Nobody in Charge by Harlen Cleveland

With an attention-grabbing title and the dust-jacket brief about the author, I expected a fascinating and inspiring read. However, for the most part, this book – written by an American for Americans – failed to catch my imagination except for the occasional essay such as ‘The Spread of Knowledge’ or ‘The Very Definition of Integrity’ (this book being a collection of Cleveland’s writing over the years).

Nobody in Charge: Essays on the Future of Leadership
By Harland Cleveland
Publisher: Jossey-Bass
Pages: 236, Price: £20.95 Hardback, ISBN:  0787961531
Reviewed by Keith Lawson
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The idea of Nobody in Charge is that everyone is, or can be, in charge rather than a sole entity. The size of everything these days, populations, global businesses and so on mean that no one person can be in charge all the time. I am not so sure that leaders make themselves rather than others let them get there, through a mixture of apathy or ignorance.

Possibly because I am re-reading No Logo I found myself anti this book for being complacent or not challenging enough. It never set out to be a manual and, as long as the reader remembers it is a collection of thoughts and observances, perhaps it can be enjoyed while commuting on a train or plane.

After all, the author has an amazing background and obviously an intelligent mind. He worked for the UN in Europe and China, was US ambassador to NATO and had a long career in academia. Sadly, the book doesn’t do justice to such a life and is the sort of work that professors leave to their university.

No doubt he would be a fascinating man to meet in the flesh, and to attend a talk by him would be a privilege, but when it comes to reading this book I can only recommend it as a souvenir of a great talent and say, at least to a British/European reader, you’ll get more from Charles Handy.

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Keith Lawson is a lecturer with the management and professional studies division of Salisbury College and a visiting lecturer to the Academy of Economic Studies, Bucharest. He is currently re-reading No Logo by Naomi Klein and Maverick by Ricardo Semler


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