Book Review – Leadership on the line

By Shazia Ghazi

Book Title: Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leadership
Written by: Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky

In the book leadership on the line going through the dangers of leadership the author Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky has explained tremendous way that  why  someone wants to exercise leadership while others not ,it dangers and the solution for the problems while  exercising the leadership. I have done a book review of  the book leadership on the line as a part of south Asian youth society fellowship challenge 2015-2016.I would suggest every individual to go through it as it will provide you the  endowed solution for the problem that individuals encountering on daily basis. The book has divided into three main parts and multiple subparts.

Part 1 the challenge

The heart of danger

Leadership is dangerous, as it requires guiding people through difficult transitions, thereby challenging people’s values, ideas, beliefs, cultural norms, and lifelong habits. Leadership requires a strong determination and patience to bring a change in a society for the betterment of people. It has been observed that people resist change and the change maker i.e. leader. Now the question arises here is that why people go against the leaders and the change they try to bring in the society? According to the Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky, people do not resist change they resist loss and no one can bring change without modifying or giving up something valuable. Leadership would be easier if it’s about giving good news to the people but the hope of leadership found in capability to effectively deliver disturbing news and raise difficult questions in a ways that people can absorb, encourage them to take up the massage rather than ignore it or kill the messenger. Assassination is the worst and extreme form of actions what people will do to silence the voice of frustrating realities. Assassination results when people lose the argument in a debate for opposition and considering the leader the issue instead of their rules and regulations.

Pearl of the adaptive change

There are two main problem names as technical and adaptive. Problems for which an organization already had the solutions are referred as technical problems while the problems that require new experiments, new methods, and adjustments from a variety of departments in the organizations and communities are referred as adaptive problems. Leadership failure occurs when leaders start treating adaptive problems as technical problem. Emphasis on technical phases of an issue results in short-term rewards. To encounter adaptive challenges, people have to face a period of painful adjustment. Leading people to make these changes is dangerous, because you are asking them to absorb various forms of loss .People cannot assume at the beginning of the adaptive change whether the new situation will be better than the current or not. What they see is the possibility of loss and look for leaders for solutions so they often avoid painful adjustments and place the burden on someone else shoulder or call someone to rescues them. When people ask the authorities for easy answers to adaptive challenges they often end up in disappointment. This demands the leader possess the time, presence and great communication skills. There is a proportionate relationship between risk and adaptive change. The deeper the change the greater the amount of new learning required, the greater resistance there will be and the greater the danger to those who lead. For this reason people often try to avoid the dangers either intentionally or unintentionally by treating adaptive challenges as if it were technical ones. This is why we see much more routine management than leadership in our society.

Going beyond your authority

Leadership is not same as authority or going beyond your authority is not a leadership. Exceeding authority to expose deep seated problems towards positive change is an example of adaptive leadership. The first challenge and risk of exercising leadership is to go beyond the authority. Thus, leadership needs disturbing people but at a rate, they can absorb. Moreover, leadership often means exceeding the authority you are given to handle the current problems. People push back when you disturb the personal and institution equilibrium they know. And people resist in all kinds of creative and unexpected ways that can get keep you away from bringing the change. Throughout human history, most of the greatest leaders were eliminated precisely because they were perceived to be intolerable threats

At the heart of danger is loss

It is very interesting to see that people resist when leaders tries to change habits, values and attitudes that only hold them back. The author explains that organization, communities or individual resist changing their values, habits, or attitudes because they become the part of their identity even if they are harmful for them. By doing so we are challenging how people see themselves and their lifestyle.

Habits are hard to abandon because they gain stability. Sometimes people know the bad consequences of habits but they don’t bother to give up because they are looking for the present happiness they are receiving from that habit for example cigarette. On the other hand some beliefs attitudes and habits have been adopted from some loves ones or ancestors so they assumed that abandoning these habits means showing disloyalty to their loved ones. Adaptive change stimulates resistance because it challenges people habits, attitude and values. In adaptive change it is compulsory to face a loss, experience uncertainty and even show disloyalty to loved ones. To avoid experiencing these changes they resist change.

Dangers of leadership

Each organization and societies have their own preferred way of maintaining equilibrium when someone tries to change this equilibrium they tries to stop the person in order to preserve what they have. While exercising leadership there is a greater risk of getting marginalized, seduced, diverted or attacked. When people resist adaptive work, their goal is to shut down those who exercise. There are some tactics to help you reduce your risk of disrupting but you need to understand what the risks. 


In marginalization people find their positon of authority suddenly stripped of its full power. This is when either your importance as the leader or the importance of your issue decreases with stakeholders


Seduction is when opponents try to persuade you or treat you as special. They try to win you in one side and the other side they keep you away from your base or your commitment to the adaptive challenge. Their ultimate and unspoken goal is to avoid the tough work and the change required.


Another thing that can happen is that you get extra work dumped on your shoulders which serves to distract and divert you from the uncomfortable adaptive challenge you’re trying to address. It can be easy to get caught up in diversions and then fail at the necessary adaptive work.


Leaders often face personal attacks on themselves or their families from those who resist the changes or the adaptive issue. The intention of their attack is to divert the attention from the adaptive change to the attack.

The form of resistance may be different but the ultimate goal of the opposition is to keep the leader away from the adaptive change.

To be continued …….

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