Indispensable: When Leaders Really Matter

Indispensable: When Leaders Really Matter

by Gautam Mukunda


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Indispensable: When Leaders Really Matter by Gautam Mukunda

Will your next leader be insignificant—or indispensable?

The importance of leadership and the impact of individual leaders has long been the subject of debate. Are they made by history, or do they make it?

In Indispensable , Harvard Business School professor Gautam Mukunda offers an enticingly fresh look at how and when individual leaders really can make a difference. By identifying and analyzing the hidden patterns of their careers, and by exploring the systems that place these leaders in positions of power, Indispensable sheds new light on how we may be able to identify the best leaders and what lessons we can learn, from both the process and the result.

Profiling a mix of historic and modern figures—from Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln to Winston Churchill and Judah Folkman—and telling the stories of how they came to power and how they made the most important decisions of their lives, Indispensable reveals how, when, and where a single individual in the right place at the right time can save or destroy the organization they lead, and even change the course of history.

Indispensable will also help you understand this new model so you can use it in your own life—whether you’re a citizen casting a ballot, an executive choosing your next CEO, or a leader trying to make your mark.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781422186701
Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press
Publication date: 09/04/2012
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 670,575
Product dimensions: 6.46(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.06(d)

About the Author

Gautam Mukunda is an assistant professor in the Organizational Behavior Unit at Harvard Business School. Before joining the HBS faculty, he was the National Science Foundation’s SynBERC Postdoctoral Fellow at MIT’s Center for International Studies. His research focuses on leadership, international relations, and the political, economic, and social implications of innovation and technological change.

Table of Contents

Preface ix

1 Hunting the High-Impact Leader 1

2 Enter the Presidents 21

3 "It Is the Whole Colony": Jefferson and the Louisiana Purchase 37

4 "The Best of Us": Lincoln and the Civil War 63

5 "We Can Always Depend on Mr. Wilson": Wilson, the Senate, and the Treaty of Versailles 97

6 "Crashed into Ruins": Chamberlain and Appeasement 125

7 "We Shall Never Surrender": Churchill and the Choice to Fight 155

8 Beyond Politics: The Royal Navy, Business, and Non-Normal Science 191

9 The Tragedy-and Potential Triumph- of Leadership 219

Acknowledgments 241

Appendix: Statistical Test of US Presidents 243

Notes 251

Bibliography 215

Index 291

About the Author 301

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“It makes for fascinating reading…” — Tom Friedman, The New York Times

“In his new book, Indispensable, Gautam Mukunda, of Harvard Business School, uses Lincoln to examine one of the liveliest debates in modern management—whether insiders or outsiders make better bosses.” — The Economist

“Gautam Mukunda, with his book Indispensable and its cornerstone leader filtration theory (LFT), provides a significant new contribution to, first, organization studies in general and, second, leadership theory in particular.” — Organization Studies, SAGE journals

“Associations seeking a CEO will benefit from Mukunda's leadership research and examples, as well as his six guidelines for increasing the chances of a successful hire…Mukunda's conclusions are likely to inspire rich dialogue among board members and CEOs.” — Associations Now Magazine (asae: The Center for Association Leadership)

“In reviewing the life of some of the greatest leaders in history, Gautam Mukunda offers us a vision of leadership that is fascinating and original.” — Business Digest (France)

Advance praise for Indispensable:

Steven Pinker, Harvard College Professor of Psychology, Harvard University; author, The Better Angels of Our Nature and How the Mind Works
Indispensable is indispensable—an eye-opening analysis of how we should evaluate leaders in our politics and our organizations, and a set of gripping narratives about some of the most fascinating people who have ever lived.”

Doris Kearns Goodwin, Pulitzer Prize–winning author and presidential historian—
Indispensable provides a masterly, absorbing, and exceptionally original approach to the age-old study of leadership.”

Clayton M. Christensen, bestselling author, The Innovator’s Dilemma
“I have studied innovation and change from many dimensions. Somehow, however, I had simply assumed that the right leader can be selected to effect the changes required. Indispensable has taught me that I was woefully naive. This is a great book.”

Kenneth C. Frazier, Chairman, President, and CEO, Merck & Co—
Indispensable provides fascinating insights into how leaders are shaped by their unique personal and professional journeys and by the context of their times. Whether they were focused on saving countries, saving companies, or saving lives, the individuals profiled here are memorably illuminated through Mukunda’s sharp and engaging analysis.”

David Gergen, Professor of Public Service, Harvard Kennedy School; senior political analyst, CNN—
“Why do some leaders change the course of human events, while others find themselves not quite up to the task when history knocks? In a study that applies to business as well as to civil society and politics, Mukunda explores the ‘filtration’ systems through which we choose our leaders, providing fresh and fascinating insights.”

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Indispensable: When Leaders Really Matter 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
danm6 More than 1 year ago
Indispensable: When Leaders Really Matter by Gautam Mukunda represents a unique contribution to the study of leadership and organizations. As the author has pointed out, we have been debating the importance of an individual leader for over two thousand years. Intuitively, it seems that leaders are very important. Off the top of one’s head, one could argue how different things would have been without Alexander the Great, or Napoleon, or Lincoln, or Hitler leading their nation. Yet, when social scientists have looked for this, they have not been able to pin down any particular quality that could be used as a touchstone for great leaders. In the last 30 years in particular, the prevailing hypothesis has been that leaders are so constrained by internal and external factors that any one of a number of competent people could be interchanged, and their actions would be close to the same. In his research, Mukunda has identified two different types of leaders between which there is a profound difference: filtered and unfiltered leaders. Not only has he done that, he has found a way to measure the difference in a manner that in breathtaking in the strength and the robustness of the signal he has found. To illustrate this, he has chosen a handful of examples and woven narratives that brings his innovation to life before our eyes. In the stories of leaders such as Jefferson, Lincoln, Chamberlin and Churchill, he lets us get the taste and feel of the differences between a well filtered and an unfiltered leader. He lets us understand not only that there are occasions where leaders matters, he opens the door to how one leader could have been replaced by one of several alternatives with no effect, while another produced results that others would not have. He has also left us asking for more. Each story left us wanting to know still more about the fascinating people he used to illustrate his discovery. And, his discovery has opened up a vast new territory for exploration, one I hope to see fruitfully explored in the years ahead. Indispensable: When Leaders Really Matter is a book to be treasured. It presents an innovation in an age old field of inquiry as well as being a very enjoyable read. I highly recommend it.