A professor of business administration at the University of Michigan, Quinn’s specialty is studying how people bring radical change to stagnating organizations. His theory is captured in the title of his first book Deep Change: Discovering the Leader Within.

His third text, Building the Bridge

As You Walk On It, started as a revision of Deep Change and morphed into an analysis of how people transform themselves into what he calls “”the fundamental state of leadership”” — that is, move from what he calls being self-centred and internally closed to being centred on results, internally directed, other-focused and externally open.

For some managers, it may come as a revelation that the walls of obstinance and denial that have been built by supervisors above them and colleagues around them can be breached.

But Quinn maintains that “”we can transform our organizations by transforming ourselves.””

That’s a pretty empowering statement, one which many readers will be eager to grasp. For the author acknowledges that over time most of us like to get along. We adopt the organization’s standards, which might be called lowest common denominator. Fighting that is like punching a cloud. Quinn’s advice: Change. Be true to yourself, be open to others and you’ll find you can be persuasive. You’ll face resistance, he admits. In fact, he allows that failure is possible.

He likens the voyage to stepping into a chasm and building a bridge across it without plans. To achieve this state of fundamental leadership a person has to have eight principles which many managers would acknowledge are necessary, such as reflective action, appreciative inquiry, graded vision and — perhaps surprisingly — tough love.

To persuade the reader, Quinn buttresses his theory with first-person stories from converts — annoyingly, many of them credit his first book with changing their lives — to bring a human touch to his argument. One is from a woman who left an abusive relationship with her husband. Her literally painful story is meant to show how some people have to face change. I found it inappropriate in a business book, and it coloured my judgment of the text. Perhaps Quinn went a bridge too far.

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