What is it about leadership that excites the minds of scholars and practitioners that so many of them,
Joe Raelin being the latest, can continue to reformulate what this concept is really all about? Perhaps it is
our tradition of being in awe of those who inspire us or who guide us to accomplishments we never
thought possible. Perhaps it is from a sense of appreciation for those who lead that we continue to try to
understand what they do and how they do it.
The more we write and read about leadership per se, the more we may be stuck in its traditional
paradigm that equates leadership with individual competence or position. What Raelin makes clear (and
argues for passionately) is that the value of leadership is not in ascribing it to some person or some defined
or orchestrated role but in realizing it as a practice and skill. We are all capable of leaderful practice.
If our aim is to create organizations that endure and produce something of lasting value, then any
concern for building leaders creates temporal value, while building leaderful organizations ensures longterm
results. A leaderful organization is one where employees feel free to take action that is consistent
with its mission. In effect, the model that Raelin presents in his book dtransforms leadership from anindividual property into a new paradigm that redefines leadership as a collective practice (p. 5). It is a
paradigm that has parallels to other domains from empowerment to creativity. For example, in their
recent book Creativity, Mauzy and Harriman (2003) claim that the key role of leadership is to foster
systemic creativity and that everyone has the potential to be creative.
I do not know how much of this trend to diffuse responsibility for leadership or creativity comes from
the impact of organizational downsizing, the pressures to increase productivity, or, as Raelin claims, the
need for organizations to be more nimble and responsive to change. Perhaps it does not matter since our
challenge is how best to respond to the trends in our environment. The trend that Raelin is riding is the
move to expedite change and to get everyone involved in that process. There seems no better way to do
this than to encourage all employees to act as leaders in their own domains. Workers need no longer wait
to be led; formal applications for employment are still required but not for being leaderful.
Being a leader means that people turn to you for ideas, direction, inspiration, support, and hope. In a
leaderful organization, individuals are encouraged to evoke some intrinsic source for behaviors, skills,
and attitudes that are consistent with culturally defined versions (and visions) of leadership. Perhaps this
trait is the inevitable development of what Peter Senge referred to as personal mastery. When we are
masterful, we practice leadership and learning; the key for organizations is to have employees who are
self-sufficient and self-assured.
To differentiate leaderful practice from traditional views of leadership, Raelin relies on four
characteristics or contrasting, bipolar dimensions. It is not clear whether these dimensions are completely
independent or where they come from, but they are provocative and they do create a useful template
within which Raelin expounds on his ideas. The four tenets, as Raelin calls them, pertain to the
experience of leadership in one or many places (serial vs. concurrent), the embodiment of leadership in
one or many individuals (individual vs. collective), the role or style of leadership to direct and controlrather than dialogue and collaborate (
controlling vs. collaborative), and the sensitivity of leaders to thedignity of others (dispassionate vs. compassionate). Traditional, old-style leaders can be characterized
by the first set of extreme categories (serial, individual, controlling, and dispassionate); Raelin labels this
configuration conventional leadership. The second contrasting set of categories (concurrent, collective,collaborative, and compassionate) typifies what Raelin highlights as
leaderful practice and what
organizations need to move towards.
This contrast in styles is mindful of managerial choices to act on the basis of theory X versus theory Y
assumptions. When that distinction was first highlighted by McGregor, many management pundits took
it to mean that all managers should hold theory Y assumptions. What we have come to understand over
time is that an informed choice is situational. In making as strong a case as possible for leaderful
practice, Raelin does not elaborate on conditions that may yet call for conventional leadership. However,
he does claim that today’s new forms of organization structure and the need for companies to promote
creativity, flexibility, and rapid responsiveness to changing circumstances require leaderful practice.
Companies do not have the luxury to wait for leaders on high to make decisions when their customers
want immediate answers or when employees recognize problems or see precursors to accidents.
Raelin’s book is organized in a meaningful and helpful way—10 chapters grouped in two main parts
followed by endnotes for each chapter. In Part I, Raelin defines and makes his case for leaderful practice
and explains how to get started. One way is to take his leadership questionnaire that is conveniently
located in the book.
In Chapter 3, Raelin is wise to acknowledge early on that implementing leaderful practice requires
change management techniques. Any company or organization will have its own orientation towards
leadership, so to establish leaderful practice necessitates a shift in behaviors, if not fundamental values
and embedded culture. Raelin discusses this shift in terms of dleaderful developmentT and five types of
changes that need to take place.
In Part II, Raelin describes and outlines a wide range of traditional practices that are aligned with the
four main tenets of leaderful practice. For example, in explaining concurrent leadership (Chapter 6), he
makes reference to and draws from the situational leadership model of Hershey/Blanchard. In
discussing collective leadership (Chapter 7), Raelin brings in Block’s notion of stewardship and
Greenleaf’s view of servant leaders. In the chapter on collaborative leadership (Chapter 8), he considers
leaders as change agents who utilize different styles of negotiations, decision-making, and
communications like dialogue.
Some of the materials in these chapters are dated (like Lewin’s stage model of change, Thomas’s
modes of handling conflict, and Argyris’s typology on learning). Yet I think it helpful that Raelin shows
how existing theory and accepted techniques can be applied to build leaderful practice and leaderful
organizations. Drawing on the past may indicate that leaderful practice is more evolutionary than
revolutionary but may simply reflect its novelty. Raelin is unable to draw, at least for now, upon any rich
history of leaderful practice. In that sense, it is a condition that we aspire to rather than can document
extensively. The final chapter of the book (Chapter 10) offers tips on how to develop leaderful practice
both for managers and employees. That should make the book appealing to anyone who works in the
context of an organizational setting where issues of leadership, followship, control, and empowerment
must be dealt with on a day-to-day basis.
To make his points, Raelin draws upon experiences, examples, and situations from a variety of wellknown
companies including Federal Express, GE, Hewlett Packard, and the New England Patriots
(a most local angle to the author’s Boston base). However, these references are more anecdotal than indepth
cases. What the book could use and hopefully would be included in the next edition is a detailed
study or case example of an actual company or organization making the transition to being leaderful.
What Raelin proposes all sounds good, but is it actually doable, either incrementally or
transformatively, and, if so, how? The challenge stems from our cultural images of leadership as
embodied in strong, independent individuals and our belief, or fear, that any collective practice is
somehow socialistic. As advocate and critic, Raelin makes his case with passion but acknowledges
concerns and tries to address them. However, in that passion, discretion to determine what types of
individuals, workteams, and organizations would constitute the best candidates for being leaderful is
hard to find. Before we embark on making our organizations leaderful, it would be advantageous to
assess where we have the best chance of being successful using some set of qualifying criteria.
Experts and thought leaders, like Raelin who encourage or are enamoured with new forms of
organization, management, or leadership may overlook the issue of benefits or assume them implicitly.
However, a key challenge in the corporate world these days is specifying results and outcomes. While
Raelin addresses the issue why leaderful practice in Chapter 1, in fact, persuasive argument has limited
success on non-believers. Reducing the uncertainty of who would benefit from leaderful organization
and how much would help Raelin’s case. For example, as a collective practice, does the payoff in being
leaderful accrue to individuals or to organizations?
Perhaps the value of leaderful practice is found in the practice itself and not in the words to describe or
argue for it. For that reason, I doubt we will see companies become or strive to become leaderful
overnight. A better chance is that entrepreneurial risk-taking executives will read this book and apply
some of Raelin’s principles. I am not sure who or what organizations are ready to be leaderful, but a
journey starts with a single step, and Joe Raelin has made a big leap. Now the question is: who is going