What qualities make a leader succeed in business or politics? In an era when the information revolution has dramatically changed the playing field - old organizational hierarchies have given way to fluid networks of contacts, and mistrust of leaders is on the rise - our ideas about leadership are clearly due for redefinition.

With The Powers to Lead, Joseph S. Nye Jr., a professor and former dean at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, offers a sweeping look at the nature of leadership in today's world, in an illuminating blend of history, case studies, psychological research and more. Nye observes that many now believe the more authoritarian and coercive forms of leadership - the hard-power approaches of earlier military-industrial eras - have been mostly supplanted in postindustrial societies by soft-power approaches that seek to attract, inspire and persuade.

Nye, who is a frequent newspaper contributor and author of The Paradox of American Power: Why the World's Only Superpower Can't Go It Alone and Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics, argues, however, that the most effective leaders are actually those who combine hard- and soft-power skills in varying proportions depending on the situation. He calls this "smart power."

Drawing upon examples from the careers of leaders as disparate as Gandhi, Winston Churchill, Lee Iacocca and George W. Bush, Nye uses the concept of smart power to shed light on several topics: leadership types and skills, the needs and demands of followers, and the nature of good and bad leadership in terms of both ethics and effectiveness. In one particularly instructive chapter, he looks in depth at contextual intelligence - the ability to understand changing environments, capitalize on trends and use the flow of events to implement strategies.

While this book looks at leadership from a very high level, it provides analyses and lessons grounded in the real world that's occupied by CIOs and world leaders. Good leaders are made, not born, Nye reminds us. And while leadership can be learned, he suggests that the best leaders possess emotional maturity and a "democratic, coaching managerial style."

 

It Starts with One

It Starts with One, by J. Stewart Black and Hal B. Gregersen

Wharton School Publishing, 2008

Today's organizations face constant change - sometimes on a massive scale. Yet bringing about change is extremely difficult. Fifty percent to 70 percent of all change initiatives fail, according to the authors of It Starts with One, a book to help people change so they can change organizations.

Authors J. Stewart Black and Hal B. Gregersen point out that just as road maps help us find where we are and where we want to go, mental maps guide daily behavior. Successful strategic change for an organization is about first changing individuals' maps and behaviors, because individuals are the organization. "Successful change is not systems such as information, pay or communication, but at the core it's people," the authors write. "If you cannot get the people to see the need for change, to make the needed changes and to follow through, then all the time and money spent on information systems, pay systems, communication systems or new organizational structures is wasted."

According to Black and Gregersen, barriers to change are the failure to see, move and finish. The book provides a set of tools, strategies and solutions to overcome each obstacle. The final chapters of the book explain how to pull all the different components together and apply the principles learned to make change happen in the real world by remapping behavior across-the-board.