Heifetz and Linsky, Leadership on the Line


Ron Heifetz and Martin Linsky, Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading. Harvard Business School Press, 2002.

Referenced in: Summary

This is an excellent contribution to the field of literature on transformational and empowering leadership. In this inspiring sequel to Leadership Without Easy Answers, Heifetz and his Harvard colleague, Martin Linsky, address the reality that because adaptive leaders are willing to tackle tough conflict-ridden, belief-stretching issues, their leadership often causes pain for themselves and others. They become targets and are at risk of being hurt personally and professionally.

Is it possible for leaders to put themselves on the line, take on the risks, and survive to join followers in celebrating the success of their efforts? Heifetz and Linsky think so. Dozens of examples illustrate the five practices that heads of state, corporate executives, social activists, and others have followed to not only endure but to flourish in tough times.

Part Two of the book presents these five practices:

  1. Get on the balcony - step back, get on higher ground and maintain perspective.
  2. Think politically - stay connected to opponents without neglecting allies.
  3. Orchestrate the conflict - channel the anxiety toward what needs to be accomplished.
  4. Give the work back - keep the onus on those who need to make the changes.
  5. Hold steady - maintain focus under the heat.

Part Three: Body and Soul discusses important principles of self-care for leaders who are on the line such as understanding and managing one’s vulnerabilities and anchoring oneself in zones that are unchanging and nourishing.

**For a summary, click here for the Kindle Version, go to right column, and download the free sample. If you don’t have a free Kindle Reader on your computer, there’s a link for that too.

From the Publisher

Every day, in every facet of our lives, opportunities to lead call out to us. At work and at home, in our local communities and in the global village, the chance to make a difference beckons. Yet often, we hesitate. For all its passion and promise, for all its excitement and rewards, leading is risky, dangerous work.

Why? Because real leadership - the kind that surfaces conflict, challenges long-held beliefs, and demands new ways of doing things - causes pain. And when people feel threatened, they take aim at the person pushing for change. As a result, leaders often get hurt both personally and professionally.

In Leadership on the Line, renowned leadership authorities Ronald A. Heifetz and Marty Linsky marshal a half century of combined teaching and consulting experience to show that it is possible to put ourselves on the line, respond effectively to the risks, and live to celebrate our efforts. With compelling examples including the presidents of countries and the presidents of organizations, everyday managers and prominent activists, politicians and parents, the authors illustrate proven strategies for surviving and thriving amidst the dangers of leading. They also address often-neglected aspects of leadership, such as how to manage your personal vulnerabilities, and how to anchor yourself and sustain your spirit through tough times.

Both uplifting and practical, this essential book enables each of us to lead courageously and confidently-without losing ourselves.

About the Author

Ronald A. Heifetz and Marty Linsky are on the faculty at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Heifetz is the author of Leadership Without Easy Answers and Co-director of the school’s Center for Public Leadership. Linsky is Faculty Chair of many of the school’s executive programs, including Senior Officials in State and Local Government and Leadership for the 21st Century.

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