Leading Change: A book review by Bob Morris

Posted on: June 24th, 2011 by bobmorris

Leading Change: The Argument for Values-Based Leadership
James O’Toole
Ballantine Books (1995)

“Why aren’t they following me?”

It is extremely difficult to overcome what James O’Toole calls “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.” In Leading Change O’Toole explains the causes of resistance. Only by understanding those causes can a leader overcome them. O’Toole insists that organizations and their leaders must not simply change to accommodate new realities. To do so would merely be expediency. Also, such accommodation could create other (perhaps even more painful) new realities. Organizations must transform themselves constantly and effectively while, and here is a key point, sustaining certain non-negotiable core values.

According to O’Toole, “today’s executives believe they are struggling with an unprecedented leadership challenge to create internal strategic unity within a chaotic external environment…Executives know what needs to be done and even how to do it. Nonetheless, they are unable to lead change effectively. Explaining the sources of this paradox and offering a practical way to resolve it are the purposes of this book.”

After many years of active involvement with all manner of organizations, O’Toole obviously understands why there is such great resistance to change. Also, he knows why visionaries such as Robert Owen fail to attract the support they need. However the magnificence of a given vision, only effective leadership can ensure that such a vision has a sustainable, enduring impact.

O’Toole concludes this brilliant book with a rejection of leadership by command, manipulation, or paternalism…insisting once again that only value-based leadership can be both moral and effective. “Once a leader makes that commitment, all the other pieces will eventually fall into place, bit by bit.”

Those who admire this book as much as I do are encouraged to read the recently published Leadership A to Z in which O’Toole provides a “guide for the appropriately ambitious.” It is a stunning intellectual achievement. Also, with the O’Toole wit in top form, it is also a joy to read.

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