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BW Businessworld

Going Deep On Leadership

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Nannerl Keohane, the Laurance Rockefeller professor of public affairs at Princeton University, is an interesting author as far as leadership is concerned. She has spent most of her life as a political scientist, with a particular focus on the history of political theories. Her forte is not leadership or success (two terms that authors often use interchangeably), but in approaching complex global issues with the analytical tools of political philosophy. And why is this a good thing? Because enough has already been said and written about leadership that it is high time we listened to some original voices. And Keohane does it well in Thinking About Leadership. She effectively combines two relevant types of experiences — her service as president of two institutions of higher education (Wellesley College and Duke University) and her training as a political theorist. By bringing these together, she captures those aspects of leadership that might not be noticed by someone who lacks either sort of background.

The book's larger purpose is to invite readers to join in thinking through some dilemmas we need to sort out to understand leadership fully — those that are never addressed by self-help manuals. The book explores deeper questions such as the definition of leadership, connections between leaders and followers, personality characteristics and the different contexts in which they are applicable.

The author also explores trickier questions such as whether women lead differently, and does gender makes a difference to leadership. That said, the book is theory-heavy and hence, it is not meant for those who are looking out for a light read that offers a set of quick fix rules. It is for those who want to think deeper about the discipline of leadership.

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 20-06-2011)