Review: The Powers to Lead

5 Star, Diplomacy, Leadership
Powers to Lead
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Superb Mix of Scholarship & Pragmatism,

February 26, 2008

Joseph S. Nye

Anything by Joe Nye stops my work and receives my undivided attention. This is an absolute gem of a book, a mix of world-class scholarship and world-class pragmatism. It goes to the top of my leadership list on Amazon.

The book opens with the observation that two thirds of US citizens believe their is a leadership crisis. The intellectual center of the book is its focus on “smart power” defined as a balanced mix of soft and hard power that is firmly grounded in “Contextual IQ,” a term credited to Mayo and Nohria of Harvard.

The author defines leaders as those who help a group create and achieve goals. He states that leadership is an art, not a science. I especially liked the early phases, “good contextual intelligence broadens the bandwidth of leaders.” He likens the relation of leaders and the led to surfers and the wave–can ride it but cannot move it this way and that.

Soft power, his signal contribution to the global dialog on international relations, is concisely defined as att5ractive power, yielding the power to ask instead of compell. He cites McGregor Burns in communicating that bullys who humiliate and intimidate are counter-productive, that “power-wielders are not leaders.”

There is a fine review of leadership styles, attributes, and a reference to female leadership rising (I have long said that women make better intelligence analysts because they have smaller egos and a great deal more emphathy and intuition). He provides a matrix for evaluationg inter effectivenesss and ethics in relation to goals, means, and consequences.

I was struck the emphasis on emotional intelligence and the needed ability to rapidly evaluate loyalty networks that might not be immediately obvious. He distinguishes between public politics and private politics.

The book concludes with a really extra-special and lengthy disucssion of leadership ethics and morality. The last two pages prior to top-notch notes and bibliographies are 12 take-aways on leadership (he had the wit to avoid making them the 12 commandments) consisting of a fragment that I list below, and explicative annotation that I do not–the book is worthy of buying for these two pages and the moral-ethical conclusion alone, but certainly this is an important book that should be read any anyone seeking to lead others.

1. Good leadership matters
2. Leadership can be learned.
3. Leaders help create and achieve group goals.
4. Smart leaders need both soft and hard power skills.
5. Leaders depend on and are partly shaped by followers.
6. Appropriate style depends on context.
7. Consultative style costs time, but has three major benefits.
8. Leaders need both managerial and organizational skills.
9. Leadership for crisis conditions requires advanced preparations, emotional maturity, and the ability to distinguish between operational, analytical, and political contexts.
10. Information revolution is shifting context of postmodern organizations from command to co-optive style.
11. Reality testing, constant information seeking, and adjusting to change are essential but (buy the book).
12. Ethical leaders use consciences, common moral rules, and professional standards, but conflicting values can create “dirty hands.”

I have just two nits with this book, neither of which is a buy-stopper:

A. On page 94 there is an annoyingly facile and superficial reference to the 9-11 commission citing cultural dissonance as one reason the FBI and CIA did not share information. As one who has both read and written extensively on this topic, not only have we all identified numerous examples of internal failures (e.g. the FBI rejected two walk-ins, one in Newark and one in Orlando, prior to the event; CIA sent line-crossers in and conclusively established there were no Weapons of Mass Destruction, but George Tenet parked his integrity on the same shelf Colin Powell used, and let the White House lie 935 times to the public and Congress). I have an edited book scheduled on Cultural Intelligence for 2009, this is an important topic, and merits better treatment from the author.

B. This book could usefully be expanded, or followed by another book, to integrate the books I list below, and the world-changing conditions they represent.
The leadership of civilization building: Administrative and civilization theory, symbolic dialogue, and citizen skills for the 21st century
How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas, Updated Edition
Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World
One from Many: VISA and the Rise of Chaordic Organization
The 360 Degree Leader: Developing Your Influence from Anywhere in the Organization
The Knowledge Executive
The Collaborative Leadership Fieldbook
Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration
Five Minds for the Future
Collective Intelligence: Creating a Prosperous World at Peace

Having said that, I consider this to be one of the author's top three immediately current and relevant books, and relatively priceless if we can get “Mr. Perfect” to read it (more than once), along with the author's two recent works, Understanding International Conflicts (6th Edition); and The Paradox of American Power: Why the World's Only Superpower Can't Go It Alone.February 26, 2008

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