"The Powers to LEAD" - by Joseph Nye

Saturday, January 2, 2010

One and half years back, I had bought this book, "The Powers to Lead" written by Joseph Nye, Professor at Harvard Kennedy school of government. Looking at the amount of dust it carried over the last many months, i decided to finish reading this book as soon as I can: as one of my resolution for the new year;  glad i could finish it in two days!

Ever since the ruling power was transitioned from Kings to the Presidents and Prime Ministers, the interest in leadership studies received a new momentum. So far there have been 8 major theories of leadership. "Trait-centered approach dominated the scene up to the late 1940s, but scholars found it impossible to identify all the traits that predicted leadership under all conditions." Later scholars tried to figure out all the variables which could determine good leadership. But it was difficult to make a complete study by keeping some variables (of leadership) unchanged and allowing others to change. Simply because good leadership is determined by many variables depending on the given context. There have been number of efforts to study leadership based on "situations", "behaviors of leaders under specific circumstances", "Participation", "management", etc... But so far scholars haven't been able to come up with a comprehensive theory which can help societies to "create" good leaders who can change the lives around.

Professor Nye attempts to helps us understand "who is a good leader?", by focusing his analysis on the types of leaders needed for modern democratic organizations and societies. "He uses examples of political, social, and business leaders to illustrate various leadership styles, and he invites the reader to reconsider some accepted wisdom about leadership by introducing new approaches". Prof. Nye coined a new term and called it "Soft Power" to explain leadership (and power). He says, " Police power, financial power, and the ability to hire and fire are the examples of tangible, 'hard power' that can be used to get others to change their position. Hard power rests on inducements (carrots) and threats (sticks). But sometimes one can get the outcomes one wants by setting the agenda and attracting others without threat or payment. This is Soft Power: getting the outcomes one wants by attracting others rather than manipulating their material incetives. It co-opts people rather than coerces them".

He completely rules out the traditional argument that leaders are born and cannot be made. "Leaders can be made", he reiterates. Prof Nye gives various examples on hard and soft power and makes an in depth analysis of leadership under various contexts: public, private and social. Porf Nye finds out that, "the most effective leaders are actually those who combine hard and soft power skills in proportions that vary with different situations." He calls this "Smart Power". He emphasizes more on the context and leader's contextual intelligence for good leadership. He has dedicated one full chapter to analyze "good leaders and bad leaders". With wide ranging examples, he cogently explains how one can manipulate or balance hard and soft powers under various circumstances to become a good leader.

At the end of his book, it is interesting to note Professor Nye agreeing, "Leadership is not learned primarily from books, but books like this can help make people more aware of the lessons of the history.... Art history does not produce great painters, but it can help develop and educate intuitions." Certainly, this book from Professor Nye can help anyone build and strengthen the intuitions needed for being a better leader in the information age.

Pages: 145, (Total: 226)
Price: $21.95, Rs. 450 (hardcover)
Publisher: Oxford University Press.

See Also:
  1. Prof. Nye on Soft Power - Watch on Youtube [50 mins].
  2. Book Review by Christine Feroli.
  3. Buy this book on Amazon.
  4. Quick overview of this book.

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This work by Manjunath Singe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License. The views and opinions expressed in this work are strictly those of the author and do not represent his employer's views in anyway.