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Unnatural Leadership: Going Against Intuition and Experience to Develop Ten New Leadership Instincts

David L. Dotlich and Peter C. Cairo

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Format: Hardcover, 280pp.
ISBN: 9780787956189
Publisher: John Wiley & Sons
Pub. Date: February 2002

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Description and Reviews
From The Publisher:

In a Complicated, Insecure, and Constantly changing world, how do effective leaders in high-performing companies continue to succeed? Are they fearless heroes who have all the right answers -- transforming businesses, making fast decisions, and inspiring everyone no matter how complex the situation? Or are they "real people" who work hard to trust others, acknowledge their own flaws, and challenge conventional thinking? Are leaders who win followers and get things done heroic figures? Or do they actually possess characteristics and practice skills that fall outside the comfort zone of executives steeped in traditional leadership methods?

Written by David Dotlich and Peter Cairo -- two of the country's top executive coaches and educators -- Unnatural Leadership debunks the common notion of the natural leader as a flawless figure. The book describes the truth about being a real leader in a business environment turned upside down by e-commerce, diversity, security concerns, globalization, and matrix structures. Drawing on personal experience working with successful leaders in top-tier companies throughout the world, Dotlich and Cairo identify a style of leadership used by those who succeed in complicated business and people situations, a style that maximizes a leader's strengths and acknowledges weaknesses.

Using a variety of tools and techniques based on their proven Action Learning workshops and Action Coaching methods, the authors reveal how to transition from the traditional natural leadership role and develop successful, effective unnatural leadership traits. They recommend simple, practical methods that effective leaders use to get things done, motivate and lead, and deal with their own weaknesses and impulses.

Each chapter contains a wealth of tips and techniques to help implement and develop the skills needed to become a new kind of leader. Dotlich and Cairo challenge conventional wisdom about leadership such as "be in control" and "hide your flaws." Instead, they identify ten "unnatural acts" that effective leaders regularly commit and are, in fact, the best response to an "irrational, chaotic, and unpredictable universe." These include: Refuse to be a prisoner of experience. Expose your vulnerabilities. Create teams that create discomfort. Trust others before they earn it. Coach and teach rather than lead and inspire.

Unnatural Leadership is a realistic and truthful road map that provides a practical manual for anyone who longs to be both authentic and effective.

The authors' ten unnatural traits challenge other traditional assumptions such as:
  • Rely as much on innocence as experience.
  • Surround yourself with people who create some discomfort.
  • Acknowledge the "shadow" side--your failings--publicly.
  • Connect instead of create.
  • Trust first, ask questions later.
  • Grapple with right-versus-right decisions.
  • Coach and teach rather than inspire and lead.


Pity the CEO who thinks he can be a know-it-all micromanager and still succeed. In Unnatural Leadership, executive coaches David L. Dotlich and Peter Cairo list 10 guidelines that today's best executives are adopting. Among them: inviting change, being approachable and considering the views of the mail-room kid with the green hair. "We tell our clients, 'You have to win your followers every day,' " says Dotlich. Some of the unnatural acts the authors recommend are: "Coach and Teach Rather Than Lead and Inspire," "Expose Your Vulnerabilities" and "Trust Others Before They Earn It." Cairo says what's missing from other leadership manuals are instructions on how to practice the techniques. So each chapter in this book ends with exercises like "acknowledging your shadow side" (the power-hungry, mircromanaging stuff) to smooth the transition from arrogance to unnatural humility.
Time Magazine, May 20, 2002


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About the Authors

David L. Dotlich—former executive vice president of Honeywell and Groupe Bull—is a partner of CDR International and coauthor of Action Learning (Jossey-Bass, 1998) and Action Coaching (Jossey-Bass, 1999), both of which identify breakthrough ways to develop leaders and are used by companies throughout the world. He is a business adviser, educator, and coach to top executives of Johnson & Johnson, Intel, Siemens, Bank of America, Novartis, Sun Microsystems, The Gap, Nike, Sprint, Washington Mutal, and more.

Peter C. Cairo former chair of the Department of Organizational and Counseling Psychology at Columbia University, specializes in the areas of leadership development, executive coaching, and business effectiveness. He is a partner of CDR International. His clients include Andersen, Avon, Bank of America, Colgate Palmolive, Lilly, and Merck. He is a coauthor of Action Coaching.

Table of Contents

Foreword (Stephen H. Rhinesmith)
Part One: The Importance of Unnatural Leadership
1Ten Unnatural Acts
Exercise: Assessing Your Unnatural Leadership
2Adapting to an Increasingly Unnatural Environment
Exercise: Breaking the Rules of Natural Leadership
3Resistance Factors
Exercise: Assessing Your Resistance to Unnatural Leadership
Part Two: Personal Challenges for the Unnatural Leader
4Refuse to Be a Prisoner of Experience
Exercise: Refusing to Be a Prisoner of Experience
5Expose Your Vulnerabilities
Exercise: Exposing Your Vulnerabilities
6Acknowledge Your Shadow Side
Exercise: Acknowledging Your Shadow Side
7Develop a Right-Versus-Right Decision-Making Mentality
Exercise: A Tool for Developing an Unnatural Decision-Making Mentality
Part Three: Leading Teams as an Unnatural Leader
8Create Teams That Create Discomfort
Exercise: Creating Teams That Create Discomfort
9Trust Others Before They Earn It
Exercise: Trusting Others Before They Earn It
10Coach and Teach Rather Than Lead and Inspire
Exercise: Coaching and Teaching Rather Than Leading and Inspiring
Part Four: Leading the Organization as an Unnatural Leader
11Connect Instead of Create
Exercise: Connecting Instead of Creating
12Give Up Some Control
Exercise: Giving Up Some Control
13Challenge the Conventional Wisdom
Exercise: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom
14Giving Yourself Unnatural Options
About the Authors

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