and Linsky offer four suggestions. Leaders need to learn to manage their natural human appetites, especially the desire for intimacy, and to care for themselves so that they do not contribute to their own demise (163). Another strategy for leaders is to differentiate between the role of leader and who they are personally (187). A third coping strategy is for leaders to be clear on why they are leading and to keep the bigger picture in focus (209). Finally, the authors recommend that leaders continually develop and protect within themselves the qualities of innocence, curiosity, and compassion (225).

The authors succeed in their stated purpose of answering their three fundamental questions. By using honest language and real world examples, some personal and painful, the authors equip readers with a good understanding of the nature of leading through adaptive change. At the same, the authors are honest about how leading is an improvisational skill. They have not written a technical "how-to" book, but an honest assessment of the change process and the things leaders can do in the midst of that process to stay healthy and connected. Because the nature of leadership sometimes involves being out front and guiding others into an unknown future, leaders from all walks of life would benefit from reading this book. Leadership on the Line is about the dynamics of relationships within an organization as people face adaptive change. Leaders who reflect on the issues raised and the suggestions made by the authors will have a better understanding of how to stay connected to themselves and to their followers as they walk together and confront painful transitions.
Ministerial leaders may be hesitant to read Leadership on the Line because it is a secular source not written to specifically address the dynamics of congregational leadership. This would be a mistake, however, because the book is surprisingly relevant to ministerial leadership issues. It is usually accepted as a given that today's churches find themselves in a rough sea of change, and there are countless volumes available making the case for why change is necessary and what the church should look like on the other side of change. But pastors may have a difficult time finding books like Leadership on the Line that describe why their congregation prefers solving technical problems and not embracing the process of adaptive change, and how the pastor can operate through the process.
It may be that church culture does not allow for such an honest discussion on the dangers of church leadership because of the high ideals and expectations involved with beings God's people. But who has not been wounded and scarred by relationships in the body of Christ? Peter L. Steinke writes how people and entire congregations are susceptible to the effects of anxiety, which is heightened during adaptive change, and he echoes Heifetz and Linsky by stating that how the pastor responds to the anxiety and conflict, rather than the conflict itself, will determine the outcome (Peter L. Steinke, Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times: Being Calm and Courageous No Matter What. Herndon, VA: The Alban Institute, 2006). Studies have shown that one of the two main reasons pastors leave local church ministry is because of church conflict (Dean R. Hoge and Jacqueline E. Wenger. Pastors in Transition: Why Clergy Leave Local Church Ministry. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005, 76). Seminary courses in pastoral leadership often speak of the reality of dangers in congregational leadership, but often do not give the needed depth of study to equip pastors for the process of adaptive change. This makes Leadership on the Line an important companion because it helps the ministerial leader to think about why leading is so dangerous, what is at stake for congregants, how to operate in the heat of battle, and how to take care of their personal lives and stay connected to others at the same time. It is also a good reminder of the purpose of leading and the joys involved. This is especially true of congregational leadership.
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on November 12, 2013
Heifetz and Linsky have a gem here. I'm loathe to use the metaphor of a jewel here, because it connotes you being static while visually observing the gem, and that you would at least infer the value of what you are looking at.

A better, and closer approximation, would be someone who has a pass at a concert, who can go backstage, observe the performers responding to the band leader/conductor/take your pick, pick up an instrument and play along, then move out into the audience, and observe them enjoying the performance (attentive sitting/swaying/dancing...), and participate with the audience as well. That kind of participation, and the value of it, is more of what I'm aiming toward.

That is-in part-what happens when you read Heifetz: you begin a new and risky journey of awareness, knowing there is a destination, but it's not "a destination in mind" per se. That journey of awareness is one that Heifetz encourages the reader to develop and deepen in their leadership. And, as others will confirm, Heifetz outlines other tasks and dynamic postures to cultivate while on this risky journey: you know that the journey is important, but there's not a lot of road maps or preconceived notions of even what to look for that is important.

Now, because there are so many neologisms and loaded phrases, one can get bogged down early: as I did. Thankfully, I read Heifetz in parallel with Sharon Daloz Parks' book, Leadership Can Be Taught: A Bold Approach for a Complex World. As others I know will confirm, reading both books shed light on Heifetz in ways that would elude most people if they only read his text. Plus, Parks' own experience as a professor and mentor is illuminated as she engages with Heifetz. (No, I'm not related to Parks, nor am I receiving anything for this plug.) So, I would highly recommend both books in that task of Heifetz' sub-title, "Staying Alive...".
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on October 18, 2016
Great book. Very informative. Needed it for a class and will use it for years to come.
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on March 12, 2015
This book was a continual affirmation of things I knew to be true about leadership, but had never heard articulated. I couldn't put it down. Anyone in a leadership position who hopes to effect real change should read it.
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on November 29, 2015
I started reading this book as an assignment. I ended up leaving impressed and engaged. This book does help you get a different perspective on what it takes to be a leader.
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on May 8, 2009
For continuing professional development, research material and just information, this was an easy informative read.
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on August 12, 2006
Let's face it: leadership is dangerous. As Heifetz and Linsky write in their introduction, "Each day brings you opportunities to raise important questions, speak to higher values, and surface unresolved conflicts. Every day you have the chance to make a difference in the lives of people around you. And every day you must decide whether to put your contribution out there, or keep it to yourself to avoid upsetting anyone, and get through another day. You are right to be cautious. Prudence is a virtue. You disturb people when you take unpopular initiatives in your community, put provocative new ideas on the table in your organization, question the gap between colleagues' values and behavior, or ask friends and relatives to face up to tough realities. You risk people's ire and make yourself vulnerable. Exercising leadership can get you into a lot of trouble."

Anyone who is trying to lead people in today's troubled times knows, from brutal experience, that leadership is a risky business. But, of course, in a theological context, proclaiming the gospel has always been risky business. (Remember what happened to Jesus?) Heifetz and Linsky offer an assessment of the dangers that are routinely faced by a variety of different types of leaders -- managers, activists, presidents of countries, CEOs of multinational corporations, parents, executives, career military, teachers, principals, clergy, and many more. The heart of the book describes in detail five effective responses to the dangers. Four concluding chapters offer suggestions of how to take care of yourself, body and soul, in the midst of leadership.

If you are a leader, read this book. And don't just read it and then put it back on your shelf. Absorb this book. Soak in it. Turn to it time and again. You'll be glad you did.
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on November 29, 2002
"Leadership on the Line" appends and fulfils Ron's original framework first presented in the "Leadership Without Easy Answers". If you didn't study the framework closely, learn it and come back.
While "Leadership Without Easy Answers" explains bit by bit the perils of adaptive change and the importance of orchestrating the conflict, giving the work back, managing appropriate pace and keeping the holding environment, it gives only a quick (not quite sufficient) glance at getting on the balcony, finding partners and distinguishing allies from confidants.
The first six chapters of the "Leadership on the Line" are purposed to complete the framework.
Chapters seven to nine is a highly practical cookbook: how to take the heat and hold steadily, how to manage your hungers and keep sanity, how to deal with sexual and intimacy issues, how to distinguish role from self.
The final, very provocative chapters are philosophical and spiritual. Poignantly, they raise a question: what is this all for? Devote a thought to love, innocence, curiosity and compassion -- the virtues of an open heart.
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on August 20, 2013
This book is helpful in understanding the importance of leadership in everyday life. Heifetz and Linsky discuss the risks and benefits of leadership and discuss why one would take on a leadership role in one's own life. The material is easily read and understood, so it is an easy read. Though, for academic purposes, it tends to be a little informal and does not make a fantastic resource. With that being said, this book is very insightful and takes a realistic approach to the benefits and risks of leadership.
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