5 Leadership Lessons: Joseph Nye on Leadership

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5 Leadership Lessons
Joseph S. Nye is University Distinguished Service Professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. In The Powers to Lead, he relates leadership and power. He expands further on his concept of soft power—co-opting people rather than coercing them—and hard power—influence involving pressure or threats—but he shows how effective leadership in the real world requires a mixture of both.

Hard and soft power are related because they are both aspects of the ability to achieve one’s purpose by affecting the behavior of others. They sometimes reinforce each other and sometimes they interfere with each other. The use of either one or the other depends on context. The ability to know which to use when is what he calls smart power. We need to know our context.

He says, “Soft power is not good per se, and it is not always better than hard power. Nobody likes to feel manipulated, even by soft power. Like any form of power, it can be wielded for good or bad purposes, and these often vary with the eye of the beholder.”

Here are five leadership lessons from The Powers to Lead:

  Almost anyone can become a leader. Leadership can be learned. It depends on nature and nurture. Leadership can exist at any level, with or without formal authority. Most people are both leader and followers. They “lead from the middle.”

  Smart leaders need both soft and hard power skills: co-optive and command styles. Both transformational and transactional objectives and styles can be useful. One is not automatically better than the other. Leaders depend on and are partly shaped by followers. Some degree of soft power is necessary. Presence/magnetism is inherent in some personalities more than others, but “charisma” is largely bestowed by followers.

  Appropriate style depends on the context. There are “autocratic situations” and “democratic situations,” normal and crisis conditions, and routine and novel crises. Good diagnosis of the need for change (or not) is essential for contextual intelligence.

  Leadership for crisis conditions requires advance preparation, emotional maturity, and the ability to distinguish the roles of operational, analytical, and political work. The appropriate mix of styles and skills varies with the stage of the crisis.

  The information revolution and democratization are causing a long-term secular shift in the context of postmodern organizations—a shift along the continuum from command to co-optive style. Network organizations require a more consultative style. While sometimes stereotyped as a feminine style, both men and women face this change and need to adapt to it. A consultative style is more costly in terms of time, but it provides more information, creates buy-in, and empowers followers.

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