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Leadership Is an Art

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In what has become a bible for the business world, the successful CEO of Herman Miller, Inc., explores how executives and managers can learn the leadership skills that build a better, more profitable organization.

This revolutionary and thoughtful book offers an innovative style of business leadership for the 1990s--a humanistic approach that is responsible for the remarkable success of some of America's most admired and ...

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Leadership Is an Art

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Overview


In what has become a bible for the business world, the successful CEO of Herman Miller, Inc., explores how executives and managers can learn the leadership skills that build a better, more profitable organization.

This revolutionary and thoughtful book offers an innovative style of business leadership for the 1990s--a humanistic approach that is responsible for the remarkable success of some of America's most admired and best-managed companies.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780440503248
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 8/10/1990
  • Pages: 176
  • Product dimensions: 5.43 (w) x 8.06 (h) x 0.48 (d)

Meet the Author

Max DePree is chairman of the board of directors of Herman Miller, Inc., the primary innovator in the furniture business for sixty years and regularly included among the top twenty-five firms on Fortune's list of the the most admired companies in the United States. He is the author of the bestseller Leadership Jazz. Ma DePree was recently elected by Fortune magazine to the National Business Hall of Fame.
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Read an Excerpt

What Is Leadership?

The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between the two, the leader must become a servant and a debtor. That sums up the progress of an artful leader.

Concepts of leadership, ideas about leadership, and leadership practices are the subject of much thought, discussion, writing, teaching, and learning. True leaders are sought after and cultivated. Leadership is not an easy subject to explain. A friend of mine characterizes leaders simply like this: "Leaders don't inflict pain; they bear pain."

The goal of thinking hard about leadership is not to produce great or charismatic or well-known leaders. The measure of leadership is not the quality of the head, but the tone of the body. The signs of outstanding leadership appear primarily among the followers. Are the followers reaching their potential? Are they learning? Serving? Do they achieve the required results? Do they change with grace? Manage conflict?

I would like to ask you to think about the concept of leadership in a certain way. Try to think about a leader, in the words of the gospel writer Luke, as "one who serves." Leadership is a concept of owing certain things to the institution. It is a way of thinking about institutional heirs, a way of thinking about stewardship as contrasted with ownership. Robert Greenleaf has written an excellent book about this idea, Servant Leadership.

The art of leadership requires us to think about the leader-as-steward in terms of relationships: of assets and legacy, of momentum and effectiveness, of civility and values.

Leaders should /cave behind them assets and alegacy. First, consider assets; certainly leaders owe assets. Leaders owe their institutions vital financial health, and the relationships and reputation that enable continuity of that financial health. Leaders must deliver to their organizations the appropriate services, products, tools, and equipment that people in the organization need in order to be accountable. In many institutions leaders are responsible for providing land and facilities.

But what else do leaders owe? What are artful leaders responsible for? Surely we need to include people. People are the heart and spirit of all that counts. Without people, there is no need for leaders. Leaders can decide to be primarily concerned with leaving assets to their institutional heirs or they can go beyond that and capitalize on the opportunity to leave a legacy, a legacy that takes into account the more difficult, qualitative side of life, one which provides greater meaning, more challenge, and more joy in the lives of those whom leaders enable.

Besides owing assets to their institutions, leaders owe the people in those institutions certain things. Leaders need to be concerned with the institutional value system which, after all, leads to the principles and standards that guide the practices of the people in the institution. Leaders owe a clear statement of the values of the organization. These values should be broadly understood and agreed to and should shape our corporate and individual behavior. What is this value system based on? How is it expressed? How is it audited? These are not easy questions to deal with.

Leaders are also responsible for future leadership. They need to identify, develop, and nurture future leaders.

Leaders are responsible for such things as a sense of quality in the institution, for whether or not the institution is open to influence and open to change. Effective leaders encourage contrary opinions, an important source of vitality. I am talking about how leaders can nurture the roots of an institution, about a sense of continuity, about institutional culture.

Leaders owe a covenant to the corporation or institution, which is, after all, a group of people. Leaders owe the organization a new reference point for what caring, purposeful, committed people can be in the institutional setting. Notice I did not say what people can do--what we can do is merely a consequence of what we can be. Corporations, like the people who compose them, are always in a state of becoming. Covenants bind people together and enable them to meet their corporate needs by meeting the needs of one another. We must do this in a way that is consonant with the world around us.

Leaders owe a certain maturity. Maturity as expressed in a sense of self-worth, a sense of belonging, a sense of expectancy, a sense of responsibility, a sense of accountability, and a sense of equality.

Leaders owe the corporation rationality. Rationality gives reason and mutual understanding to programs and to relationships. It gives visible order. Excellence and commitment and competence are available to us only under the rubric of rationality. A rational environment values trust and human dignity and provides the opportunity for personal development and self-fulfillment in the attainment of the organization's goals.

Business literacy, understanding the economic basis of a corporation, is essential. Only a group of people who share a body of knowledge and continually learn together can stay vital and viable.

Leaders owe people space, space in the sense of freedom. Freedom in the sense of enabling our gifts to be exercised. We need to give each other the space to grow, to be ourselves, to exercise our diversity. We need to give each other space so that we may both give and receive such beautiful things as ideas, openness, dignity, joy, healing, and inclusion. And in giving each other the gift of space, we need also to offer the gifts of grace and beauty to which each of us is entitled.

Another way to think about what leaders owe is to ask this question: What is it without which this institution would not be what it is?

Leaders are obligated to provide and maintain momentum. Leadership comes with a lot of debts to the future. There are more immediate obligations as well. Momentum is one. Momentum in a vital company is palpable. It is not abstract or mysterious. It is the feeling among a group of people that their lives and work are intertwined and moving toward a recognizable and legitimate goal. It begins with competent leadership and a management team strongly dedicated to aggressive managerial development and opportunities. This team's job is to provide an environment that allows momentum to gather.

Momentum comes from a clear vision of what the corporation ought to be, from a well-thought-out strategy to achieve that vision, and from carefully conceived and communicated directions and plans that enable everyone to participate and be publicly accountable in achieving those plans.

Momentum depends on a pertinent but flexible research and development program led by people with outstanding gifts and unique talents. Momentum results when a corporation has an aggressive, professional, inspired group of people in its marketing and sales units. Momentum results when the operations group serves its customers in such a way that the customer sees them as their best supplier of tools, equipment, and services. Underlying these complex activities is the essential role of the financial team. They provide the financial guidelines and the necessary ratios. They are responsible for equity among the various groups that compose the corporate family.

Leaders are responsible for effectiveness. Much has been written about effectiveness--some of the best of it by Peter Drucker. He has such a great ability to simplify concepts. One of the things he tells us is that efficiency is doing the thing right, but effectiveness is doing the right thing.

Leaders can delegate efficiency, but they must deai personally with effectiveness. Of course, the natural question is "how." We could fill many pages dealing with how to be effective, but I would like to touch on just two ways.

The first is the understanding that effectiveness comes about through enabling others to reach their potential--both their personal potential and their corporate or institutional potential.

In some South Pacific cultures, a speaker holds a conch shell as a symbol of a temporary position of authority. Leaders must understand who holds the conch--that is, who should be listened to and when. This makes it possible for people to use their gifts to the fullest for the benefit of everyone.

Sometimes, to be sure, a leader must choose who is to speak. That is part of the risk of leadership. A leader must assess capability. A leader must be a judge of people. For leaders choose a person, not a position.

Another way to improve effectiveness is to encourage roving leadership. Roving leadership arises and expresses itself at varying times and in varying situations, according to the dictates of those situations. Roving leaders have the special gifts or the special strengths or the special temperament to lead in these special situations. They are acknowledged by others who are ready to follow them. (See "Roving Leadership.")

Leaders must take a role in developing, expressing, and defending civility and values. In a civilized institution or corporation, we see good manners, respect for persons, an understanding of "good goods," and an appreciation of the way in which we serve each other.

Civility has to do with identifying values as opposed to following fashions. Civility might be defined as an ability to distinguish between what is actually healthy and what merely appears to be living. A leader can tell the difference between living edges and dying ones.

To lose sight of the beauty of ideas and of hope and opportunity, and to frustrate the right to be needed, is to be at the dying edge.

To be a part of a throwaway mentality that discards goods and ideas, that discards principles and law, that discards persons and families, is to be at the dying edge.

To be at the leading edge of consumption, affluence, and instant gratification is to be at the dying edge.

To ignore the dignity of work and the elegance of simplicity, and the essential responsibility of serving each other, is to be at the dying edge.

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes is reported to have said this about simplicity: "I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity." To be at the living edge is to search out the "simplicity on the other side of complexity."

In a day when so much energy seems to be spent on maintenance and manuals, on bureaucracy and meaningless quantification, to be a leader is to enjoy the special privileges of complexity, of ambiguity, of diversity. But to be a leader means, especially, having the opportunity to make a meaningful difference in the lives of those who permit leaders to lead.
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Sort by: Showing all of 14 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 29, 2002

    A book from life

    Max De Pree (1992) in his book "Leadership is an Art" emphasizes the importance of relationships and values in leadership. According to DePree, ¿¿the art of leadership: liberating people to do what is required of them in the most effective and humane way possible¿. He discusses many key elements of Leadership. Creating and maintaining a health organisation culture I think is a foundation of the philosophy of De Pree. De Pree believes that each employee brings a unique set of gifts to an organisation and the role of leadership is to liberate and enable these gifts. The leader thought its behaviour and simple language can provide a clear vision that allows "intangible and crucial and fragile information" to guide strategy. Another aspect of leadership that De Pree gives importance is what he means covenant. The covenant according De Pree includes a set of rights between the members of the organisation. The rights include: to be needed, to be involved, to understand, to affects one's destiny to be countable, to appeal and to make a commitment.. Further, the covenant is founded on De Pree's concept of "intimacy". Intimacy according De Pree is a part of the experience of the ownership and is dependent on the leaders and employees beliefs. I think that the thinking of De Pree is affected form his personal and professional life. The leader is a facilitator not a producer of organizational success. The role of facilitator includes some unique responsibilities: Leaders should make a measured contribution. They must leave behind a legacy Leaders should generate momentum through a clearly articulated and shared vision Leaders should enable others and encourage leadership in others. Leaders should encourage participatory action where all members of an organization become committed to the organization¿s success Leaders must take a role in developing, expressing, and defending values De Pree supports that the leaders owe: The people of their institution A covenant to the corporation or institution A certain maturity The corporation rationality Leaders are obligated to provide and maintain momentum Leaders are responsible for effectiveness Leaders can delegate efficiency, but they must deal personally with effectiveness Leaders must take a role in developing, expressing and defending civility and values

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 11, 2002

    Quite Repetitive

    Depree really knows his stuff, but he says that same stuff over and over. Books like that lose my interest quickly. He also seems to have a big head on his shoulders about how great of a leader he is and how wonderful his company is. That's a bit of a turn-off for me.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 13, 2001

    Joel DePres thoughts on Leadership is an art

    I thought this was a excellent book, It worked as a text book one to look at for answers and also was field with good stories. This book was writen well and I enjoyed it. Joel DePree Johnson And Wales University

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 5, 2001

    Learn the Art with a Cup of Hot Java

    This book is a quickie. Go to B&N, grab a Starbuck's Frappacino, and learn the art of leading people. It's a treasure from DePree, who knows his stuff.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 8, 2000

    I Only Give Three Stars

    As I was reading this book, I heard the author speaking to me and reading the words on the page. Unfortunatly, this author is not a good story teller. His sentences are short and undescriptive. Don't get me wrong, I understand that leadership is not the most exciting topic to write about; however, DePree didn't make it very exciting to read about either. DePree states in the introduction that, 'the book is not filled with anecdotes.' It is my experience that when a book does not include working examples of its main ideas, (other than examples within the company that the author works for) it becomes more of a textbook than an entertaining read. However, DePree seems to be a very intelligent man with many good insights into the aspects of leadership. In my personal opinion, the book is filled with intelligent thoughts about leadership, but could use a bit more 'color.'

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 7, 2000

    The Art of Leadership

    While relatively small in size, this book speaks volumes on how the spirit of leadership should be. Yes, it is idealistic and the anecdotes are entertaining, but I believe it also proves useful to leaders striving to understand how to lead people in a way that benefits everyone. This book aspires to articulate that leaders must transform themselves, not the people around them. He challenges leaders to look beyond what they need, and instead focus on what they owe. DePree has a self-described Participative Management perspective and it is the continuous thread throughout the book. He focuses on how to create a collective culture within the organization which is ideally made up of employee-owners who are the epitome of his affirmation of identity within an organization - not to mention a competitive edge in the marketplace. These lofty aspirations can be actualized in the organizational world by incorporating the idea of 'roving leadership' and use of organizational 'giants' which are people within organizations who need to be sought out and let run free . . . through the act of roving leadership. In an attempt to define leadership, DePree lays the foundation upon which he feels successful leadership should be judged. His criteria for a leader are not based on a set of interchangeable personality characteristics, but instead a compilation of what a success leader does to fulfill his responsibilities and debts to both the organization and to the people he works for. DePree gives us three specific sentences which I think are not only insightful, but sums up the book's whole philosophy, 'The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between the two, the leader must become a servant and a debtor.' A rational environment is based on 'trust and human dignity while providing the opportunity for personal development and self-fulfillment in the attainment of the organization's goals.' For this environment to become obtainable, it is essential leaders and employees trust each other to be accountable for doing their jobs. If proper work ethics and accountability become evident, trust is built and leaders then feel confident giving the space and freedom we are owed as employees. DePree also has a lot to say about leaders being debtors. Leaders owe it to the organizations they work for and the people within it to share their assets to help people reach their inert potential. The leader's various responsibilities and debts are dependent upon the things the people in the organization need, from their leader, in order to become sufficiently accountable. Granted while leadership comes with debts to the future, DePree states a leader's day-to-day obligations are to uphold momentum levels within the organization. Momentum seems to be a buzz word for DePree and it takes on various personas within the organization. It is a feeling among employees that their lives and work are intermeshed and maneuvering toward a conspicuous and genuine goal. The trick to having momentum is to 'begin with a competent leader, a management team strongly dedicated to aggressive managerial development, and opportunities.' Cultivating vision throughout the organization is a vital part of this philosophy and can be achieved through momentum as well. Momentum has many other uses and is delineated. Overall, the scope of DePree's analysis seems to be ample. However, I feel the depth of discussions on each topic barely scrapes the surface. While maintaining a continuous theme of focusing on the individual's needs, I found some of the points to be slightly repetitive as opposed to constructively detailed. I do however, like DePree's suggestion of observing employees for tangible evidence of outstanding leadership. According to DePree, praiseworthy leadership manifests itself primarily as reached potential, as employees who learn while on the job, and as employees who achieve tasks - just to name

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 8, 2000

    Send in your resume

    I thought that Leadership is an Art was an excellent book. It was concise and a very easy read. Through his example of the Herman Moiller Co. DePree showed how an employer can, by sharing in potential and utilizing employee creativity, benefit thecompany as a whole. It is leadership that can help individuials reach their potential. DePree brought up an interesting type of leadership called roving leadership. These are the leaders that are there when we need them. This book reminds us that as a leader it is important to be an enabler of others. After all, if those you lead are not successful and do not reach their potential, you as a leader are not successful either. Read this book and you will seriously consider sending your resume to the Herman Miller Co.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 7, 2000

    Basic Leadership

    Although this was a good read, and had a lot of great information, I think that it just skimmed the surface. This would be a good book for the beginner in management or leadership, but if you have already read anything on the subject this would mainly serve as only an affirmation to what you have already heard. DePree gives a lot of great testimonies to back up his information, and that helps make this an enjoyable read.

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    Posted August 12, 2010

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    Posted October 30, 2010

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