On Leadership is an Art

I recently finished reading Leadership is an Art by Max De Pree. As Max best puts it: “This book is about the art of leadership: liberating people to do what is required of them in the most effective and humane way possible. It is not a book of facts or history. Though I like to tell stories, the book is not filled with anecdotes. Since it deals more with ideas and beliefs and relationships, it has to do with the “why” of institutional and corporate life rather than the “how”..Those results, however, are only a way to measure our resourcefulness at a point in time, mile markets on a long road. Why we get those results is more important. That’s what this book is about.”

The book is covers various leadership topics  such as communication, engagement, story telling etc. in a very concise and illustrated manner. Max adds a number of stories from his own experience at Herman Miller. This book forms a great leadership/management handbook, that should be kept at hand to server as a refresher and primer. As the author words it: “It will be worth a lot more to you if you finish it, if you have made it truly your own book.”

Below are selected excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:

1- “Any concept of work rises from an understanding of the relationship between pitchers and catchers alike…The right to be needed…The right to be involved…The right to a covenantal relationships…The right to understand…The right to affect one’s own destiny…The right to be accountable…The right to appeal…The right to make a commitment.”

2- “Roving leaders are those indispensable people in our lives who are there when we need them…Roving leadership is an issue-oriented idea. Roving leadership is the expression of the ability of hierarchical leaders to permit others to share ownership of problems – in effect, to take possession of a situation.”

3- “Just as any relationship requires honest and open communication to stay healthy, so the relationships within corporations improve when information is shared accurately and freely. The best way to communicate the basis of a corporation’s or institution’s common bonds and values is through behavior…What is good communication? What does it accomplish? It is a prerequisite for teaching and learning. It is the way people can bridge the gaps formed by a growing company, stay in touch, build trust, ask for help, monitor for performance, and share their vision. Communication clarifies the vision of participative ownership as a way of building relationships within and without the corporation.”

4- “Good communication liberates us to do our jobs better. It is a simple as that. Good corporate communication allows us to respond to the demands placed on us and to carry out our responsibilities. This really means, too, that leaders can use communication to free the people they lead. To liberate people, communication must be based on logic, compassion, and sound reasoning.”

5- “As a culture or a corporation grows older and more complex, the communications naturally and inevitably become more sophisticate and crucial. An increasingly large part that communication plays in expanding cultures is to pass along values to new members and reaffirm those values to old hands. A corporation’s values are its life’s blood. Without effective communication, actively practiced, without the art of scrutiny, those values will disappear in a sea of trivial memos and impertinent reports.”

6- “Performance reviews, done well, are a good way of re-examining goals, realigning principles and practices, and gauging progress. Everyone should do this. Reviewing performance should be done in a timely way, with the direct involvement of the person whose performance is being reviewed. Both the people and the process should be directed toward reaching human potential.”

7- “…While understanding is an essential part of organized activity, it just is not possible for everybody to know everything and understand everything. The following is essential: We must trust one another to be accountable for our own assignments. When that kind of trust is present, it is a beautifully liberating thing. ”


Omar Halabieh

Leadership is an Art

Leadership is an Art


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