Recognizing the evolving definition and requirements of leadership, Heifetz Ronald and Linsky (2002) highlight the need for leaders to consider the skills and perspective to ensure their effectiveness. Leadership, as illustrated in Leadership on The Line–Staying alive through the Dangers of Leading? requires not only the accomplishment of goals but also the ability to respond effectively to the human realities of working in an organization. The books three parts provide steps in recognizing leadership challenges, developing responses and interventions and what competencies leaders must develop professionally and personally.
Marginalization, diversion, attack and seduction are identified as the main sources of resistance to leaders. At the same time, the authors also pay particular attention to the dangers within the leadership characterized as hunger for power and control and the difficulties in self-monitoring. The authors want to communicate to readers that there is a need for leaders to purse the development of their leadership skills. Despite the use of figurative characterizations in the book, the authors are practical and pragmatic in their discussion. The examples given, particularly in the Response section of the book is based on real life examples.
Examples which the readers can easily relate directly to or parallel to their own experience. The authors point out that the sources of resistance are natural to any leadership scenario and therefore can not be fully stopped and in fact, can also be safeguard against ineffective leadership However, they have to control through resistance-response skills which in turn allows leaders to function as they are needed. Critique There is no doubt that leadership is a difficult challenge. Thus, there has been no limitation of the number of literature that aim to develop strategies and competencies for it.
Unlike most literature in its genre that focuses on the development of attributes for effective leadership to become a leader, Ronald and Linsky discuss the development of leadership when one already holds office. The authors aim to provide a literature or guide to leaders who are already experiencing challenges in their roles due to a change in working scenarios or relationships. From the perspective of Heifetz and Linsky, what has become more critical for leaders to day has been the ability to go beyond their functions and respond to other people and at the same time eliciting a response from them.
Thus, beyond achieving goals set members, of the organization must understand why these goals are being pursued, that “people need to know that the stakes are worth it” (p. 94). At the same time, Heifetz and Linsky state that before any action can be take to address threats to effective leadership, leaders must be able to understand the “heart” of the issues before recognizing the actions, indications or “faces” determining the threats. The main message of the book is the need for leaders not just to be competent, sensitive or responsive.
They also must understand the their motivations for being so, the perspectives that can be taken, the methods that can be most effective and the implications of any perspective, opinion or action to be taken. Empathizing with the natural isolation of being the top man of an organization: there should be an acceptance that there will be member of the organization who would “undermine the clarity of his vision, delay his progress, and divert him from his core purposes” (p. 76). Thus, leaders while being advocated to be sensitive to their organization have to balance this with their resolve to accomplish organization goals.
Leaders should be then prepared to be questioned, doubted and even maligned for their decisions. Heifetz and Linsky reflect that leaders often view these are criticisms to their professional and personal capacity but they should also understand that these reactions, even when they are deliberate and malicious, occur as part of the dynamics leading and organizations. Reading the book, one of the most unique ideas that Heifetz and Linsky present, absent from most of the leadership literature that I have read, is the concept of pain and leadership. The authors’ views are ones that one can easily agree and even commiserate to.
The recognition of the fact that effective leadership has its pains and not just costs, both to the leader and the organization, is a perspective that makes the work effective and truly emphatic to the challenges of leadership. The view that leadership challenges, or resistance, is an ever present element in any organization does not discourage readers but actually motivates them to deal with them rather than trying to circumvent them. However, it should also be recognized that some of the examples or ideas presented may require significant experience to be understood comprehensively.
This is a particular challenge in the last section of the book where the authors delineate the introspective requirements for leaders. Nonetheless, the book provides critical insights to the realities of leadership and not just what it should be. More importantly, it is effective in motivating readers view leadership as continuing process of development and that there is a need to actively pursue effectiveness. Reference Heifetz, Ronald A. and Linsky, Marty (2002). Leadership on The Line–Staying alive through the Dangers of Leading, 1st Edition. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.