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Leading as if your life depended on it

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book reviews
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  1. Introduction.
    1. A true leader needs to be gifted.
    2. Examples used by Colonel Thomas A. Kolditz in his book.
    3. Conflict does not occur solely on the battlefield.
    4. Principles that appear in combat also appear in disputes between organizations or individuals.
  2. Synopsis.
    1. Kolditz is most compelling when his ideas are examined through the concept of conflict.
    2. The leader's job.
    3. 'In Extremis Leadership' is not a guide to some sort of step-by-step process.
    4. Authentic leaders.
    5. The world of business.
    6. An example of the shared moral principles that make a great leader.
  3. Literature review.
  4. Conclusion.

In Extremis Leadership: Leading As If Your Life Depended On It, by author Thomas A. Kolditz, is the kind of book, and contains the kind of concepts, that every serious leader should read. It does an excellent job of detailing the personal growth and commitment to the truth that is necessary for a leader to be truly exceptional. Far too many books on management and leadership are over illustrated, resubmitted, and over embellished for hundreds of pages when the same message could have been conveyed in less than fifty pages. Kolditz's primary point is that a leader applies every part of themselves to their tasks and therefore must be a hero in their day-to-day work and that they must be willing to lead like a soldier. Kolditz, through anecdotes and a wide array of examples, reveals that leaders show courage and authenticity in their every action, resolve disputes and conflict with both awareness of all sides and clear thinking that they communicate well and that are process-oriented. These skills are crucial because a true leader needs to be gifted at creating understanding, able to get people to follow in emergencies and highly skilled at resolving challenging conflicts quickly and fairly. Leading effectively and solving problems are skills that come over time from being able to communicate a strong message.

[...] Too many theories of management dwell on examples of good decisions that leaders have made when it would be more beneficial if they focused on how a person can grow to become a stronger leader. This is because business success can sometimes come from a good decision, but the most consistent successes, over time, come from leaders that are authentic and have the conviction of a belief structure that propels them forward. A simplified version of this concept is that, "Success is an action." This is to say that a truly exceptional leader is someone who can point the team in a direction and then they will go, not because they want a raise or a promotion but because the believe in the leader and the principles that the leader represents. [...]


[...] Such an approach is inherently transactional because the primary motivation is known to be profit based, and as a result it doesn't work very well" (p. 25). But developing a vision is usually seen as an activity that requires quick and clear thinking. Kotter (1990) says that leaders should not toil to impose vision and instead they should devise a vision that takes into account the long-term goals, interests and needs of the followers and, thereby, the whole organization. That is completely in synch with Kolditz's view that leaders should share the moral principles of the team that they are privileged to serve. [...]


[...] It is a matter of acting as if their lives are hanging in the balance, even in workplaces that do not seem to be life or death. This emotionally balanced and confident style of leadership not only requires strength, but an additional prerequisite for In Extremis Leadership is the aforementioned commitment to authenticity. Authentic leaders have the ability to earn trust and gain followers by being sincere, and portraying a persona that can be easily noticed and admired. This sense of loyalty is needed during crisis situations because authentic leaders lead with emotion that helps carry their team. [...]

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