My most recent book – Hard Times: Leadership in America – was published in October by Stanford University Press. The book explores the impact of context on leadership and followership.

Beginning February 3, I started posting in this space excerpts. They appear here in the order in which they appear in the book.

Excerpt from Chapter 8 – Law 

“Though it is little noted and even less understood, it seems obvious that the ubiquity of the law in twenty-first century America must have an impact, does have an impact, on leadership in twenty-first century America. It is not too much to say that the long arm of the law reaches leaders in government, and in business, and in nonprofits such as schools and hospitals, and in virtually every conceivable area of American life. Even religious leaders, who until relatively recently were generally immune to prosecution in the nation’s courts, are now vulnerable.

This emphasis on, dependence on the legal system as, so to speak, the court of last resort is a peculiarly American phenomenon. Americans have more adversarial legalism: we depend more than other people in other countries on lawyers and lawsuits, on tort actions, and on legal actions against administrative agencies. This explains why so many American leaders think that they have no choice but to “lawyer up,” to make certain that they have their own legal experts to protect both them and the institutions for which they are responsible, against legal liability.

America’s uniquely litigious culture is directly responsible for complicating and constraining the lives of leaders – if only because it takes time and consumes resources …. Attending to litigation or to the possibility thereof, or both is an important part of what leaders are paid now to do.”


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