Leading the Unleadable


Book Title:   Leading the Unleadable – How to Manage Mavericks, Cynics, Divas, and Other Difficult People
Author:        Alan Willett
Publisher:    AMACOM
List Price:     $17.95
Format: Paperback, 225 pages
Publication Date:   Nov 29, 2016
ISBN: 978-0814437605
Reviewer:     John Poulos
Review Date: January 2017



The author – Alan Willett, an expert in leadership development and organizational culture change – provides through this book a roadmap to exceptional leadership. He reminds us that achieving this goal requires us to accept that:

  • The call to leadership is a choice
  • Leadership is about leading people
  • Leadership comes with a taxonomy of trouble
  • The trouble is your fault, even when it is not

Becoming an exceptional leader is all about leading people to achieve more than they believed was possible (“creating a culture where people do extraordinary things”), along with a willingness to directly deal with the trouble inherent in this role. What the author calls the “unleadable” – the mavericks, cynics, divas, slackers and other difficult types – are often at the heart of leadership challenges. The book presents a framework, approach and recommendations for “transforming the troublesome to the tremendous.”

Overview of Book’s Structure

The book is organized into four sections, as follows:

Part 1 – The Call to Exceptional Leadership – presents the challenges that leaders must face, makes the case for raising the bar and accepting the call to exceptional leadership. It also describes the seven elements of the mindset required to achieve this level.

Part 2 – The Leader in Action: Spotting Trouble, Dealing with Trouble – provides guidance on how to detect trouble, including methods to overcome the blind spots on your radar. It then prescribes practical steps to dealing with troublesome people, outlines follow-up techniques to achieve enduring improvement, and closes with a chapter on approaching the decision to “remove or improve” a troublesome individual for the benefit of the larger team, project or organization.

Part 3 – The Leader in Action: Preventing Trouble – takes this a step further, establishing the importance of setting compelling goals as key to preventing trouble, with guidance on how to set expectations for excellence on an ongoing basis. It closes with a chapter on how to start a project so that it yields exceptional results.

Part 4 – Leading Leaders – addresses the unique challenges and potential of leading people who lead people themselves, and growing these leaders in the process. It also provides advice on strengthening self-leadership, including finding your leadership sweet spot and taking ownership of your leadership.


While many of us assume a leadership role through diverse circumstances as a matter of course, the author makes a compelling case for raising the bar and aiming for leadership excellence, which can yield powerful benefits to all involved.

The author presents a systematic and prescriptive framework and practical guide to achieving exceptional leadership. This includes such elements as:

  • Methods, techniques and tips based on experience and research
  • Decision criteria and considerations
  • Reflection Points at the end of each chapter, to encourage readers to further explore the concepts and project them onto their individual context and experience

Leading difficult team members, managers, and other stakeholders is an unavoidable step in the journey to leadership excellence. We have all encountered these familiar types and can relate to many of the cases the author includes. Throughout the book, he illustrates key concepts and techniques through case studies that focus on some of the most common “unleadable” types.


To read entire Book Review, click here



About the Reviewer

John Poulos, PMP

Chile & USA

John Poulos
has over thirty years of experience providing guidance on the effective use of information technology while delivering business-driven, technology-based solutions to a wide range of private and public sector organizations. In his current position as Senior Director of Cloud Services at NTT DATA, he manages strategic projects for NTT DATA/CS leadership. In addition, he delivers infrastructure and IT strategy consulting services to corporate and government clients. He is currently leading a global project to migrate 30,000 employees of a company recently acquired by NTT DATA from their original end-user computing environment to the standard NTT DATA PC image and SW configuration. In prior positions, John provided IT consulting services across various industries and geographical regions. He managed complex projects for clients in private enterprise, higher education and government. John holds E.E. and Engineering Management degrees from Southern Methodist University, MIT, and The George Washington University.

Email address: [email protected]


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