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Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading
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Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  1,906 ratings  ·  152 reviews
Named one of 100 Leadership & Success Books to Read in a Lifetime by Amazon Editors

To lead is to live dangerously. It's romantic and exciting to think of leadership as all inspiration, decisive action, and rich rewards, but leading requires taking risks that can jeopardize your career and your personal life. It requires putting yourself on the line, disturbing the status q
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published April 1st 2002 by Harvard Business Review Press
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Average rating 4.04  · 
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 ·  1,906 ratings  ·  152 reviews

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Otis Chandler
Mar 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing
One of the best books on leadership I've read. Many people struggle to articulate what leadership really is. This book put a more fine point on it, suggesting that leadership is creating change. The author likes the word "adaptive change". Once a solution to an issue has been accepted and is in motion, it becomes a management issue - a matter of execution - not a leadership issue. Creating change is not easy:

An adaptive change that is beneficial to the organization as a whole may clearly and tan
Feb 23, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone in leadership, church, business, politics
Recommended to Stephen by: Bob Burns and Donald Guthrie in our Pastor's Summit
Simply put, this is one of the top five or ten books I've ever read on leadership challenges and the concept of working through the dynamics of change in an organization.

The authors uniquely distinguish the two types of processes involved in leading, and what type of leadership, adaptive vs. technical is needed to navigate the waters of change.

The case studies are wide-ranging from government heads to small town, individual and personal contexts.
I'm not quite sure where to place this book. At least three stars, but could be four.

I picked it up expecting a treatise on leadership. I'm not sure if I was expecting tips like the Jack Welch thank-you-notes or the Peter Drucker schedule management; or if I was expecting inspiration, vision, or philosophy, or what. What I got was completely unexpected.

The first part of the book provides practical tips for leading successful change in organizations. Not what I was expecting as leadership, but ex
Derek Wolfgram
Nov 29, 2010 rated it really liked it
One of the best books on leadership I've ever read, focusing not only on how to achieve the goals of your position and/or organization, but how to keep yourself sane, balanced, and healthy through the difficult challenges any leader faces. The combination of personal advice and organizational techniques is extraordinarily valuable. Some key concepts I took from this book are:

-Getting on the balcony: learning how to momentarily disengage from a situation, particularly in times of stress or confli
Malik Siraj Akbar
Nov 26, 2014 rated it really liked it
What I love about this book is that it does not make martyrdom a prerequisite for leadership. Instead, it teaches you how to be a successful leader without risking your life. There are so many books that insist that you have to go to any extent to achieve what you want, including sacrificing your life. This book teaches you how to lead successfully and still stay safe.
Feb 12, 2021 rated it it was ok
I liked some of the metaphors for leadership like controlling the heat or tuning strings on a harp. However, I fundamentelly disagree with all the "dangers" involved in getting "into the arena". Yeah, if you take a stupid or rushed approach to it, you'll notice some pushing back. That is not inevitable or something you need to cope with, it's something to avoid in the first place. I thought about giving it 1 star, because it dwells rather long on old examples and on maneuvring yourself political ...more
Heifetz and Linsky question what makes leaders effective and provides insights into the differences between technical work of leading and the necessity of leading people into adaptive change. Leaders must be willing to confront and disturb people, push them to find their own solutions and help them adjust to new circumstances.

Why I started this book: Wanted to read this book before my many holds arrived and changed my focus.

Why I finished it: Inspiring and enlightening, this book focuses on the
David Dybdahl
Aug 20, 2017 rated it liked it
A solid leadership book about the problems that those in leadership positions face,and how to best navigate past those problems. The style of writing reminded me of How to Win Friends and Influence People.
Nov 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: leadership
Genuinely worth the time to read and digest.
Michael Ratnapalan
Feb 25, 2021 rated it it was amazing
An insightful, timely, and surprising book.
PJ Wenzel
Jan 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Very helpful and practical stuff. Probably one to re-read every once in a while. Seems like what these guys do best is point out where most leaders run into blind spots.
Aug 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Exellent read (this is coming from an individual who finds most leadership books a giant snore)! For anyone who is interested in the subject or has leadership responsibilities in an organization (with or without a lot of direct authority).

I loved it because it crystalized for me many of the situations I've experienced and had made a tactical move based on intuition without really understanding the core reason for why it worked (or sometimes didn't work).

It is also the only book that has framed
Sep 17, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: leadership
This was an interesting book on leadership. There were some great points that helped me think about the importance of being a leader, but I don't love everything about the authors' advice. I do love the beginning idea, "Every day the opportunity for leadership stands before you." There are chances to stand up and lead everywhere. A few of the important keys to successful leadership include:

- "get on the balcony" and look for the bigger picture, but don't miss the chance to take action as well
- "
Jul 02, 2009 rated it it was ok
don't really know how to rate... this book is actually brilliant and really well written. But it's OLD OLD OLD paradigm - all about how to survive the current amoral powerstructures of capitalism, instead of trying to sense into healthier ways of designing our powerstructures. I think intelligent people owe it to go beyond what's wrong in the current corporate climate, so I couldn't but rate it low... ...more
John Floyd
Sep 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This book perfectly articulates potential pitfalls that face leaders at all levels. I thoroughly enjoyed the case examples and the personal anecdotes the authors bring to the table. The lessons are very dense in some areas which force the reader to slow down and fully understand the subject (Stretching 250 pages into what feels like 600). I highly recommend reading this book and paying special attention to the final chapters.
Sep 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
This is a great reference book for those leaders under fire from those who seem to make it their life's work to tear down anything that they don't control. Unfortunately, it may take legal action after all else fails but there is a lot of good advice in here. After reading it, I had to wonder who would want to put themselves in the line of fire as a leader especially if they are just volunteering. ...more
Dec 14, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Excellent book for any person in a position of leadership--mothers, CEOs, board members, etc.
Phill Martin
Oct 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing
All church staff should read this one.
John Brackbill
I found two specific concepts in this book and their development to be helpful. First, the difference between technical problems (issues that simply involve the internal shifting of resources to fix) and adaptive problems (issues that require culture changes). Second, the importance of being on the "dance floor," but regularly getting up to the balcony to get the overall picture in leadership.

What I found unsurprising was the liberal bent on social issues from A-Z and the fact that when it came
Aug 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A very unusual and surprisingly human book on leadership. Though like most leadership books it has some recommendations on how best to lead in difficult situations, it is primarily concerned with the dangers of leadership. This includes dangers to one's job, to one's reputation, to one's career - as I would have expected given the title - but also to one's spirit, passion, and one's sense of meaning in life at a very philosophical level, which was quite a surprise. The book is spiritual, thought ...more
James Tucker
Jun 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book gives you a realistic vision of what leading is like in high pressure environments. It's kind of an antidote to all the more spiritually influenced "follow your heart", "do the right thing" and be transparent "moral" leadership books. This talks about being political, taking a step back, not getting personally involved and being careful not to embody the issue. It guards against too much passion, too much commitment, too much "getting involved" whilst giving a pathway of practical ways ...more
Jun 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
Great book on leading through change. Long story (very, very) short, there are two types of challenges in business: adaptive (cultural) challenges and technical challenges. Adaptive challenges are the hard ones, requiring mindset changes, cultural changes, value changes. Technical challenges require a new tool or better process to fix. This pup helps address adaptive challenges. And rather than spend time and energy recounting how to solve adaptive challenges, I'll just link to a nice dude who D ...more
Ronnel Lim
Dec 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Should have read this sooner

This was recommended to me some years ago in a conference by someone from Asian Development Bank. And I did not read it immediately after the recommendation because frankly I thought it would be just inspirational hogwash. I was very wrong. Many of the lessons here I learned by myself at great cost. I could have saved a lot of trouble and headache had I just read this book. For anyone taking on a leadership position, this is simply a must-read. Drop everything and rea
Shyamlal Nair
May 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the top leadership books

At the end of the day leadership is to help others reach their potential. Like one of my managers told me “it is not about yourself “. This book explains the challenges of leadership and how to work through them. In the end the authors bring the book more closer to a spiritual guide than a business book - which is absolutely appropriate. Spiritually is front and center of our life and leadership can not be outside of that. Well written. Please read till the end.
Nicolás Díaz
Jul 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I once went to Prof. Heifetz office to talk about the social unrest that was going on in my own country. As I described the arguments for changing the constitution, he warned me against thinking that a legal and normative reform would solve all our issues. Instead, he advised, we should strive to use our moment in history to start the difficult conversations that need to happen.

His writing is filled with the depths, nuances and warmth that you can also find in his classroom, but with less of the
Nov 26, 2019 rated it liked it
This book was focused on a very specific sub-topic about leadership: addressing the risks and challenges of leading and how to avoid the common missteps which lead many leaders to fail. The book addresses its intended subject well and this was a valuable book among the many I am reading to educate myself on the subject of leadership. This book is not one that would be very helpful if read outside of the context of studying other works about various other aspects of leadership.
Feb 13, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This is a must-read leadership book. Lots of wisdom that manages to balance effectiveness, decisiveness, strategic patience, compassion and self-care. The book does feel a little dated (20 years old at this point) in its examples. The references to Monica Lewinski seem to be definitely from a pre #metoo era. Nevertheless, this book contains lots of gold for anyone involved in leading people through real "adaptive" change (as opposed to just superficial technical change). ...more
Teri Temme
Feb 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Excellent! Definitely adding to my top books list.

One of my favorite quotes: "The virtue of a sacred heart lies in the courage to maintain your innocence and wonder, your doubt and curiosity, and your compassion and love even through your darkest, most difficult moments."

Superb book on Leadership. Thanks again to Tim Ferris and his Tribe of Mentors!
Susan Jessup
Sep 30, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: work-related
The book is a little dated. Even though there were some valid points, I felt towards the end of the book when it talked about managing your hungers in respects to intimacy and sexual pleasure I felt the book went a little off the rails. Then at the end of the book the arching religious aspects didn’t seem necessary.
Alan Page
Mar 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
My all time favorite book on leading organizational change. It clearly describes why "adaptive" challenges - where we don't know the outcome (like culture or behavioral changes) are so much more complex, and require so much more thought and strategy than "technical" challenges where all we need to do is the work. ...more
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16 likes · 6 comments
“Exercising leadership is an expression of your aliveness... But when you cover yourself up, you risk losing something as well. In the struggle to save yourself, you can give up too many of those qualities that are the essence of being alive, like innocence, curiosity, and compassion.” 6 likes
“You appear dangerous to people when you question their values, beliefs, or habits of a lifetime. You place yourself on the line when you tell people what they need to hear rather than what they want to hear. Although you may see with clarity and passion a promising future of progress and gain, people will see with equal passion the losses you are asking them to sustain.” 3 likes
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