Book Reviews

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Book Review of Leaders: Their Stories Their Words - Conversations with Human-Based Leaders

An Intimate Reveal of Human-based Leaders
By Dr. Clare Elizabeth Carey
Director, Education & Training, Texas Cryptologic Center
Past President and Board of Director, International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI)

Imagine you are in a cozy living room sitting by a crackling fire, sipping your favorite drink, invisibly witnessing an intimate exchange between two friends. Such is the ambiance of Donna Karlin’s book, Leaders: Their Stories, Their Words.

Ms. Karlin takes you into the minds and hearts of twelve diverse and fascinating leaders with her relaxed yet provocative interviews. She elicits stories and shared memories that de-mystify the experiences of seasoned and successful leaders. In doing so, she reveals the common threads of human-based leadership.

According to Ms. Karlin, “human-based leaders marry a passion for what they do with compassion for those with whom they do it. When we’re lucky enough to be touched by them, our passion and our spirit are sparked by the encounter.” In this book, Ms. Karlin succeeds at igniting our senses, our emotions, and our experiences with influencing others and the world around us.

The book is beautifully designed with an artistic cover that immediately differentiates it from traditional books on leadership.  It is organized in twelve chapters, one for each featured leader. Each chapter begins with a contemporary or historical quote, followed by the transcript of the conversation and then summarized with the author’s reflections, which add yet another layer of interpretation of the preceding leader’s spirit.

Each chapter stands on its own which allows the reader to digest the conversations freely and in any order. Yet collectively, the common themes weave an intriguing tapestry about leadership. There is no one style, no specific formula, and no right way to achieve significant impact on the world. Each of Karlin’s leaders shares a belief in the value of people and a desire to make the world better. The results of their efforts offer evidence of their success.

Ms. Karlin’s insight and humility add powerful punch to each conversation. She connects with the leader reminiscing about a shared or unique experience, and then easily transitions to the myriad layers of the featured leader’s life journey. She elicits their deeper consciousness and gets them to reflect on the ingredients of their well earned wisdom. Their stories are powerful examples of investing in themselves in order to invest in others.

The range of featured leaders is both impressive and surprising with names both familiar and new. Ms. Karlin selected a cross section of professions; education, journalism, media, profit and non-profit business, military, government, defense and philanthropy. Initially, I was gravely disappointed that Ms. Karlin featured only one woman, fearing that her list would unintentionally support the traditional mindset of male-oriented leadership. However, as I progressed through the book savoring example after example of human-based leadership, I enjoyed a delightful epiphany. What better way to affirm the stewardship skills commonly attributed to women leaders, than to highlight numerous high-powered men who embrace valuing people over power, prestige and profit.

Ms. Karlin’s conversations create an opportunity to not only pause, relax and reflect on the lives of contemporary leaders but also to assess one’s own journey and next steps. This is a book that inspires the reader to consider their own values, behaviors and priorities just as an executive coach would.

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Book review of Leaders: Their Stories, Their Words

A book about effective Leadership in a world desperate for it.
By Gary Farb
Lawyer and Partner,
Clark, Farb, Fiksell Barristers & Solicitors,
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Few would argue that effective leadership matters. We live in a world where we are faced with unprecedented changes in our lives, changes we are required to understand, manage and navigate. And when we don’t know how, many of us instinctively turn to people, groups and organizations that can provide us with effective leadership.

In fact so many people today are seeking to understand the concepts and practices of leadership required to navigate the many changes we all face that there has been of late a veritable explosion of literature about leadership - Action-based leadership, Results-based leadership, Character-based leadership, Values-based leadership, to name but a few.

In fact here are so many different theories and models and traits of leadership and different domains of leadership each requiring different competencies or qualities in order to lead in that domain that the question becomes ‘How does one match today's array of leadership practices with the specific needs of their group, community or organization?’

How then does a reader best explore the topic of leadership?

  1. Context is decisive to understanding and meaning: All leadership must first be understood in context. Donna Karlin’s book introduces us to each leader’s organization in which the leader is providing leadership, including how its functions and how roles are integrated.
  2. Function: After understanding the context we need to get a basic sense of how management functions and how they are integrated into a team by the leader who leads the organization. Donna’s book does that as well.
  3. Finally, as a reader, I want to get a sense for how my abilities in leadership can be developed by reading any given book. Donna’s book connects me with the people she has chosen through their stories and in turn I learn to see and share my own.

But why select a book based on Human-based leadership?

Because it is among the most accessible new leadership paradigms gradually emerging.

Human-based leadership as articulated in the series of interviews conducted and reproduced by Donna Karlin in her book Leaders: Their Stories, Their Words is not about the quick fixes, buzzwords, and trends that typify many leadership books. Rather it focuses instead on the ontological bridge between leadership theory and leadership skills as manifested in the real world in real time.

A remarkable, if not landmark book, Leaders: Their Stories, Their Words subtly challenges much of the conventional wisdom found in books on leadership. The author, a world-renowned Shadow CoachTM to a diverse group of political and government leaders, corporate leaders, educators and medical professional, among others, shows us that the personal traits of leaders such as character, knowledge, style, and values- the attributes of leadership, are all connected through what Karlin coins as a “sense of humanness”

As Donna Karlin wrote in her Introduction, Leaders: Their Stories, Their Words provides a first-hand account of “human-based leaders: their drivers, their passions, what got them to where they are now, what keeps them there, and what will move them forward into a future they love.” By reading these stories Karlin intends that we be empowered to succeed with our own leadership challenges.

She first contacted global leaders from many different areas of expertise, from genetic research (clearly speaking to those with a high level of scientific training) to journalists to political leaders. The result is twelve interviews with twelve top leaders with different professional passions and from many different disciplines.

In this series of extraordinary stories of human-based leadership we get to see leadership presented as manifesting a leader's inner perspective on the purpose of life and leadership such that this inner perspective is the source for their decisions and actions. From their stories we get to see what it looks like on the court of real life to lead from that “sense of humanness” as opposed to the power-based leaders with whom we are all familiar. We get to experience what it means to lead from a perspective of caring and of stewardship.

We also get increasing clearer about what it means to lead from a “sense of humanness”.  Among other things it indicates paying attention and, being mindful of those around you, and leading them through impact, inspiration, caring, and recognition of their unique talents and strengths. It also indicates that the characteristics of a human-based leader can serve as the foundation for leadership that considers ethics, social responsibility and concern for the environment.

More inspiring, we clearly get to see that there are leaders that are not concerned with being the best in the world but rather being best for the world; people who blend together user-generated content with expert-generated insights; people who blend together traditional and social leadership, and people who can obtain for themselves happiness, full self-expression, freedom, respect, and peace of mind while at the same time serving the needs of all those affected by their leadership. It is a book about the power of leaders to relate to others, create and maintain relationships, such that they have power with people, not power over people.

Donna Karlin’s book Leaders: Their Stories, Their Words is a book that can and will seed many conversations. Among the more telling is the question “Is there a difference between being the best in the world and being best for the world?’ and ‘In asking the question where do you consider yourself in relation to that question?’ What remains is for each of us to answer that question.