I hear a lot of other folks say many of the same things about the way the tools of leadership and change management make them feel. This often reminds me of Samuel Clemens' quote about how "[t]hose who respect the law and love sausage should watch neither being made." Organizational change and true leadership cannot be apolitical simply because they fundamentally are about dealing with people and their varied interests.
His primary complaints about the book he read is that it appears to be giving the reader advice on how to play the political game to manipulate people into doing what you want. When put that way these things really sound pejorative. However without further context it is hard to tell. Motivation for manipulation is critical to understanding the ethics of persuasion, just ask the mother of any two year old trying to get them to eat something "good for them".
It is all fine and good to say that a good leader “should already have people aligned with the necessary changes and have them ready to implement change.” But how does the leader do that exactly? Well, one way is to create a sense of urgency. To say that if a leader is doing their job a sense of urgency already exists is just plain silly. That implies that a leader doing their job has created a sense of urgency. But that’s exactly the advice Eric appears to argue against.
Further, Eric posits that organizational change should be about changing the game not playing it. But implementing change within an organization in a smooth and orderly fashion requires that you work within the existing structure to gain support for your change. This is particularly true if the change is to the game itself.
The “political acumen” and “art of persuasion” that disturb him are simply tools in the toolbox of a good leader. A good leader without political acumen will get eaten alive by some jackass that out flanks them in the executive ranks. A jobless leader is not particularly effective. A good leader without mastery of “the art of persuasion” is an oxymoron since a good leader persuades (not forces) people to follow them, even when the way forward is unclear or difficult.
I suspect that there was something else about this book that set off Eric's alarm bells. I’ve had this happen several times with books where the advice they were giving was clearly “good” yet I hated (and hate is not too strong for how I felt about some of them) something about it. The tone, the subtext, something set me off. I’ll bet if Eric looks closer he’ll discover the same thing.Eric has many great posts about change management and leadership and I think he understands how technology fits into and can help drive the very changes he advocates (that's why I read his blog). But I think that like a lot of other people before him, he went off track on this one.