Book Review “Co-Active Leadership” – Short, Sweet, and Hard To Beat …

Book Review - Co-active Leadership - John E Smith - People Development Network
Book Review - Co-active Leadership - John E Smith - People Development Network

Co-Active Leadership:  Five Ways to Lead

is a very short book, an easy afternoon read … the first time.

When you read it again (and you will) the reading will take longer, because you will find things you missed the first time around, new questions and thoughts will pop up,  causing you to pause often and reflect more deeply about your leadership and your life.

Three specific reasons to read this book:

Comprehensive Concepts:  The authors cover leadership from enough perspectives to give us a truly complete picture, both in needed competencies and how it should sound and look in action.

Quotable Content:   I could just publish my 20 pages of notes on impacting and well-stated leadership and coaching truths based on reading this book to illustrate this point.  It contains great phrasing, clear writing, and a very large amount of well-stated wisdom for leading and living.

Empowering Attitude:  The emphasis throughout is positive and strengths-based.  This book will convince you that we can do better in our interactions with each other.

The Model in a Nutshell: 

“Co-Active” is probably a somewhat unfamiliar phrase for some of us.

Three elements interact in the model:  1) “co”, 2) “active”, and 3) the “hyphen” or connective space between the co and the active.  Co-Active Leadership reflects the dance between our emotional and spiritual side and our action or physical side, both within us and in our interactions with others.

As the books says, “co represents the relational and receptive aspects … active follows and represents the action-oriented aspects.”  (pg. 4)

An overview of the modern workplace is followed by an overview of the Co-Active Leadership model.

leadership_modelThe five specific ways of leading identified as Leader in Front, Leader Behind, Leader Beside, and Leader in the Field, along with the central Leader Within, are defined and illustrated in separate strong chapters.

Finally, the delightfully-named “The Dance of the Dimensions” ties this all up in a very nice bow, offering specific examples of how to work with and develop people within each of the five ways.

We lead from one or another of these places at any given time.  While we more naturally inhabit one or another of these, the truly competent leader will develop themselves to the point of being able to smoothly move from one way to another as needed.

The universal nature of leadership and our ability to lead is reinforced throughout the book as an essential element of this model:

In this multidimensional model of leadership, everyone has within them the capacity to lead, and any organization or community is most dynamic, most alive, and most productive when there is a commitment to leadership at every level.”  (pg. 5)

The Writing Style:

The writing style is warm, very human, and very accessible.  You get the sense that you are just chatting over a refreshing drink, as you gaze at the ocean pounding into the shore, with some old and close friends.  It’s a very personal read, even while maintaining a focus on the model.

The chapters are short, easy to read, and engaging.  Stories and wisdom from various sources are sprinkled strategically throughout to clarify the points being made.

Chapter organization is consistent and tight, especially the chapters which deal with the five ways to lead.  Each includes an introductory section followed by a focused overview of that specific leadership way, and three sections, explaining how each of the three elements (“co”, “active”, and “hyphen”) interact with the other two.

On a personal level, I especially enjoyed the discussions around The Leader Behind and The Leader in the Field.  Two quick points to illustrate why:

The Leader Behind could be described as “the person standing quietly and proudly at the back of the room, as his team shines up on stage, who deserves some acknowledgement for the months of hard work that went into this program.”   That particular person was me a long time ago, being acknowledged by our college president for my work helping a group of young people learn how to raise and allocate money for worthy causes and organizations, and to explain their decisions clearly to tough audiences of hard-nosed business people.

That was when I first realized I could effectively lead outside the spotlight and that the coaching model for leadership has power.

The Leader in the Field is where the concepts of mindfulness and awareness of the larger context in which leaders lead were reinforced as important leadership traits.  The value of intuition and instinct was made clear, which delighted me because I believe we are just now realizing the importance of these less tangible parts of leading and working with others.

I could easily do a series of blog posts on each chapter in this book … it is THAT rich.

My Take:  I thought at first that this book was written to help leaders, but kept running into content that works awfully well for coaches, and darned if a lot of this stuff is not applicable just to life in general.  You do not need to be a leader or a coach to find value here.  So is this a leadership development book, a coaching book, or a personal development book?

I don’t know … Not that it matters one whit, because I will keep Co-Active Leadership on the shelf closest to me, in a very small and select group of books I regularly use and share with others.

Bottom Line:  I have reviewed many leadership and personal development books over the past few years.   I do not always completely read every book.  I have read THIS book from cover to cover twice so far, resulting in 20 pages of notes and copied quotations from a 100-page book … and I plan to read it again soon.

If you are serious about leadership, coaching, and your life, this is an essential addition to your learning library.

Co-Active Leadership has given me useful knowledge, keen insight, and powerful inspiration around effective leadership and coaching. When I get this all from one book, I know I have found a winner.

Henry and Karen Kimsey-House are the co-authors of Co-Active Leadership: Five Ways to Lead and Co-Active Coaching: Changing Business, Transforming Lives, a standard in the field of leadership and life coaching.

Together, they provide transformational experiential learning for coaches and leaders through the Coach Training Institute (CTI).

Images are from the Weaving Influence book launch website for Co-Active Leadership.


John E. Smith
John E. Smith is a board certified leadership and life coach, who helps individuals and groups engage in transformational change through learning and strategic planning. He blogs at The Strategic Learner on Wordpress and for Weaving Influence, Lead Change Group, and other sources of leadership and personal development.
John E. Smith
- 2 years ago
John E. Smith

Leave a Reply