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Action Inquiry: The Secret of Timely and Transforming Leadership [Paperback]

Bill Torbert
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 May 2004
Action Inquiry introduces readers to “action inquiry”—a type of disciplined leadership practice that increases the timeliness of one’s actions

Timely leadership action helps teams, organizations, and still larger institutions become more creative, more aware, more just, and more capable of self-transformation as warranted.

The book’s appendix describes the scholarly basis for the book’s claims, as well as how the practice of action inquiry transforms social science itself.


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Action Inquiry: The Secret of Timely and Transforming Leadership + How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work: Seven Languages for Transformation (Psychology)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 248 pages
  • Publisher: Berrett-Koehler (1 May 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 157675264X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1576752647
  • Product Dimensions: 23.7 x 14.7 x 1.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 58,311 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

About the Author

Now Professor of Management at the Carroll School of Management at Boston College, William Torbert has earlier served as the school’s Graduate Dean and Director of the PhD Program in Organizational Transformation.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
"By ""action inquiry,"" we mean a kind of behavior that is simultaneously productive and self-assessing." Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Terrific: a real bible of leadership 20 July 2008
By Ian
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Books on leadership typically fall into one of these categories:
* Airport business books with a snappy title and a breezy style. They are quick and easy to read, and offer tips, aphorisms and advice.
* "Here is how I did it" by a famous business leader offering the story of their struggle and their tips for success.
* Bandwagon drivel. An academic or writer, usually with no leadership experience or knowledge, publishes some garbage with leadership in the title because they sell. So many books fall into this category, unfortunately.
* Rare and true insight on what leadership is all about. Perhaps about 1% of leadership books fall into this category.

Action Inquiry is in the last category, offering rare and true insight.

People grow through different 'action logics', and these action logics reflect what meaning they make from events/circumstances and how they tend respond to those circumstances. For example, suppose someone strongly disagrees with you?

A 'diplomat' would interpret it as rejection, and tend to hide/flee from conflict.
An 'expert' would be certain the other person was wrong, and try to use arguments/data to persuade the other person, probably doing very little listening.
An 'achiever' would do more listening than an expert and try to find common ground, but still see the other person as a barrier/blocker to overcome.
A 'strategist' would be me much more adept at balancing listening and persuading, understanding the other person's point of view, finding the root cause of the disagrement, and exploring common ground. Strategist would be much more likely to see the disagreement as an opportunity to improve their own understanding rather than as a barrier to overcome.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Missing in method 14 Nov 2010
By Simon D
Format:Paperback
I have just completed a master's project where I used an Action Inquiry as a methodology. The fundamentals are simple; it is about learning to simultaneously act and reflect upon action and modify that action as necessary. It is a very challenging process to enact and therein lies my disappointment in this book. Despite a comprehensive discussion about the underlying principles and then a description of various action logics, I did not find they tied together particularly well. The other major aspect missing from this book is a method of Action Inquiry which I anticipate will leave readers, like me, a little bit at sea trying to implement what is proposed and move through the various action logics. However, I do have to say that once I found a method that worked from me, the outcomes were extremely positive.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Alive and kicking in organization terms 10 July 2014
By John Rowan VINE VOICE
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Brilliant and research based account of advanced management theory. Concept of levels of consciousness is used in convincing fashion. I loved it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fresh action awareness 20 Jan 2012
Format:Paperback
To live at one's leisure, performing work of value to others, listening into the dark, exercising presencing attention, and loving even what turns from the light in ourselves and others: this is one good way to express what it is in a lifetime of action inquiry that can be named "the secret of timely and transforming leadership".

'Who among us would voluntarily take on the continual suffering of witnessing the gaps among intentions, espoused values, actual practices, and outcomes in ourselves, in others, in organizations, and in larger social processes? Who struggles to transform such suffering, not into imprisoning neuroses or social victories at others' cost, but, rather, into emancipating consciousness that graces each meeting afresh?'

This book by Bill Torbert and his associates establishes, once and for all, that the ultimate objective function in life is continuous personal development.
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Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  10 reviews
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Unique ideas that work, but some shortcomings.... 2 Feb 2007
By Patrick D. Goonan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
ACTION-INQUIRY is a great book with lots of useful concepts. The editorial and other reviews focus on the content and I won't repeat a lot of that. However, I have some other comments to make that may be useful and I can describe my experience applying the ideas in daily life.

The authors introduce the idea that every action is an inquiry and every inquiry is an action. The premise of the book is that you need to be in inquiry in every moment at different levels to make the best choices and approach decisions with full awareness. This is a useful concept and it is illustrated throughout the book with many real-life business examples.

As a former director in a large company, I can say that these are practical ideas that if applied could be very transformational to an organization. The challenge is to really impliment them and not just pay lip service to the concepts. This must begin with the leaders. If they don't buy into the model, it will be difficult to get other people onboard, but not impossible. The book is about each individual being a change agent through action-inquiry.

What I didn't like about the book is that I found there were too many examples to illustrate the same basic concepts, there was also quite a bit of repetition of concepts and an unnecessary use of jargon where plain everyday language would have done just fine.

I think this book could have been half the length and been just as effective. I also think the author could have presented his ideas more clearly and concisely. In places, he uses different language for the various levels of inquiry and this tends to make the flow more confusing than it has to be. In the next revision, it would be good to see some of these issues addressed.

However, I still recommend this book to business and other leaders. In fact, it is useful for anyone who wants to live with more awareness and choice through tuning into various levels of inquiry in the midst of action. Basically, we are talking about taking a systems approach to life where we have practices that give us access to better quality feedback. This is the essence of the book.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Art and Science of Transformational Leadership 2 Aug 2004
By J L Ritchie-Dunham - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Does everyone in your organization do the best they can, as they see it, yet the organization still fails to achieve its desired results? Action Inquiry shows why this often happens and how to convert this seeming paradox into a transformational change, taking everyone and the organization to the next level of performance.

Whether we look at the level of the individual, project, organization, network, or society, we each follow a path of development over time. For example, I think about the world in a different way today than I did when I was 10, 20 or 30. Likewise, my organization sees the world different after 10 years of success than we did as a startup. Based on over forty years of observation in the field, Bill Torbert and his associates find that we often get stuck in early levels of understanding of the world, even as we grow older. While it's obvious that it is appropriate to act like a teenager when you are 16 and not when you are 30, when we apply this same developmental logic to organizational life, the authors find that most organizations get stuck in early levels of development (like the teenager) that were appropriate in the first years and not in later years.

To show us what can be done about this and its implications, the authors provide many examples of how the action inquiry approach helped these individuals and organizations grow to the next level, taking on a broader understanding of the reality that faced them, which led to greater value being created for all.

We can see that the evidence is mounting: those leaders who understand and work with an action inquiry approach to leadership and development create significantly more value for their organizations in the short term for the long term, sustainably. Based on rigorous theory and scientific evidence, this is the art and science of transformational leadership for leaders who can handle the truth.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best Leadership Book I've Ever Read 21 Nov 2008
By Mark Twain - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is probably the best book on leadership that I have ever read, for a few reasons.
1) It focuses on individuals, rather than "Leaders". Therefore, you don't need to already be a senior manager, a director, a partner, a VP, etc. to put these actions into place. You just need to focus on your own behavior and how you react to challenges.
2) It explicitly recognizes the fact that most of us go through life spending a large amount of time on "auto-pilot", not really thinking about how we interpret situations and react to them (never mind thinking about how our reactions are going to be interpreted by others!). Therefore, the basic premise that "every action is an inquiry, and every inquiry is an action" will be a challenge for most of us. However if this challenge is taken up, it will be incredibly powerful.
3) It focuses on simple human behaviors/cognitions that we have control over. It doesn't start with the premise that you can generate a jillion dollars worth of revenue for a massive organizational change effort. It starts with the premise that you have control over your brain and consequently how you interpret and react to situations. Therefore, the advice given here is highly actionable.
A great developmental opportunity awaits you!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book on transformative leadership that delivers on that promise 22 Aug 2013
By J. Montgomery - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The depth of wisdom and utility in Torbert's work is astounding. If a reader is in leadership--at work, home or in some type of organization--and feels the gap between where they want to be and where they are, then read this book. Torbert's book on action inquiry and transformative leadership gives the reader the tools to experience what it describes.
5.0 out of 5 stars A model to develop personal awareness for transformation 23 Jan 2012
By Marcos "Ronin" - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Have you ever wondered why individuals fail to change and organizations miss its desired results? Action inquiry is defined by Bill Torbert as: "the kind of behaviour that is simultaneously productive and self-assessing" (p.13). Influenced by the work of giants such as Argyris, Senge, Reason, and Wilber, there are three unique aspects about developmental action inquiry that I found interesting: (a) AI integrates action and inquiry simultaneously, (b) it can be applied by anybody and not just by executives, and (c) its impact reaches social system transformation and not just individual transformation.

Based on years of observation in the field, Bill Torbert and his associates successfully describe how to develop awareness and structurally explain the importance of single-loop feedback ( Behaviours/ operations), second-loop feedback (strategies/structures/goals), and triple-loop feedback (Attention/intention/ vision)and its application in the four territories of experience; namely: (a) outside events, (b) our own sense of performance, (c) our schemes, games and frequent ways of reflecting, and (d) presencing awareness or what he calls Intentional Attention.

I would suggest reading Gregersen's (INSEAD) book: "it starts with one" where the three reasons people and organizations fail to change are revealed. Action Inquiry helps readers understand the importance of developing personal awareness if what is intended is to overcome the fear to see the need to change.

A book that invites readers to develop the courage to face the truth of what is taking place in your world as a preliminary step in your own transformation.

I well written book that requires slow reading as to integrate the many ideas, models and approaches this scholarly work offers.

It Starts with One: Changing Individuals Changes Organizations
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