This is a book that can rightly be called a classic to those who study the subject of leadership. It is now over ten years old but is still used by many universities as a textbook for their leadership or business classes. Gardner can truly be called a renaissance man due to his many talents and achievements. With a formal education in psychology he has been a teacher, corporate officer, public-servant in the government, respected author, and military officer. He was awarded the Presidential Metal of Freedom in 1964. Through these experiences he has learned much about leaders and the subject of leadership. On Leadership is written from the heart and discusses the author's philosophy and personal reflections on what it takes to lead others. He defines leadership as "the process of persuasion or example by which an individual (or leadership team) induces a group to pursue objectives held by the leader or shared by the leader and his or her followers".
Gardner begins by stressing the lack of leadership in the U.S. He believes this is a critical problem and opines that new leaders are desperately needed to tackle the obvious monumental societal problems that exist in our culture. Much of the book has a common thread on the critical need for leadership development. The author frequently uses historical examples to highlight his theories on leadership. On Leadership begins by stressing that understanding real leadership is an important first step. Leaders must be accountable, and must be held accountable for their actions and the direction they are taking us. He also does not shy away from a bold discussion on the importance of shared values, ethics, integrity and responsibility. A major emphasis of this work is that individuals at all segments of society must be prepared to demonstrate initiative and responsible leadership. He refers to this as dispersed leadership. Gardner stresses that, "Vitality at middle and lower levels of leadership can produce greater vitality in the higher levels of leadership".
The seventeen chapters of the book culminate with a "call to action" and a foretaste of what future possibilities might lie ahead if we heed the call. In the last chapter entitled The Release of Human Possibilities, Gardner envisions that "what leaders see on the surface can be discouraging - people, even very able people, caught in the routines of life, thinking short-term, plowing narrow self-beneficial furrows through life. What leaders have to remember is that somewhere under that somnolent surface is the creature that builds civilizations, the dreamer of dreams, the risk taker. And, remembering that, the leader must reach down to the springs that never dry up, the ever-fresh springs of the human spirit."
You may or may not agree with all the ideas and concepts that On Leadership presents. However, you will certainly be given a tremendous amount of material for personal reflection and self-discovery. This is a good book and the only weakness may exist in a few sections that are difficult to read due to an academic orientation and background.