1st Edition

Leadership Insight

ISBN 9780415877626
Published June 10, 2010 by Routledge
190 Pages

USD $69.95

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Book Description


The Leadership Insight journal is an invitation; an invitation to enter into the quiet and contemplation it takes to be wise. It is an invitation to find our true selves, and thus the essence of our best leadership. The names on the cover and in the journal are those of individual leaders from around the world. As we open the journal, we recognize that we are joining the global community of leaders who have made, and continue to make, a difference in the world. The image on the cover, a celebration entitled Exuberant Life, reflects the best of what we strive for as human beings and as leaders. Enter into the quiet and contemplation it takes to be wise. It is an invitation to find our true selves, and thus the essence of our best leadership.

"Leadership Insight is an amazing combination of wisdom and beauty!  It will help executives reflect upon their leadership journey – and become more effective as a result. I love Nancy Adler’s work. No one combines insight on leadership, deep wisdom about life and a sharing of beauty like she does! " -- Marshall Goldsmith, New York Times and million-copy best-selling author of MOJO and What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

"Nancy Adler's Leadership Insight is a magical work by an extraordinarily talented artist and highly respected scholar. It's a one-of-a-kind journal that draws you in and compels you to express yourself. The moment I opened the pages I felt calm and serene. Her paintings are beautiful and stunning, and her words are wise and inspirational. In this hurry-scurry world of always on, 24/7, instant connection, Leadership Insight offers us a necessary and welcome bit of quiet space for reflection and contemplation. We know that the most self-aware leaders make the best leaders, and recording in this journal is the perfect way to gain more insight into yourself, your relationships, and your world. I highly recommend you buy one for yourself…and many more as gifts for your friends." -- Jim Kouzes, Coauthor of The Leadership Challenge and Dean's Executive Professor of Leadership, Leavey School of Business, Santa Clara University

"As we move through this century, we urgently need more leaders to actually lead. It takes a certain kind of courage to stop, reflect, and look deeply into your heart and the heart of your business. Adler’s Leadership Insight journal allows you to do just that because, in this instance, a great artist has shown courage in creating a series of worlds that will open your mind to possibilities. And we all need possibilities." -- Alastair Creamer, Co-Director Creamer and Lloyd London, England

"The beautiful paintings and statements in Nancy’s journal provoke reflection and give inspiration to every leader who is sensitive to capture the wisdom and translate it in his or her own language and vision for the future. An innovative piece of art in the leadership literature!" -- Danica Purg, CEO, IEDC Bled School of Management, Slovenia

"The Leadership Insight journal is a welcome addition to the mass of material that is being thrown at leadership today because it invites potential leaders to get in touch with the artist within them and to become more reflective instead of badgering them with the usual litany of advice on what they should do or be. This is an important book with an important message." -- Edgar H. Schein, Sloan Fellows Professor of Management, MIT Sloan School of Management

"Leadership in law and management requires creativity: a fresh image or metaphor changes the picture, and cuts to the heart. This book opens a space of visual beauty that invites attentiveness and creative reflection. What a splendid gift in our busy time." -- Richard Sherwin, Professor of Law, Director, Visual Persuasion Program, New York Law School

"Journaling on real paper with a real pen seems like a throwback to a different era. Until you try it. For leaders, finding that calm place where you purposely take the time to reflect is a powerful antidote to the rush-rush-rush of the rest of the day. Nancy Adler has created a beautiful book that will draw powerful thoughts from you to the paper. You will love the results." -- Joel Barker, Futurist, film maker, and author of video "Innovation at the Verge"

"Adler’s Leadership Insight journal is not only exquisitely beautiful, it is a powerful invitation for managers worldwide to take time from their super-fast-paced lives to reflect; and from that reflection, perhaps we will begin to see more of the type of leadership that the world most desperately needs. ["Buy two, because you aren't going to want to write anything in the first one...which I know defeats the purpose, but that is certainly how I feel about my copy!]" -- Nakiye Boyacigiller, Dean, Faculty of Management, Sabanci University, Istanbul, Turkey

"Creativity and leadership have always been closely intertwined -- and nowhere more so than in Nancy Adler’s brilliant Leadership Insight journal. Managers and leaders everywhere will find in these pages not only superb original paintings and powerful sayings from world leaders, but also the quiet reflection so urgently needed to decipher today’s complex leadership challenges." -- John Alexander, Former President and CEO, Center for Creative Leadership

"In a world focused on busyness, Dr. Adler invites us to rethink how we go about our business, suggesting that reflective practice might offer us fresh insights to our leadership practice. Her Leadership Insight journal creates a space for us to move from action to reflection, and in the process be moved by the power of art!" -- Nick Nissley, Ed.D., Executive Director, Leadership Development at The Banff Centre, Banff, Alberta, Canada

"Nancy Adler’s Leadership Insight is significant not only for what it is, a beautiful and inspiring journal, but for what it represents: a commitment to reflection as the foundation of the kind of leadership our world so desperately needs. Extraordinary leaders’ legacies are determined largely by the courage of the questions they dare to ask." -- Michelle L. Buck, Director of Leadership Initiatives and Clinical Professor, Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University

"Leadership Insight is the perfect gift for all those on your high potential list, or for anyone taking part in your leadership development effort. It carries a very important message: stop, reflect, consider and remember." -- Beverly Kaye, CEO, Founder, Career Systems International, Co-author: Love Em or Lose Em

"Nancy J. Adler is one of the rare breed of academics who have successfully combined the creative and analytical aspects of art and management to shed new insights on the attributes and skills to be possessed by global leaders in the Twenty-first century". --  Rosalie L. Tung, Ming and Stella Wong Professor of International Business, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, Canada



NANCY J. ADLER is the S. Bronfman Chair in Management at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. She received her B.A. in economics, M.B.A. and Ph.D. in management from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA).

Dr. Adler conducts research and consults on global leadership and cross-cultural management. She has authored over 100 articles, produced the film, A Portable Life, and published the books, From Boston to Beijing: Managing with a Worldview, International Dimensions of Organizational Behavior (5th edition, 2008), Women in Management Worldwide, and Competitive Frontiers: Women Managers in a Global Economy.

Dr. Adler consults to private corporations and government organizations on projects in Asia, Europe, North and South America, and the Middle East. She has taught Chinese executives in the People's Republic of China, held the Citicorp Visiting Doctoral Professorship at the University of Hong Kong, and taught executive seminars at INSEAD in France, Oxford University in England, and Bocconi University in Italy. She received McGill University's first Distinguished Teaching Award in Management and was one of only a few professors to receive it a second time. Honoring her as one of Canada’s top university professors, she was selected as a 3M Teaching Fellow.


Copyright Academy of Management Learning and Education


Leadership Insight

By Nancy J. Adler. Milton Park, UK: Routledge, 2010 (184 pages). (Hard cover)

Reviewed by Michelle L. Buck, Director of Leadership Initiatives and Clinical Professor of Management and Organizations, Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University.



We live in a world today of unparalleled access to data, information, and new opportunities, but we also live in a world of increasingly complex and urgent challenges and crises. The landscape is marked by rapid change, ambiguity, uncertainty. It demands curiosity, innovation, ongoing learning, integration of diverse perspectives, and insight. Leaders’ effectiveness will increasingly be determined not only by the solutions they provide, but by their courage in daring to ask the most difficult questions, along with their discernment and wisdom in understanding what is truly needed. More than ever, leadership education and development need to include opportunities for meaningful reflection to synthesize a full range of perspectives, distinguish alternatives, and imagine truly creative possibilities. Leadership Insight, by Nancy J. Adler, nurtures this kind of essential leadership in unique and inspiring ways.

Leadership Insight is a journal, beautifully showcasing Adler’s own watercolor paintings and ink drawings, that includes pages with leadership and wisdom quotes and questions, and plenty of blank space, inviting users of the journal to reflect, write and explore. Adler is well known for her scholarly work on global leadership, senior women leaders, and cross-cultural management. Leadership Insight integrates her more recent contributions in the area of arts and leadership (Adler, 2006, 2010, 2011), her calls to reexamine the significance and evaluation of management research (Adler & Harzing, 2009), and her work as a visual artist, including recent exhibitions of her paintings at The Banff Centre in Alberta and in Montreal during the 2010 Academy of Management Annual Meeting. Adler’s journal is based on the premise that "the challenges and yearnings of twenty-first century demand … levels of inspiration and creativity that, until recently, have been more in the sphere of artists and artistic processes than the domain of most managers" (from back of journal). It invites readers "to enter into the quiet and contemplation it takes to be wise." Accordingly, the quotes and questions address the importance of self-awareness and self-reflection, the essence of extraordinary leadership, and the urgency of courageously using our work and our lives to contribute something meaningful.

Some quotes are classics (George Bernard Shaw’s "You see things and you say "why?" But I dream of things that never were, and I say, "why not?"), while others may be surprising (Warren Buffet’s "I am not a businessman. I am an artist"). The most important quotes and questions are challenging and provocative, the kind that some of us prefer to avoid, but are essential in responding to the challenges and opportunities of management, business, and the world today. It is impossible to read Oliver Wendell Holmes’ observation that "Most of us go to our graves with our music still inside us" without considering what we, ourselves, have left unexpressed and underutilized, and the consequences for a world that desperately needs and deserves nothing less than the best we have to offer. True education is often provocative, dislodging us from our comfort zones and calling us to consider new questions, narratives, and possibilities. Leadership Insight challenges us, and yet the artwork is serene and soothing, offering us the stillness needed to discern true priorities in our increasingly frenetic world.

There is no doubt that Leadership Insight is beautiful, and yet it is by no means simply a pretty journal. It significantly contributes to management learning, education, and practice because it is aligned with current priorities and trends. First, it offers an opportunity for meaningful reflection and self-awareness, cited as a critical foundation of leadership (Cashman, 2008; Drucker, 1999; Gardner, 1995). Gardner found that a daily practice of reflection was a distinguishing feature of leaders who made an extraordinary impact in their fields, whether in business, politics, arts, science or education. A regular practice of reflection facilitates leaders’ capacity to learn from experience, synthesize input, transform information into insight, distinguish meaningful from trivial data, and identify values and a sense of purpose that underlie action. While these are necessary ingredients to navigate, contribute, and lead in today’s world, executives and management students might not initiate this sort of reflection on their own. Leadership Insight encourages the sort of reflection that is most needed.

Secondly, Adler’s journal is part of an increasing focus on the importance of aesthetic and arts-based learning in management and leadership education (Adler, 2006, 2011; Hatch, Kostera, & Kozminski, 2005; Nissley, 2008; Pink, 2006; Whyte, 1994, among others). Business leaders are looking to the arts, including the visual arts, theater, music, storytelling, poetry, architecture, dance and movement, not as entertainment, but as a source of insight into the processes of creativity and innovation, collaboration, and leadership itself. Artists inhabit the realm of creative expression, experimentation and risk taking. In collaborative arts, people build off of each other’s contributions and create the conditions to bring out the best in each other, setting each other up for success. These are the fundamental tasks and responsibilities of leaders. Fifty fellows from the World Economic Forum, after assessing what would be most helpful in bringing about the types of changes they see as most necessary in the world, recently participated in theater training at Columbia University’s School of the Arts. The curriculum, framing art and culture as components of social change, included voice, breathing, rhetoric, and improvisation as tools in decision making, communication, and leading global organizations (Cohen, 2010). In an art-based leadership program, health professionals view paintings and sculpture at the renowned Art Institute of Chicago, learning to identify assumptions and see details that enable them to be more accurate and discerning in their professional work. In organizations and executive education programs, managers and leaders study improvisation in theater and music, to deepen their understanding of risk taking, collaboration, and leadership for use in their own jobs. Leadership Insight, drawing upon Adler’s artistic and scholarly work, is part of a larger movement of aesthetics in management education, intended to complement management’s traditional focus on reason and analytics, with the passion, creativity, values, and insight needed to equip leaders of the twenty-first century.

A third way that Adler’s journal contributes to management learning and education is its relevance to recent discussions of the competencies most needed for effective leadership in today’s world. The 2010 IBM Global CEO Study, including interviews with over 1,500 CEOs, general managers, and senior public sector leaders around the world, identifies complexity as the key challenge facing leaders today, and creativity as the most important leadership competence. CEOs are urged to "embody creative leadership" in which they invite innovation, take risks, and expand their styles (Capitalizing on Complexity, 2010: 10). In addition, reviews of business education identify some of the key "unmet needs" of MBA programs as acting creatively and innovatively, thinking critically and communicating clearly, and understanding the role, responsibilities and purpose of business (Datar, Garvin, & Cullen, 2010, pp. 8-9). Gardner (2006) describes five "mindsets" needed for success in the 21st century: disciplinary (mastery of a major school of thought), synthesizing (ability to integrate ideas from different disciplines into a coherent whole), creating (capacity to uncover and clarify new problems, questions, and phenomena), respectful (awareness of and appreciation for differences among human beings), and ethical (fulfillment of one’s responsibilities as worker and citizen). Others cite learning agility, the capacity to learn from experience, as a predictor of high potential and an ingredient of effective leadership (DeMeuse, Dai, Hallenbeck, & Tang, 2008; Gardner, 1995). All of these competencies require time for reflection and the abilities to focus, step back and integrate. Leaders of the 21st century will not be able to lead effectively, let alone generate economic or social prosperity and sustainability, without opportunities for meaningful reflection, courageous conversations, and innovative approaches. As business schools and other educational institutions search for ways to embed reflection within more traditional pedagogy, Leadership Insight offers an important tool and step in the right direction.

Finally, educational institutions at all levels are considering how best to design learning environments to prepare global leaders who will meaningfully and significantly contribute to our world. Stephanie Pace Marshall, educator and founding president of the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, states that our institutions and society require leaders who can "discern, analyze, and integrate illusive patterns within vast amounts of unstructured and multidisciplinary data, …embrace ambiguity and uncertainty, … relentlessly ask "inconvenient" questions and seed and cross-pollinate "disruptive" ideas, … venture into unexplored and unconventional territory, [and] globally collaborate to wisely advance the human condition" (Marshall, 2006, 2010). As business schools address the intersection and interdependence of business and society, they search for the curriculum, tools and resources to transform the educational experience. Adler’s Leadership Insight not only reflects current priorities and trends, but is a significant catalyst for the kind of reflection so deeply needed in the world today. It offers an opportunity to creatively reexamine what is most needed in management education to prepare and equip global leaders to navigate the challenges they will face and the possibilities they are inspired to pursue.


Adler, Nancy J. (2010) Going beyond the dehydrated language of management: Leadership insight. Journal of Business Strategy, 31(4): 90-99.

Adler, N. J. (2011, forthcoming). Leading beautifully: The creative economy and beyond. Journal of Management Inquiry.

Adler, N.J. (2006). The arts and leadership: Now that we can do anything, what will we do? Academy of Management Learning and Education, 5(4): 466-499.

Adler, N. J., and Harzing, A-W. (2009). When knowledge wins: Transcending the sense and nonsense of academic rankings. Academy of Management Learning and Education, 8(1), 72-95.

Cashman, K. (2008). Leadership from the inside out. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.

Cohen, P. (2010). Training for leading roles. New York Times, July 10, 2010.

Datar, S.M., Garvin, D.A., & Cullen, P.G. (2010). Rethinking the MBA: Business education at a crossroads. Boston: Harvard Business Press.

DeMeuse, K.P., Dai, G., Hallenbeck, G.S., & Tang, K.Y. (2008) Using learning agility to identify high potentials around the world. Research report of the Korn/Ferry Institute.

Drucker, P. (1999) "Managing Oneself," Harvard Business Review, March-April, pp. 65-74.

Gardner, H. (1995) Leading minds: An anatomy of leadership. New York: Basic Books.

Gardner, H. (2006). Five minds for the future. Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing.

Hatch, M. J., Kostera, M., & Kozminski, A. K. (2005). The three faces of leadership: Manager, artist, priest. Malden, MA: Gotham.

Marshall, S.P. (2006). The power to transform: Leadership that brings learning and schooling to life. Jossey Bass.

Marshall, S.P. (2010). Personal communication.

Nissley, N. (2008). "Framing arts-based learning as an intersectional innovation in continuing management education." In C. Wankel & R. DeFillippi (Eds.), University and corporate innovations in lifelong learning (pp. 187-211). Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing.

Pink, D. H. (2006). A whole new mind. New York: Riverhead Books.

Whyte, D. (1994). The Heart Aroused. New York: Currency Doubleday