Book Review: The Truth About Leadership

Given my attraction to both issues of truth and leadership, I couldn't resist getting this book on my iPad, though, in fact, Kouzes and Posner are established leadership authors, and their book from the 1980s, The Leadership Challenge, was always one of my favorites. It talked about encouraging the heart, sharing power with others, learning from your mistakes, and challenging the status quo.

Their new book, The Truth About Leadership: The No-fads Heart-of-the-matter Facts You Need to know is really their look back at the last 20 years since publishing the Leadership Challenge. They have continued to do a lot of research based on the conclusions from that first volume, and based on that, they came up with ten "truths" about leadership.

They aren't that different from the five "fundamental practices" from their first volume, though I think they emphasize different things this time around. This one seems to emphasize trust more, with one truth about trust and another one about credibility. By the way, in their years of research, when they asked people to identify characteristics of admired leaders, "honest" was the highest ranking (85% chose it). Though they talked about encouraging the heart last time, this time they talk more explicitly about love, which I like. 

Leaders are in love: in love with leading, in love with their organizations' products and services, and in love with people.

So I like what they are saying, but I do have one disappointment with the book, and that is it is rooted (like most leadership books) in the notion of individual leadership. It is written for individuals who are in positions of authority in organizations or aspire to be. Now, there is nothing wrong with helping these individuals be more effective in their organizations, and the advice in this book will do that. But I think leadership is about developing the whole system's capacity, and if we reserve it only for the people at the top of the chart, we're wasting potential.

At the beginning of the book, they said this:

Leadership is a demanding, noble discipline not to be entered into frivolously or casually.

No! Okay, maybe not frivolously, but the idea that leadership is somehow "above" most of us I think is a real problem. I want leadership to be casual, in the sense that it is a normal part of living. Leadership is a part of your day, wherever you are in your organization. Yes, we should take it seriously, but I worry about calling it a noble discipline because it reinforces the idea that it is beyond me–that it is NOT my responsibility.

Still, this is a good book and worth reading and will help you think more clearly about how you can practice leadership in your system more effectively.


  1. 23.11.2010 at 9:29 am

    Jamie, This is why the first book was so powerful – because the five practices could be literally practiced by anyone. It turned leadership position into leadership behavior. From your description it seems the authors are going away from that model-which is unfortunate because I think that’s what made The Leadership Challenge such a great teaching tool.

  2. 23.11.2010 at 9:47 am

    Jamie, this is near the top of my stack, but I will share your disappointment id they’ve skewed this towards positional leadership, Their long=time definition—”Leadership is the art of mobilizing others to want to struggle for shared aspirations.”—has always appealed to me because it wasn’t limited to leadership by position. Thanks for your review.