Leadership Without Easy Answers

Front Cover
Harvard University Press, Jun 30, 2009 - Business & Economics - 348 pages
2 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 Heifetz avows, but it stems as much from our demands and expectations as from any leader's inability to meet them. His book gets at both of these problems, offering a practical approach to leadership for those who lead as well as those who look to them for answers. Fitting the theory and practice of leadership to our extraordinary times, the book promotes a new social contract, a revitalization of our civic life just when we most need it. Drawing on a dozen years of research among managers, officers, and politicians in the public realm and the private sector, among the nonprofits, and in teaching, Heifetz presents clear, concrete prescriptions for anyone who needs to take the lead in almost any situation, under almost any organizational conditions, no matter who is in charge, His strategy applies not only to people at the top but also to those who must lead without authority--activists as well as presidents, managers as well as workers on the front line.

What people are saying - Write a review

Leadership without easy answers

User Review  - Not Available - Book Verdict

Heifetz (Kennedy Sch. of Government, Harvard Univ.) presents a new theory of leadership for both public and private leaders in tackling complex contemporary problems. Central to his theory is the ... Read full review

User Review - Flag as inappropriate

The 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 Individual > expert Adaptive
Dr. Heifetz’s distinction between technical and adaptive leadership behaviors is also extremely insightful:
Social function Technical problem Adaptive problem
Direction Expert provides problem definition and solution Expert identifies the adaptive challenge, provides diagnosis of condition, and produces questions about problem definitions and solutions
Protection Expert protects from external threat Expert discloses external threat
Role orientation Expert orients Expert disorients current roles, or resists pressure to orient people in new roles too quickly
Controlling conflict Expert restores order Expert exposes conflict, or lets it emerge
Norm maintenance Expert maintains norms Expert challenges norms, or allows them to be challenged
The author then suggests the following elements of effective leadership:
identifying the adaptive challenge
keeping distress within a productive range
directing attention to ripening issues and not diversions
giving the work back to the people
protecting voices of leadership in the community
Finally, Dr. Heifetz provides the leader seven steps to handling the burden of leadership:
get on the balcony
distinguish self from role
externalize the conflict
use partners
listen, using oneself as data
find a sanctuary
preserve a sense of purpose
It is this final point, leading from a strong sense of the importance of the work, that begins and ends the author’s thesis and analysis.
Without purpose, it is impossible to judge the value and effectiveness of a leader’s work.
Although this book was dense and difficult to get through, I highly recommend it. It is deep and wide.


Setting the Frame
Leading with Authority
Leading without Authority
Staying Alive

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

About the author (2009)

Ronald Heifetz is the King Hussein bin Talal Senior Lecturer in Public Leadership and Founder, Center for Public Leadership, at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.

Bibliographic information