Great Leadership thoughts from Dr. Ronald Heifitz…

I keep a file in my records of notes that I have taken in the past that were filled with top notch content.  These files contain the type of stuff that was good then, and you know it will be good when you pull it back out months or years later.

One of the files I recently came across was from a leadership lecture I heard at the Harvard Divinity School.  The speaker was Dr. Ronald Heifitz, who has published a number of best selling leadership books.

Below are some of my favorite quotes.  Great stuff that would be fun to discuss and debate:


“I don’t ever draw a bottom line on whether someone is a leader or not.  In fact, I don’t like to ever use the word ‘leader.’  I prefer the word ‘leadership,’ and believe we can all lead on some days and on other days we don’t.”

“Leadership is much more of an activity – something you do – than something you are.  Don’t bottom line it.  Study the activity.”

Definition of Leadership: “Mobilizing people to step up to the plate to tackle a difficult challenge.”

“Passing judgment on history is easy.  How do we gain tools and fuel so that we can practice leadership on behalf of the communities we serve?”

“Taking an authority position within your community doesn’t mean you are taking leadership.”

Common definition of leadership: if you have people that are following you.  The reason that is a distortion is because that equates leadership with social dominance or positions of authority.

MLK as an example: “He had formal authority over an organization (SCLC).  He could hire and fire people. But that is not where he exhibited leadership.  Where he exhibited leadership was in a much broader circle. He had a moral, internal authority over a great deal of people who looked to him to embody and lead them towards a life of justice and peace. But even that was not his broadest circle of leadership.  What made him effective was his capacity to stimulate, provoke and agitate the broadest circle – those who were engaging in injustice – to rethink their values and morality.  He mobilized people into arguing with their families and friends and began a movement. These people didn’t see themselves as followers of King.  If you would have asked them if they were followers of King they would have spit in his face.  The inner and mid inner circle was those that was the base of his power, but his leadership was manifesting itself in the outer circle.  King’s power manifested itself greatest in the circle that was never his followers.”

“Leadership is stimulating and provoking people to look at the gap between what people say they stand for and what they actually do; it is to cause people to re-evaluate; it is to look at the gap between our values and operation.  The Civil Rights Movement was going after the gap between our stated values of equality and rights and the way we actually lived.  Every organization has this gap.”

One response to “Great Leadership thoughts from Dr. Ronald Heifitz…”

  1. PaulJenkins33 Avatar

    There’s very few good leaders in our current society and they seem to have lost vital and simple leadership skills like humility or constructive criticism. I’ve recently read a very interesting book on this very subject. It’s called “Are leaders born or made?” by David Grabovac and it beautifully compares today’s leaders and society to famous leaders of the past and their respective leadership skills. Very interesting and insightful, highly recommend it.

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