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Common Purpose: How Great Leaders Get Organizations to Achieve the Extraordinary Hardcover – Mar 1 2010

4.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Jossey-Bass (March 1 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0470490098
  • ISBN-13: 978-0470490099
  • Product Dimensions: 16.1 x 2.3 x 23.6 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 408 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #516,658 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


"A thoughtful…and ethics-based discussion on leadership in the modern age by lauded businessman Kurtzman. A solid and readable look at 'New Leadership.'" (Publishers Weekly, January 18, 2010)

"Through well-told anecdotes and strong logic, Kurtzman convincingly demonstrates that the essence of leadership is the ability to forge, from a disparate group of individuals, "a creative, dynamic, brave and nearly invincible we." How does one do that? Not by stepping out in front of the group, describing a vision, and leading the charge forward. Rather, Kurtzman's ideal leader is deep in the mix of the organization, causing its values, objectives, and approaches to be internalized by decision makers at every level." (Harvard Business Review, January-February 2010)

From the Inside Flap

In this groundbreaking book, business and management expert Joel Kurtzman tackles the central question of leadership. What is common purpose? It is that rare, almost palpable experience that happens when a leader coalesces a group, team, or community into a creative, dynamic, brave, and nearly invincible we. It happens the moment the organization's values, tools, objectives, and hopes are internalized in a way that enables people to work tirelessly toward a goal. Common purpose is rarely achieved. But Kurtzman has observed that when a leader is able to bring it about, the results are outsized, measurable, and inspiring.

Based on Kurtzman's thirty years of experience working with global thought leaders and institutions, Common Purpose features personal interviews with some of the most dynamic, successful, and enduring leaders, including Joel Klein of New York City Schools, Simon Cooper of Ritz-Carlton, Ilene Lang of Catalyst, Steve Wynn of Wynn Resorts, Shivan Subramaniam of FM Global, Mickey Arison of Carnival Cruise Lines, Michael Dell of Dell, Inc., Richard Boyatzis of Case Western Reserve University, Tom Kelley of IDEO, and distinguished professor and author Warren Bennis.

In a world besieged by failures of leadership, leaders who hope to last must understand how to create sustainable, healthy organizations. With new insights on how to approach a leadership mindset, as well as how to implement it, Common Purpose sheds new light on the meaning of leadership, the crucial qualities of leaders, and most importantly, how to lead.

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Format: Hardcover
Regrettably, the old rules of employment have created in many organizations a serious crisis that is the result of command and control management, hierarchical structure, bureaucratic swamps, and dueling silos. According to Joel Kurtzman, "When an organization inhibits the ability of a group of people to achieve its goals, it must be reformed. When an organization consistently raises up leaders who suppress, demean, or nullify the productivity of others, swift action must be taken to right this situation."

The new rules of employment that Kurtzman endorses are by no means new. Consider these observations by 3M's then chairman and CEO, William L. McKnight, in 1924: "If you put fences around people, you get sheep. Give people the room they need." Kurtzman wholeheartedly agrees, noting that "people have a need to be heard, to be respected, and to control their space." The results of hundreds of major research studies, involving millions of workers throughout the world, reveal that "feeling appreciated" is ranked either #1 or #2 among what is most important to them.

I agree with Kurtzman that common purpose requires common goals as well as leadership (at all levels and in all area) to generate and energize sufficient support to achieve those goals "that are beyond the capability of an individual to accomplish alone. [Structures, strategies, and policies] are methods for aligning groups of people so they can achieve common goals."

In Good to Great, Jim Collins observes that Level 5 leaders are to their companies what Abraham Lincoln was to the nation. The key to a Level 5 is ambition first and foremost for the cause, the company, the work -- not any individual -- combined with the will to make good on that ambition.
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Format: Hardcover
"Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing." -- 1 Peter 3:8-9 (NKJV)

I'm now in my fifth decade as a management consultant. Along the way, I've come to appreciate that almost all organizations are filled with people drawn to their work by a common set of values and desire for certain kinds of shared accomplishments. Direct the organization to draw on those powerful psychic roots, and great results follow. Unfortunately, few leaders ever appreciate what that shared perspective is for their organization, which is why I usually refer to it as the "hidden consensus."

Joel Kurtzman makes the argument that creating a motivating common purpose is an important leadership task. I agree, but I think that in most cases the task is more like archeology (digging it up) rather than creating it from scratch. Regardless of who is right, I'm sure you'll be impressed by the examples of what can be done when people pull together in useful ways . . . almost unconsciously.

The book's main draw back is that the examples and references are so personal that the book often feels more like a memoir than a serious management book.

The content is relatively slim, even for a short book. I suspect that many people would prefer to see the lessons packaged into an article instead.

If you haven't thought about creating or drawing on common purpose as a leadership task, you should definitely read the book. If you have, you can skip this one.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x9b223b58) out of 5 stars 14 reviews
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9b3e87e0) out of 5 stars Common Purpose, Uncommon Leadership April 19 2010
By KTS - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
It's difficult to count the number of books written about leadership, and I think I've read most of them. I tend to relish the books from which I, and my clients, can reverse engineer actionable leadership agendas. That's the benefit of this new book, "Common Purpose: How Great Leaders Get Organizations to Achieve the Extraordinary." The book is readable, its lessons accessible, and there were times when I had a hard time putting it down. The case studies, stories and anecdotes that illustrate each point show how leaders need to be self-disciplined, thoughtful and strategic, and it argues that many good leadership decisions are not merely intuitive. They require real self-examination and real thought. In the end, this book argues that companies succeed or fail not because of their technology, business plans, or global footprints. Instead, it is the ability to lead through common purpose that makes their leadership outcomes "uncommon." I recommend this book.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9b3e8834) out of 5 stars Find Some Gems in Common Purpose June 14 2010
By June Shelp - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
In this time when we have just escaped what was the worse depression since the great depression--and could have exceeded it, every one is clamoring for leadership in both government and business. Yet in desperation when we wander into a book store looking for a book to help us out of this morass, we are overwhelmed. There are hundreds of management books.
There may be a number of good ones but pick up "Common Purpose." I guarantee you will find some gems of wisdom.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9b3e8c6c) out of 5 stars How to Build a Superior Organization that Serves a Common Purpose April 26 2010
By Serge J. Van Steenkiste - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Joel Kurtzman stresses that the heart and soul of leadership is the creation of common purpose. Leaders are judged both on who they are and what they do.

Mr. Kurtzman points out repeatedly that leadership has to exist at all levels of an organization. Unsurprisingly, the author does not believe in a world divided into leaders and followers. Furthermore, Mr. Kurtzman emphasizes that true leaders have to be part of the groups they lead, build a sense of inclusiveness, and empower their teams. This kind of leadership builds trust and positivity within teams and makes it possible for leaders to have teams that are more productive and responsive to changes in their environment. Mr. Kurtzman reminds his audience that many individuals working within a firm tend to mimic their leaders' best traits and worst characteristics. For this reason, leaders have to be mindful of the types of behavior that they do not want to see replicated.

Furthermore, people often lose sight of the fact that individuals working in an organization are the ones who accomplish goals. Creating a learning organization is an important building block in a common purpose organization. Therefore, removing obstacles is a leader's full-time job. Unsurprisingly, Mr. Kurtzman stresses that when an organization is winning, everybody has to be rewarded in some ways to further foster an "esprit de corps" that is conducive to superior performance. Unfortunately, too many organizations do not practice it.

Mr. Kurtzman notes repeatedly that leaders have to be comfortable with people who disagree with their ideas. Developing independent, trustworthy sources of information, judgment, and advice is key to fostering great leadership. This mindset is also an antidote to insularity and can save an organization from a calamitous fate. The author correctly observes in this regard that the ongoing economic downturn is symptomatic of bad, or even, abysmal leadership within a wide variety of private and public, for profit and non-profit organizations. In contrast, Mr. Kurtzman emphasizes on several occasions that leaders have to be ruthless in dealing with team members who seek to undermine their position, authority, or level in the organization. With this exception in mind, leaders do not have to be ruthless to lead. Mr. Kurtzman reminds his audience that kindness, caring, and empathy are powerful factors for success.

Mr. Kurtzman also recommends that organizations celebrate their leaders in order to retain them. The author suggests, for instance, that leaders be given access to the team at the top, be rewarded with new challenges, not just with more money, and be notified quickly with a counteroffer if they plan to leave. When good people - leaders - leave an organization, they create gaps that can be difficult and expensive to fill.

To his credit, Mr. Kurtzman pillories the exaggerated importance given to "The Art of War" by Sun Tzu in the field of leadership. Great leadership is about making organizations more responsive, flatter, better, and faster at achieving their goals. Great leadership is not about keeping the competitors in one's sight and relentlessly pushing them back.

Mr. Kurtzman notes briefly that great leaders are also mindful of the differences that leaders of different generations exhibit. For this reason, it is important for organizations to stand for more than the bottom line to appeal to Gen X and Y leaders.

Finally, Mr. Kurtzman rightly emphasizes that real leaders need to take in enormous amounts of information and knowledge and to process what they take in from the vantage point of view of their team and from the point of view of their organization and its mission. Thought leadership is not a luxury, but a necessity in a fast-changing world.

In summary, Mr. Kurtzman does a great job in bringing to light the importance of building a superior organization that serves a common purpose.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9b3e8c54) out of 5 stars Uncommon Praise for Common Purpose March 30 2010
By Roderick M. Morrison - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Why do some companies excel while other's stall? Why is it that companies like GM, declined for decades while stunned observers could only watch. Why, when faced with problems, was Toyota unable to turn itself around?

The answer, according to Joel Kurtzman, is leadership. Companies that were led by individuals and teams that were able to build a sense of common purpose among the work force were nimbler and performed better. They did so by allowing people to take full responsibility for their jobs - to "own their jobs" as Kurtzman puts it -- which allowed them to make better decisions without being second-guessed. Not only were these companies more successful than others, they were more enjoyable places to work.

I enjoyed this book and the way the author presented his message. It was a fun read, loaded with anecdotes and observations, and yet, the author pulled no punches. I recommend it highly.

Rod M. Morrison
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9b3e9110) out of 5 stars Shining A Bright Light June 6 2010
By John A. Higgins - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition
In this very easy and enjoyable read, leadership guru Joel Kurtzman focuses on those elements that are most closely associated with good leaders and the act of motivating people to follow by illuminating a clear and compelling theme or idea. What makes reading Kurtzman so worthwhile is his ability to simplify complicated and complex management theories into actions to incorporate in our everyday lives.