Hearts Touched With Fire

by David Gergen

Publishers Weekly Gergen (Eyewitness to Power), a former White House adviser for four administrations, delivers a scattershot collection of leadership advice. Becoming an excellent leader, he writes, happens in three stages, akin to a hero’s path: the “inner journey,” in which one achieves self-mastery; the outer journey, as one “move from internal preparations for leadership to rubbing up against the outside world”; and the active journey, as one puts what one has learned to work. To illustrate, Gergen offers brief biographies of dozens of historical and contemporary leaders, each paired with key characteristics for success: Ronald Reagan is a paragon of positivity, Ida B. Wells is offered up a beacon of flexibility, Ruth Bader Ginsburg showed grit and ambition, and John Lewis is an example of conviction and humility. Readers are urged to reflect on their own abilities, though the prompts he poses feel a bit phoned in and include “What Are Your Strengths and Weaknesses?” and “How Do You Learn? Are You a Reader or a Listener?” Gergen finishes with a list of takeaways that amount to limp aphorisms (“leadership starts from within,” “give 150 percent”), leaving the book feeling like something of a hodgepodge. This one isn’t worth the price of admission. (May)

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Kirkus A leadership guide from the founding director of the Harvard Center for Public Leadership. Gergen, a CNN analyst and former White House adviser to four presidents, has read everything on the subject, so this is as much a review of the literature as a survey of his personal advice, but there is a great deal of overlap. In three sections, the author describes the qualities of a leader, how a leader deals with others, and examples of leaders in action. Gergen fills his text with real-world examples, most of them involving largely well-respected public figures—Churchill’s name appears 76 times, Lincoln’s 50, Stalin’s 0. Donald Trump also appears (33 times) but only as a cautionary tale. Few readers will deny that leadership starts from within, and Gergen’s lessons on self-mastery ring true despite a steady stream of bromides—e.g., “stay true to your values and principles”; “discover your true inner voice.” Readers who have digested multiple leadership guides will encounter few surprises but will not quarrel with the author’s emphasis on finding a good role model, building a solid team, learning to speak in public, and determining when the “low arts” are preferable to honesty. Particularly insightful is Gergen’s analysis of how effective leaders are able to manage across a hierarchy, including colleagues, superiors, and those who report directly to them. Throughout, the author’s definition of leader is broad and encompassing. Though they didn’t necessarily command others, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was brilliant and inspiring, Rachel Carson was a devastatingly effective writer, and climate activist Greta Thunberg is charismatic and persuasive. The text also makes it clear that while leadership is teachable, pure talent is not. Like many other guidebooks, Gergen closes with key takeaways that vary from useful (“try hard things, fail, move on”) to questionable (“give 150 percent of yourself”). Lessons on leadership that check all the boxes. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Kirkus A leadership guide from the founding director of the Harvard Center for Public Leadership.Gergen, a CNN analyst and former White House adviser to four presidents, has read everything on the subject, so this is as much a review of the literature as a survey of his personal advice, but there is a great deal of overlap. In three sections, the author describes the qualities of a leader, how a leader deals with others, and examples of leaders in action. Gergen fills his text with real-world examples, most of them involving largely well-respected public figuresChurchills name appears 76 times, Lincolns 50, Stalins 0. Donald Trump also appears (33 times) but only as a cautionary tale. Few readers will deny that leadership starts from within, and Gergens lessons on self-mastery ring true despite a steady stream of bromidese.g., stay true to your values and principles; discover your true inner voice. Readers who have digested multiple leadership guides will encounter few surprises but will not quarrel with the authors emphasis on finding a good role model, building a solid team, learning to speak in public, and determining when the low arts are preferable to honesty. Particularly insightful is Gergens analysis of how effective leaders are able to manage across a hierarchy, including colleagues, superiors, and those who report directly to them. Throughout, the authors definition of leader is broad and encompassing. Though they didnt necessarily command others, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was brilliant and inspiring, Rachel Carson was a devastatingly effective writer, and climate activist Greta Thunberg is charismatic and persuasive. The text also makes it clear that while leadership is teachable, pure talent is not. Like many other guidebooks, Gergen closes with key takeaways that vary from useful (try hard things, fail, move on) to questionable (give 150 percent of yourself).Lessons on leadership that check all the boxes. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

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