Much of the contextual material in this volume is out-of-date, given the fact that the eight articles originally appeared in the Harvard Business Review years ago (1975-1998). However, I think the core concepts remain sound and provide a valuable frame-of-reference for understanding the advances in effective decision making that have occurred during the last five years. For example, if anything, Henry Mintzberg's article ("The Manager's Job") is even more relevant today than it was when it first appeared in the July/August issue in 1975. In it, he examines "four myths about the manager's job that do not bear up under careful scrutiny of the facts," such as "the manager is a reflective, systematic planner." In fact, Mintzberg suggests that managers work "at an unrelenting pace, that their activities are characterized by brevity, variety, and discontinuity, and that they are strongly oriented to action and dislike reflective activities." Mind you, this was an opinion expressed more than 30 years ago.
No brief commentary such as this can do full justice to the rigor and substance of the eight articles. It remains for each reader to examine the list to identify which subjects are of greatest interest to her or him. My own opinion is that all of the articles are first-rate. One of this volume's greatest benefits is derived from the fact that a variety of perspectives are provided by a number of different authorities on the same general subject. In this instance, leadership.
Readers will especially appreciate the provision of an executive summary that precedes each article. They facilitate, indeed expedite frequent review of key points which - presumably - careful readers either underline or highlight. Also of interest is the "About the Contributors" section that includes suggestions of other sources to consult. Here are questions to which the authors of the other seven articles respond:
What do leaders do? (John P. Kotter)
Comment: "Institutionalizing a leadership-centered culture is the ultimate act of leadership."
How do managers and leaders differ? (Abraham Zaleznik)
Comment: "Managers see themselves as conservators and regulators of an existing order of affairs with which they personally identify and from which they gain rewards [whereas] leaders tend to be twice-born personalities, people who feel separate from their environment."
How do "defining moments" help to develop character? (Joseph L. Badaracco, Jr.)
Comment: "Defining moments force us to find a balance between our hearts in all their idealism and our jobs in all their messy reality."
Note: In Leading Quietly (2002) and then Questions of Character: Illuminating the Heart of Leadership Through Literature (2006), Badaracco develops in greater depth many of the core concepts introduced in this article.
What are the ways in which CEOs lead? (Charles M. Farkas and Suzy Wetlaufer)
Comment: "No matter where a company is located or what it makes, its CEO must develop a guiding, overarching philosophy about how he or she can best add value.... A leadership approach is a coherent, explicit style of management, not a reflection of personal style. This is a critical distinction."
Why are there so few great managers? (Thomas Teal)
Comment: "Great management involves courage and tenacity. It closely resembles heroism."
How to lead others during adaptive change? (Ronald A. Heifetz and Donald L. Laurie)
Comment: "Solutions to adaptive challenges reside not in the executive suite but in the collective intelligence of employees at all levels."
"Whatever happened to the take-charge manager?" (Nitin Nohria and James D. Berkley)
Comment: "Pragmatists understand that it is unrealistic to try to avoid uncertainty. Attempts to deny or ignore it can blind managers to the real contexts in which they are working and prevent them from responding effectively."
Those who share my high regard for this volume are urged to check out the recently published Harvard Business Review on Making Smarter Decisions as well as other series title in the Harvard Business Review Paperback Series such as those on Becoming a High-Performance Manager, Change, Corporate Strategy, Decision Making, Effective Communication, the Innovative Enterprise, Leadership, Leadership at the Top, and Measuring Corporate Performance.