Cover of Hard Times by Barbara Kellerman
Hard Times
Leadership in America
Barbara Kellerman


384 pages.

Hardcover ISBN: 9780804792356
Ebook ISBN: 9780804793018

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Winner of the 2016 Outstanding Academic Title Award, sponsored by Choice.

Honorable Mention in the 2015 Outstanding Leadership Award, sponsored by University of San Diego School of Leadership and Education Sciences.

Leadership has never played a more prominent role in America's national discourse, and yet our opinions of leaders are at all-time lows. Private sector leaders are widely seen as greedy to the point of being corrupt. Public sector leaders are viewed as incompetent to the point of being inept. And, levels of trust in government have plummeted. As the title of this book conveys, leaders in America are experiencing hard times.

Barbara Kellerman argues that we focus on leaders, and even on followers, while ignoring an essential element of leadership: context. This book is a corrective. It enables leaders to track the terrain that they must navigate in order to create change. Rather than a handy-dandy manual on what to do and how to do it, Hard Times is structured as a checklist. Twenty-four brief sections cover key aspects of the American landscape. They trace evolutions and revolutions that have revised our norms, transformed our populations and institutions, and shifted our culture.

Kellerman's crash course on context reveals how significant it is to leadership. Clearer still is the fact that leadership is more difficult than it has ever been. It is context that explains why leadership is so fraught with frustration. And, it is context that makes evident why leadership will be better exercised if it is better understood. Calling out patterns that emerge from the checklist, Kellerman challenges leaders to do better. This fascinating read will change the way that all of us think about leadership, while compelling us to consider what it means for our future.

About the author

Barbara Kellerman is the James MacGregor Burns Lecturer in Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School. She is author or editor of 14 books, including The End of Leadership, Followership, and Bad Leadership. Kellerman was cofounder of the International Leadership Association and has been ranked among's Top 50 Business Thinkers, and also among "top thought leaders in management and leadership" by Leadership Excellence. She has appeared often on media outlets such as CBS, NBC, PBS, CNN, NPR, Reuters and BBC, and has contributed articles and reviews to the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times, and the Harvard Business Review. She speaks to audiences all over the world and blogs at

Selected by Choice in 2016 as an Outstanding Academic Title.

Honorable Mention in the 2015 Outstanding Leadership Award, sponsored by the University of San Diego School of Leadership and Education Sciences.

"Author Barbara Kellerman draws upon her years of experience and expertise to provide a much-needed course of instruction that should be considered mandatory reading for anyone aspiring to a position of political, economic, or cultural leadership. Exceptionally well-written, organized, and presented, Hard Times: Leadership in America is very highly recommended for community and academic library collections."

—Michael J. Carson, Midwest Book Review

"Hard Times is a brilliantly insightful and immensely important book. It's a tour de force—a passionate, provocative, and persuasive discourse on the extraordinarily complex context that confronts leaders in every waking moment. There is no one better able to tell this story than Kellerman. She is an exceptional writer with an extraordinary breadth and depth of knowledge who never hesitates to tell it like it is. Hard Times is one of those rare books that comes along every so often that gets you to stand up straight and pay attention. Bold, brawny, and sometimes disquieting, it is an essential guide to orienting in these uncertain times. Every leader and student of leadership must read this book. Now!"

—Jim Kouzes, coauthor, The Leadership Challenge, and the Dean's Executive Fellow of Leadership, Leavey School of Business, Santa Clara University

"Barbara Kellerman is one of our most iconoclastic and original leadership theorists. After pioneering studies of 'bad leaders,' 'followers,' and 'the leadership industry,' she now turns to context. She aims to provide American leaders with a framework for seeing the setting within which they work. Whether you agree or disagree with every point, Kellerman will provide you with refreshing insights. Read it!"

—Joseph S. Nye, Harvard Kennedy School, and author of The Powers to Lead

"One of the best leadership scholars brings a new perspective to a troubled time, when people are asking how our society will be led. Barbara Kellerman describes the conditions—intellectual, social, and cultural—which are the foundations for leadership. Hard Times points to the limits of focusing on great individuals, and instead focuses on the conditions under which leadership is developed and enacted."

—Rakesh Khurana, Dean, Harvard College and author of Searching for a Corporate Savior

"Barbara Kellerman is an unusual expert on leadership, for she is neither obsessed by leaders nor impressed with the 'leadership industry.' Criticising 'relentless leader-centrism,' she is conscious of the many constraints within which American leaders must operate. In this latest book Kellerman provides a highly perceptive and multifaceted analysis of the contemporary context in which leaders struggle to lead—and she does so in an exhilaratingly readable style."

—Archie Brown, Oxford University and author of The Myth of the Strong Leader

"Finally a book that explains why leadership is so hard. With thought-provoking examples taken from business and government alike, Barbara Kellerman not only identifies the many contextual constraints on leaders, but provides a blueprint for how to think about leadership. Ironically, it turns out that understanding limits to leader discretion actually opens the door to greater leader impact."

—Sydney Finkelstein, Professor of Strategy and Leadership, Tuck School of Business, and author of Why Smart Executives Fail

"Hard Times' great strength is how it tackles the under-studied aspect of leadership context in a way that makes sense of an extraordinarily complex phenomenon. Barbara Kellerman should be congratulated on this expansive and useful book."

—J. Thomas Wren, Jepson School of Leadership Studies, University of Richmond