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Leadership Without Easy Answers

4.08  ·  Rating details ·  846 ratings  ·  57 reviews
The economy uncertain, education in decline, cities under siege, crime and poverty spiraling upward, international relations roiling: we look to leaders for solutions, and when they don't deliver, we simply add their failure to our list of woes. In doing do, we do them and ourselves a grave disservice. We are indeed facing an unprecedented crisis of leadership, Ronald Heif ...more
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published July 22nd 1998 by Belknap Press (first published November 2nd 1994)
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Hj Barraza
May 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
You get a full synthesis & summary here: http://bit.ly/14eV9j1

Ronald A. Heifetz provides a discussion of just how complicated leadership is and how challenging it can be to lead in a responsible, ethical fashion. The book analyzes a number of leaders who faced not just crises, but transformational situations. As the book’s title promises.

True Adaptive, Social Leadership doesn’t take shortcuts; he carefully looks at the complexities that leadership, power and authority involve. His examples range
Jun 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The best book on leadership I’ve read - I appreciated that it talked about being a leader with formal or informal authority and how that’s different.

I’ll continue to reflect on adaptive challenges, holding environments, and how to get to the balcony / create sanctuaries as a leader — especially with everything going on right now.
Jun 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: leadership
Quite fascinating -- intelligent, with many applicable insights, this is not a book of kitsch psychology.
Aug 01, 2022 rated it it was amazing
I read chapters of this book for an Adaptive Leadership course and enjoyed them so much I ordered a second hand copy.
Despite being published in the 90s, the principles and case studies are very insightful and relevant.
Peter Mello
Sep 08, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: leadership
This is one of the most powerful books that I have ever read. It is a must read for all leaders and change agents which will help identify and attack adaptive challenges (the BIG problems without simple, technical solutions.)
Susan Iverson
Dec 31, 2016 rated it really liked it
I find myself drawn back to Heifetz work as a trusted guidepost for leadership, particularly leading without authority
Feb 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Best book I've ever read on change management. Wish I'd read it 30 years ago. ...more
Sep 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
In his seminal book, Heifetz outlines his theory of adaptive leadership. That is, how leaders educate society about the need for change. The book centers on LBJ and his success in bringing about the Voter Rights Act, and his failure in the Vietnam War. In the former instance, LBJ gradually educated society about the need for the change, in the latter matter he pursued a technocratic response and neglected to inform the American public about the purpose of the war. This book, overall, improved my ...more
May 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book explains the adaptive leadership theory using examples from the twentieth century. It also explains how one might lead in this style even if you do not have positional authority. Heifetz does a good job explaining what must happen if a leader wants to help her followers adapt to a new situation. He gives examples from history and he explains each step along the way. Even if one does not use all the parts of this leadership theory, there are good ideas for helping yourself and others ad ...more
Melsene G
Mar 15, 2017 rated it liked it
Very interesting analysis of some well known folks in leadership positions up to the early 1990s so many of the examples may seem dated. My main takeaway is that there are different types of leaders and leadership. There is adaptive work where learning is required to address conflicts in order to change values, beliefs, and behavior. Leadership is defined as mobilizing people to tackle tough problems, providing a vision, and influencing others. This is an activity, not traits.

The author goes th
Mark Montgomery
May 25, 2017 rated it liked it
Very well researched book which gives an excellent framework for approaching leadership. Emphasizes that leadership is adaptive and ongoing. Enjoyed many of the historical anecdotes particularly those about Lyndon Johnson. Definitely can tell Heifetz approaches leadership from a very thoughtful perspective and his psychiatric training background comes through.
Dec 07, 2018 rated it liked it
I like the history and the academic approach, but the end result is that those examples of leadership (presidencies, wars, civil rights injustices that shape a century) are so extraordinary that it doesn't feel like the daily forms of leadership most experience in the workplace or in local communities are fully addressed. ...more
Jan 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Took me a long time to read, but absolutely worth it. All the examples of leadership used in the book gave me different such perspectives than I’ve ever had before. A well crafted book that uses narrative to make a point that I normally wouldn’t remember, but makes it so memorable that it’s hard to forget. Especially great for a young, inexperienced leader like me.
Jody Erikson
Jun 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Not as easy to read as I would like but have used the basics in the book many, many times in mediation and facilitation.
Dec 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I gave this book full marks not because I think it was necessarily amazingly written, but because the ideas contained within it have changed my view of social interaction and change significantly.
Apr 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A brilliant and original work that will redefine for you the purpose of organizational leadership.
Ray Hollenbach
Nov 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
Strong, and clear. I pick it up every couple of years and read it again.
Nicolás Díaz
Jul 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing
An essential book that explores leadership as an activity, not as an inherent trait or an acquired position.
Mar 26, 2021 rated it it was amazing
One of the better leadership books I've read, probably because of the clear message and memorable examples. As relevant now as when it was written 30 years ago. ...more
Jul 31, 2021 rated it did not like it
Not impressed
Evan Graham
Apr 01, 2022 rated it it was amazing
Best leadership book I’ve ever read.
Jun 20, 2022 rated it really liked it
unique and valuable leadership paradigm
Andy Mitchell
Jan 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
This book paints with broad strokes and illustrates principles of leadership with surprising detail. This is an impressive accomplishment.

I found the author’s analysis of three different types of leadership situations very useful:

Situation Problem definition Solution and implementation Primary locus of responsibility for the work Kind of work
Type I Clear Clear Expert Technical
Type II Clear Requires learning Expert and individual Technical and adaptive
Type III Requires learning Requires learning
Nov 11, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: professional-dev
"We tend to look the wrong kind of leadership. We call for someone with answers, decision, strength, and a map of the future. Instead of looking for saviors, we should be calling for leadership that will challenge us to face problems for which there are no simple, painless solutions - problems that require us to learn new ways."

Our expectations of authority figures become counterproductive when our organizations and communities face adaptive challenge - when the application of known methods and
Paul W
Jan 17, 2016 rated it did not like it
Shelves: business, leadership
Heifetz adopts a contingency approach to leadership driven by two key variables: (a) whether or not a person has authority; and (b) whether the leader is dealing with routine problems or those demanding innovation and learning.
This approach, as intimated in the book’s title, contrasts with that adopted by authors like Zenger and Folkman (The Extraordinary Leader) and Fuda (Leadership Transformed) who adopt a universalist approach - we will be better leaders if we follow certain steps or adopt ce
Jan 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Two key points that I have got from this book:

Leadership is an activity, and thus can be performed by anyone. It is an important distinction, as it makes everyone in the group accountable.
Look at the question of bringing up an issue strategically. Think who stakeholders are, how to move them in the direction you need them to go, without overstretching the system.

If I may, I would compare this theory to Jeet Kun Do's philosophy. As Bruce Lee famously said: “You must be shapeless, formless, like
Jeff Kinsey
Jun 23, 2009 rated it it was amazing
How times have you been involved in a discussion about leadership? What leadership is, what it is not. Asked for examples of good leaders? Felt compelled to offer examples of poor leaders?

Heifetz' book "Leadership without Easy Answers" is a must own. Period.

Why? Too many great reasons to recite them all. But let me hit some highlights that hopefully will convince you to at least browse this book at your favorite bookstore.

1. A framework to organize the concepts of Leadership
2. Analysis of decisi
Aug 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
Good read and plenty of good pointers to take out of this read.

This book is different to other leadership books in that it talks about how people without formal authority can lead, unlike other books which often focus on people with authority.

I have seen some of the concepts in this book in other situations; e.g. the idea of an 'adaptive' problem, where both the problem and solution is not clear; and how the worst 'leaders' with authority are those who are only effective when faced with a rout
Jan 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
"Instead of looking for saviors, we should be calling for leadership that will challenge us to face problems for which there are no simple, painless solutions-- problems that require us to learn new ways."- Heifetz

Adaptive Leadership, as described by Heifetz, is the only model of leadership that I have seen that is fully applicable to public administration. Great read for those working in government or community activism!
Feb 21, 2015 rated it liked it
I don't tend to enjoy these kinds of books, but the observations in this volume are very interesting. Furthermore, it is well written, which makes for more enjoyable reading. There are great historical examples of leadership (both good and bad), and the prescriptions for leadership are broad enough to be used in almost any setting. If you want to read a secular book and leadership, this one would be worth your time. ...more
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