The Truth About Leadership: Summary & Review

the truth about leadership

In The Truth About Leadership authors Barry Posner and James Kouzes share their findings on what makes great leadership, as per the results of their own large-scale survey.

Bullet Summary

  • Leaders are the people nearest to us, not the big names and heads of companies
  • Great leadership is great leadership regardless of generation or culture
  • Leadership can be learned and improved upon


Posner and Kouzer start by saying that albeit much has changed in the world and the generations are much different than the preceding ones, the concept of leadership has not really changed.
As the authors say:

Good leadership is good leadership, regardless of age

Fundamental Truths About Leadership

The authors list a few key fundamentals truth that emerged from their research:

  1. You have to believe in yourself: before you can make an impact on anyone, you have to believe you can make a positive impact
  2. Credibility is the foundation of leadership: others have to believe in you as well. Competence, your track record, and your ability to get things done is a key element of credibility
  3. Your values drive commitment: what do you stand for? What do you care about? Leaders must be self-aware to provide (emotional) security in times of incertitude. You must know your why, and to be credible you must make sure your values are aligned with your organization
  4. Focusing on the future: if you don’t know where you’re going or what you’re trying to achieve, how can you ever lead? Leaders must be forward thinkers: spend time thinking about the future and talk about it
  5. Leaders need a team: a leader cannot go at it alone and needs others. To foster a team a leader must do what’s best for others, not for himself. Emotional intelligence is key and a good relationship with the team has been proven to lead to better results. If IQ is not accompanied by EQ it’s more of a predictor of failure, says the author
  6. Trust rules: trust is the glue holding the team together. To earn trust do what you say you will do and take responsibility for mistakes
  7. Challenge leads to greatness: it’s during challenging times that leaders can get the most out of their teams and achieve greatness
  8. Leaders lead by example: as a leader, you must go first. You either lead by example or you don’t lead at all (also read Leaders Eat Last)
  9. Best leaders keep learning: the best leaders have a growth mindset and strive to always improve
  10. Leadership is an affair of the heart: trying to separate emotions from “business” and decisions is a mistake. Leaders are in love with their teams, company, products, and customers

Leaders Are The People Closest to Us

The authors quote statistics to make the point that we are wrong in thinking that the biggest leaders and influences are famous people or the people at the very top of the organizations.

The leaders that most impact might be people who are above or more advanced than us… But who are still very close to us.
77% of people said their role model was, in the order, one of the following:

  1. A family member
  2. A teacher or a coach
  3. A religious leader / religious community

In any organization, the leader who has the most impact is the direct bosses, and not the upper management or the CEO.

That means that chances are that you can soon have someone looking up to you as a leader.
What kind of leadership are you going to provide?

Someone is looking up to you right now for leadership

Learning Leadership

The authors say that learning comes before good leadership. Learning is the master skill, and when you engage fully in it, you are bound to experiment with the thrill of improvement and the taste of success.

Here the authors talk about growth mindset –check Carol Dweck’s book– and deliberate practice -check The Talent Code-.

Leadership Is a Matter of The Heart

I must quote the authors here because it’s just too beautiful and poetic:

Nothing external is going to save us: not government, not companies, not technologies, not heroes on white horses. But imagine what can be done when people experience the power of the human heart.


Love is the soul of leadership.

You don’t love someone because of who they are. You love them because of how they make you feel.

The authors say that we businesses often try to make business something different than emotions and feelings, but they say that everything being equal we work harder for people we like.

That makes a lot of sense, yet I can see quite a few caveats to add here -read the “cons” section for a bit more details.

The purpose of leadership is to create a legacy, not a legend.

Real-Life Applications

Make Sure Your Values Align to Your Organization
God, I can’t stress this enough. Whenever my values were not aligned with my employer I was never motivated to do anything and I could have not led a bee to a honey-hive


Surveys Are Not Great Data
I loved The Leadership Challenge, it’s straight and to the point, and what it ways makes sense.
Yet most of its data seems to come from surveys, and what people say is often much different than what they really feel or do.

Leadership is a Matter of The Heart??
The author quotes Goleman and emotional Intelligence to make the point that great leaders demonstrate more affection to others and others to them and that’s what the authors refer to when they say that “leadership is a matter of the heart”.

Yet Emotional Intelligence 2.0 shows that while managers have high EQ, CEO have less EQ than middle managers. Hence I gotta wonder when this relationship really holds


Simple, without any frills, The Truth About Leadership goes to the core of what it means to be a great leader.

the truth about leadership


Kouzes and Posner, also authors of The Leadership Challenge, are big names when it comes to leadership literature.

And The Truth About Leadership does not disappoint: short and to the point, it goes to the core of what leadership is really all about.

Check the best books collection or get the book on Amazon

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