The Leader Within You Book Review

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The Leader Within You by Robert Danzig
Book Review by Leigh Stelzer
MId-Atlantic Journal of Business

Leadership is the conundrum of the 1990’s. At a time when there appears to be a lack of leaders to inspire and nourish us, Robert Danzig in his book, The Leader Within You, writes that we are surrounded by leaders who touch us and who can provide us with powerful lessons on how to touch others. Part autobiography, part lessons on leadership based on tales of the famous and not famous who have crossed Danzig’s path, and part “how-to,” the book is a powerful and inviting experience.

Let’s begin with the “how to.” Danzig identifies nine leadership “powers” that leaders use to inspire others. These are: quality, innovation, inspiration, perseverance, passion, character, charisma, energy, and enthusiasm. Leaders can use these powers “to nourish the workplace” and “motivate innovation.”

Danzig’s hope is that the nine powers will “renew and re-ignite the inventiveness determination, fidelity and sense of opportunity which inspire workers…” (p. xxix)

It is important to note the interactive or relational aspect of Danzig’s powers. Danzig believes that leaders lead by nourishing other people’s souls. The focus is interactive: what leaders do to, with, and for others. In each story the featured person built a business, performed or acted. But much more important, the person served people, provided quality, nurtured, or inspired others.

Throughout the book, there is no question that these powers can be learned. Danzig knows because he has learned them. As part autobiography, the book is about Danzig’s rise as a person and a corporate leader from humble beginnings. From rags to riches, from office boy to publisher to the senior corporate executive in charge of the Hearst Newspaper Group, he has learned from coming in contact with people who practiced these powers. These contacts, he calls threads in his tapestry. Through his life he has met people and responded to situations, all of which became threads in his own life tapestry. They have nurtured his soul in the way he now tries to influence others.

The remainder of the book consists of 33 brief biographical stories or vignettes that Danzig uses to illustrate the powers. Many of the stories arise from his contacts with famous, mostly business, leaders – many in the media, e.g. Rupert Murdoch, Al Neuharth, Ted Turner, Katherine Graham, Lee Iacocca, Nelson Rockefeller, and Ernest Boyer. In some cases, Danzig supplements his stories with brief writings of the featured person or additional vignettes from their close associates.

A goodly number of stories, however, are based on every-day inspirational people that have crossed his path. For example, Frank Nigro owner of the Albany Public Market illustrates character. Nigro was a man of integrity and trust who gave some of his business to Danzig when he was a struggling advertising salesman. When Danzig’s career at the Albany Times Union had reached a temporary impasse, Nigro gave him a job. Robert “Scotty” Patterson, a son of slaves and with little formal education, who built a car service business, illustrates perseverance. General John Stanford, Seattle Superintendent of Schools, illustrates passion.

Some stories, like those of Itzhak Perlman and Leland Stanford, are used as platforms for more personal inspirational lessons. Many of these, I think, illustrate a tenth leadership power, Danzig’s awesome gratitude for his opportunities. He is not afraid to be grateful. He acknowledges the many people who have worked with and nurtured him. They have supplied the threads of his tapestry. And he recommends that the reader look within and to the many people “who have had the most profound impact on your leadership tapestry.”

Danzig makes a familiar distinction between management and leadership that merits discussion. Management, Danzig writes, is about performing operations well. It’s about process. While “management is of the utmost importance” he calls management nourishing the body – it is not as important as leadership, which, by contrast, nourishes the soul. Leadership illuminates vision and promise; it is about tomorrow. Danzig wants to move us from “sterile management to true leadership.”

In a similar vein, Warren Bennis has written, a manager leads you through the jungle, while a leader climbs a tree, looks around and says, “wrong jungle.” Others have said that management is about doing things right while leadership is about doing the right thing.

By contrast, Peter Drucker has said, “Leadership is performance.” He identifies fourteen “managerial practices” that answer the question, what do leaders do? These practices are: plan and organize; problem solve; clarify roles and objectives; inform; monitor; motivate and inspire; consult; delegate; support, develop and mentor; manage conflict and team build; network; recognize; and reward. He further refines these into three categories: task oriented behavior, relations oriented behavior, and change oriented behavior.

In discussions with my students in a course on leadership, I was impressed with how much these managerial practices resonated with them. They easily related the successes and failures of the boss/leaders to performance of these seemingly everyday practices. Perhaps good, much less outstanding, performance is sufficiently rare that good practice is accepted as leadership.

George Will in his epic baseball analysis, Men at Work, writes that baseball success is about doing thousands of little things correctly over the course of the season. “Most games are won by small things executed in a professional manner… In the sport of the long season, of thousands of innings and scores of thousands of pitches, tendencies tell.” There is no magic bullet.

I am sure that Bob Danzig was always a long season manager doing the thousands of little things associated with great management. More than this, he is the complete leader: lending his charisma, transferring his passion, and persevering to nourish the souls of those he touches.