Leading Minds

An Anatomy Of Leadership


By Howard E. Gardner

With Emma Laskin

Formats and Prices




$17.99 CAD



  1. ebook $13.99 $17.99 CAD
  2. Trade Paperback $19.99 $24.99 CAD

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around December 6, 2011. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

Drawing on his groundbreaking work on intelligence and creativity, Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner, developer of the theory of Multiple Intelligences, offers fascinating revelations about the mind of the leader and his or her followers. He identifies six constant features of leadership as well as paradoxes that must be resolved for leadership to be effective using portraits of leaders from J. Robert Oppenheimer to Alfred P. Sloan, from Pope John XXIII to Mahatma Gandhi.


Leading Minds
"[Gardner's] books are lucid, cross-disciplinary examinations of heady topics: Creating Minds . . . and Leading Minds . . . are rarities, being academic studies that are as readable as they are compelling. (Indeed, Leading Minds was the No. 1 seller on the Globe's local best-seller list last week.)"
The Boston Globe
"At the heart of Gardner's thesis is a simple but unfamiliar idea, which forms the epigraph to one of the chapters: 'All leadership takes place through the communication of ideas to the minds of others.' . . . Armed with this idea of leadership Gardner is able to bring together leaders from very different fields, such disparate figures as Churchill, Einstein, the anthropologist Margaret Mead and Pope John XXIII. When viewed through the lens of the cognitive psychologist, they are all doing the same thing: all are telling, and embodying, stories."
The Independent (London)
"In general, business people should read a lot more. I find it dangerous that many CEOs have no idea of the historical context of what they do. One book I recommend is . . . Leading Minds by Howard Gardner, a psychologist who teaches at the Harvard School of Education. He looks at 11 great leaders throughout history, people like Martin Luther King Jr., Maggie Thatcher, Eleanor Roosevelt, Harriet Tubman and Gandhi."
—Warren Bennis, interviewed in the Los Angeles Times
"Well and clearly argued."
The Irish Times (Dublin)
"Fascinating. . . . Gardner analyzes the life and times of 11 modern leaders in search of how they managed to change our world."
The Gazette (Montreal)
"A novel analysis of leadership.... The authors differentiate visionaries—leaders who create new stories, such as Gandhi and Jean Monnet, architect of a unified Europe—from such innovative leaders as Margaret Thatcher, who identify a theme latent in the population but neglected over the years and give it a new twist. Other leaders on whom they focus are George Marshall, Margaret Mead, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Pope John XXIII, former General Motors president Alfred P. Sloan Jr. and educator Robert Hutchins. This study will repay the close attention of aspiring leaders in many fields."
Publishers Weekly
"A good test for me of a business book is whether I can remember anything important about it a couple of years after first reading it. . . . Leading Minds passes this test with flying colors. . . . Howard Gardner's striking insight, supported by his copious research, fed straight into my own thinking about brands."
—Hamish Pringle, Marketing
"[A] fascinating exploration . . . [Leading Minds] establishes a convincing middle ground between numbingly quantified studies and the unbounded impressionistic interview. . . . [It] illuminates the need for leaders to understand that part of the human psyche that holds on to the childish view of the world that yearns for certainty, and not to pander to it."
The Australian (Sydney)
"The gamut of psycho-socio-scientific analysis applied to [leadership] routinely obscures its underlying diverse human dynamic. Making strides to reverse this state of affairs, Howard Gardner constructs a richly textured guide to the realm in which that dynamic plays out—within and between the minds of leaders and followers.... Supplemented with a treasure trove of appendices, Gardner's compelling portraits of leaders' minds offer an original framework for the understanding of the leadership process."
Industry Week
"An imaginative book, filled with uncommon ideas."
"Howard Gardner has written another enthralling book. The eleven men and women he has chosen as his examples could hardly differ more widely, but Gardner has managed to define the common factors that made them all effective leaders."
—Anthony Storr, author of Solitude
"Immensely interesting, thought-provoking, and decidedly original. No one else could have written it."
—John Gardner, Stanford University
"Once again, Howard Gardner illuminates for us a crucial aspect of human behavior. If, as he claims, great leaders achieve power through the stories they tell, Gardner's own fascinating narratives of leadership show why he is one of the intellectual leaders of our times."
—Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of Creativity
"Once again, Gardner brings his brilliant intuition and analytic skills to the study of human excellence. His diagnoses are of particular value today, when great leaders are both badly needed and unaccountably scarce."
—Edward O. Wilson, Harvard University

The Quest for Mind (1973)
The Arts and Human Development (1973)
The Shattered Mind (1975)
Developmental Psychology (1978)
Artful Scribbles (1980)
Art, Mind, and Brain (1982)
Frames of Mind (1983)
The Mind's New Science (1985)
To Open Minds (1989)
The Unschooled Mind (1991)
Multiple Intelligences: Theory in Practice (1993)
Creating Minds (1993)
Extraordinary Minds (1997)
The Disciplined Mind (1999)
Intelligence Reframed (1999)
Good Work (with Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and William Damon) (2001)
Changing Minds (2004)
Multiple Intelligences: New Horizons (2006)
The Development and Education of the Mind (2006)
Five Minds for the Future (2007)
Truth, Beauty, and Goodness Reframed (2011)

In memory of Judith Krieger Gardner (1943–1994)
Who affected the thoughts, feelings,
and actions of everyone who knew her
Erik Homburger Erikson (1902–1994)
Teacher and friend
Who affected the thoughts, feelings,
and actions of a generation



Of the many books that I've written during the past forty years, Leading Minds may seem to have involved the biggest leap. Before its publication, I saw myself, and was seen by others, as a psychologist studying human development, particularly in the cognitive sphere. I had written a dozen books about the human mind, more than half of them featuring the word "mind" in the title. Until the early 1980s, I was primarily a research psychologist, writing for other psychologists. But after the publication in 1983 of my book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, I became more focused on issues of education; indeed, the topics I wrote about, and the audience I was addressing, were drawn from the education sector.
But then, seemingly suddenly, in 1995, with the able assistance of Emma Laskin, I published a book about leadership. In that book, whose preface you are now reading, I focused on an issue traditionally regarded as within the purview of political science or history. Not only was I writing about a topic that seems remote from cognitive development in the individual, I also was writing about leadership in a way that addressed the general reader rather than the specialist. To top it off, my conception of leadership appeared idiosyncratic: What were people such as the anthropologist Margaret Mead, the physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, or the intellectual Robert Maynard Hutchins doing in the company of a pope, a prime minister, and an army general?
Indeed, Leading Minds did constitute a turning point for me, an opportunity to address new audiences in policy and in business, and to "sound off" on topics in current events. Yet with the benefit of hindsight it is easy—at least for me—to see why, very much at midlife, I chose to write and publish a book about leadership.
Ever since childhood, I have been fascinated with politics and history; I have devoured newspapers and news magazines and compulsively tuned into broadcast news. The decision to write about leadership enabled me to exploit my passions as a history and news junkie. In that subterranean sense, I had already been working on this book for several decades.
The book also can be readily seen as growing organically out of my concerns in the immediately preceding years. Once I had published my book on different intelligences, I was frequently asked about whether there were different forms of creativity. I decided to focus on this issue in two ways: (1) formulating, with the help of colleagues Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and David Henry Feldman, a general framework for understanding the emergence of new ideas and practices; (2) carrying out intensive case studies of individuals who, I hypothesized, stood out in terms of their creativity in several intellectual realms. Just two years before the publication of Leading Minds, I issued a book about my conclusions.
In Creating Minds: An Anatomy of Creativity Seen through the Lives of Freud, Einstein, Picasso, Stravinsky, Eliot, Graham, and Gandhi (1993; new edition 2011), I studied seven exemplary creative individuals, each of whom achieved his or her most stunning breakthrough in the shadow of 1900. Among these creators, many striking similarities existed, as well as some startling differences. But it became apparent to me early on that Mahatma Gandhi diverged in essential ways from the other six individuals, who were leaders within established domains of accomplishment, such as physics or painting or poetry. In contrast, Gandhi was trying to inspire and change an entire nation—indeed, as it eventually turned out, all human beings. Leading Minds represents an effort to go beyond the first six creators just listed and to understand what is distinctive about those who presume to provide leadership across domains and interest groups.
While thinking about individuals who stood out in terms of their creative or their leadership capacities, I was continuing my investigations of how best to educate young people.
In The Unschooled Mind: How Children Think, and How Schools Should Teach (1991; new edition 2011), I sought to understand why children absorb experiences and acquire diverse facilities so readily in the earliest years of life, and yet have such difficulty mastering the disciplines that form the core of common schooling. My research convinced me that, by the age of five or so, human beings already have a well-formed "unschooled mind" that consists of simple theories about mind and matter. The theories may be charming, but they are all too often misguided or plainly false. Although formal education strives mightily to refashion the mind of the five-year-old into the mind of a more sophisticated conceptualizer, most schools in most locales fail in this mission. Indeed, except for individuals who become expert in specific domains and actually come to think in a fundamentally different way about the world, most adults continue to theorize much as they did when they were young children.
The implications of this conclusion are startling from a scientific point of view and troubling from a societal perspective. If a leader presumes to speak to the masses of a nation or across the dialects of different domains, then, in effect, he or she must begin by addressing what I call "the five-year-old mind." The leader must either accept the mind of the child as given or, in the manner of a determined educator, try to remold that mind. As detailed in The Unschooled Mind, the task of guiding individuals beyond the purview of a preschool child's mind proves formidable.


Although I was initially unaware of it, the distinct lines of study I was pursuing almost simultaneously in Creating Minds and in The Unschooled Mind were destined to come together in Leading Minds. In this book I study a range of leaders from the last century in order to explicate what I see as the major facets of leadership, from the perspective of psychology. To summarize my formulation succinctly, a leader is an individual (or, rarely, a set of individuals) who significantly affects the thoughts, feelings, or behaviors of a significant number of individuals. Most acknowledged leaders—consider, for example, Franklin Roosevelt or Winston Churchill—are "direct"; they address their public face-to-face. But I have called attention to a hitherto unrecognized phenomenon—indirect leadership: In this variety of leading, individuals exert impact through the works they create.
Whether direct or indirect, leaders fashion stories—principally stories of identity. It is important that a leader be a good storyteller but equally crucial that the leader embody that story in his or her life. When a leader tells stories to experts, the stories can be quite sophisticated, but when the leader is addressing a diverse, heterogeneous group, the story must be sufficiently elementary to be understood by the untutored, or "unschooled," mind.
Far from being a motley crew, the leaders were carefully and strategically chosen in order to reinforce the argument of the book. I wanted to indicate through such examples that the gap between a prototypical indirect leader and a prototypical direct leader is not absolute; one can proceed in small steps from an Einstein or a Virginia Woolf all the way to a Margaret Thatcher or a Gandhi. What allows an Einstein or Picasso to affect others is less the words that they utter in the presence of others, and more the ideas and works that they, often working alone, create and make public. Cases such as Margaret Mead, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and Robert Maynard Hutchins represent intriguing intermediate cases: They begin by creating works that influence their colleagues in their respective chosen fields of anthropology, physics, and law. But eventually, owing to the power of their ideas and their decision to enter the public arena, they come to take on at least some of the traits of direct leaders.
Through this gamut of illustrations, I wanted to show the ways in which stories must be altered, as one moves from addressing a small and relatively homogeneous group (such as a set of scholars in a discipline or at a university) to a large and quite heterogeneous population (such as a multitude of dispossessed individuals or the citizens of a nation). Though I could have chosen different instances of a category (Henry Ford instead of Alfred Sloan as the head of a corporation, Ronald Reagan instead of Margaret Thatcher as the leader of a nation), the categories, and the order in which they are presented, are integral to the points of the book.
Along with detailed portraits of eleven leaders, I also include a survey of ten important political and military leaders of the twentieth century. Moreover, the detailed information in the Appendixes allows comparisons between my eleven leaders and a relevant "control group."


Upon publication of the book, a number of questions arose that I did not treat, or did not treat adequately, in the first edition. To begin with, I was asked about whether the choice of leaders did not reflect, chiefly, individuals whom I liked or admired. Certainly I prefer certain leaders to others, and my sample may be slanted to some extent in favor of individuals whom I admire. It is crucial, however, not to confuse the descriptive and the normative. My goal in Leading Minds is to describe features of effective leadership, irrespective of whether I happen to admire the individuals in question or the policies they promoted. Indeed, the analysis would be unacceptable as scholarship if it applies only to individuals for whom I have positive feelings. One purpose of the survey in the Appendix is to extend the framework to individuals, many of whom I, along with the rest of the world, consider loathsome.
Another issue that arose was whether, in my studies of leadership (and in my studies of creativity), I was simply being elitist. Without question, I am writing about individuals who are extraordinary. I do this in part to repair an imbalance in the behavioral science literature. The assumption has reigned that, if we understand ordinary forms of creativity or leadership, we will better understand the heights of achievement. I believe that this argument needs to be inverted. It is far more likely that we will better understand garden-variety forms of leadership if we have a deeper understanding of unambiguous examples of powerful leadership.
But I want to make an additional point. Extraordinary individuals may be the product of accident, but their accomplishments—positive as well as negative—constitute an important part of human history. Think of the nineteenth century without Napoleon or Lincoln, the twentieth century without Stalin, Hitler, or the Roosevelt family. Indeed, to be a tad provocative, think of the first decade of the twenty-first century without considering Osama bin Laden. In the grip of an ideology, postmodern critiques of leadership—critiques that question the role of the leader or any claims of extraordinariness—risk obscuring a vital enduring fact of life.
What of my focus, both in education and in the study of leadership, on the power of the unschooled mind? My treatment raises the question of whether one can ever persuade the general public to adopt a more sophisticated position on any issue. Indeed, all of my studies reinforce the power of the initial theories formed by young children as well as the difficulty of introducing a more complex and differentiated way of thinking. I would be untrue to my own findings if I were to intimate that greater sophistication can be easily attained.
Nonetheless, despite the horrors of human history and the swings of the pendulum, one can point to the gradual emergence of more sophisticated ways of thinking in the areas of morality and civility. My personal heroes are such individuals as Mahatma Gandhi and Jean Monnet and Nelson Mandela, who worked for decades to develop in their constituencies a more complex way of thinking about human relations. I find myself in agreement with Freud, who once wrote: "The voice of the intellect is a soft one, but it does not rest until it has gained a hearing. Ultimately, after endless repeated rebuffs, it succeeds." This is one of a few points in which one may be optimistic about the future of humankind.


Though the topic of leadership and the field of "leadership studies" certainly existed in earlier times, few could have been prepared for the explosion of interest in the topic of leadership in recent years. In all probability, my book was a symptom of this new interest, rather than a prod to it. The contributions of certain key scholars—Warren Bennis, James McGregor Burns, John Gardner, and Barbara Kellerman—were one ingredient. The increasing dominance of the business sector in America and other developed countries, and the crucial role of the CEO and other members of the leadership team, doubtless contributed as well. Greater awareness of global problems—for example, poverty, climate change, the treatment of disease, and corruption—and the difficulties involved in tackling them also brought to the fore the need for skilled, informed, and fair-minded leaders. The various traumas of the period—the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the financial meltdowns of 2000 and 2008, the instability of large portions of Africa and the Middle East—all called attention to the costs of poor or ineffective leaders.
I am less certain about why, in the brochures and webpages of educational institutions, the training of leaders is so often featured. It is not clear to me to what extent the public is expecting our institutions to train leaders, as opposed to the institutions seeking to distinguish themselves by promising to cultivate an abundant supply, for which there may not be correlative demand. That said, it is difficult not to be struck by the near-universal claim, made by institutions from middle schools to graduate schools and across the globe, that they—and perhaps even they alone—have hit upon the magic formula for forging leadership.
The field—the collection of social institutions and gatekeepers concerned with the topic of leadership—has exploded. No one keeps up with the publications, journals, websites, institutions, organizations, and training programs that tackle leadership. The increase in knowledge—and in wisdom—about leadership is not nearly so striking, but I'd like to think that the avalanche of writings, including this book, may at least have sharpened and deepened our understanding of the nature of leadership, how best to cultivate it, and whether it is possible to prod leadership toward positive ends.
Having selected almost two decades ago eleven leaders on whom to focus, I think about whether I would today choose a somewhat different list. At least as examples of sectors, such as the military or the clergy, I think that I made reasonable decisions. Some names, such as Martin Luther King, Jr., are as eminent as ever. Others, such as J. Robert Oppenheimer or Robert Maynard Hutchins or Alfred Sloan, are far less known—and could easily be replaced by more contemporary figures, such as scholar Noam Chomsky, or university president Derek Bok, or business leader Bill Gates. Very different from Pope John XXIII, Pope John Paul II is equally worthy of study.
The one person who surely should be added is Nelson Mandela, justifiably the most admired person of our time. And the enduring legacies of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela—and, less prominently, of Chinese dissident Liu Xiaboa and of Burmese dissident Aung San Suu Kyi—testify to the incomparable significance of Mahatma Gandhi, who in my view is the most important human being of the past millennium.
There has been considerable scholarship about the leaders portrayed here. At the conclusion of this preface, I list some of the writings that have advanced our understanding of these individuals and their capacity for leadership.


Just as the political and economic spheres have been convulsed in recent decades, so, too, our world has been altered by technological, cultural, and even epistemological changes. I capture these changes by the trio of concepts of "truthiness," twaddle, and Twitter.
The term "truthiness" was popularized by the American television wit Stephen Colbert. Traditionally, we apply the predicate "true" to statements for which reliable evidence can be accrued. (Conversely, if it is impossible to imagine a situation where the statement could be disproved, we consider the statement to be an item of faith, rather than of reason.) People have always lied, and leaders have scarcely been immune from that sin—indeed, Nazi propagandist Josef Goebbels famously and cynically declared, "The bigger the lie, the more people believe it."
What Colbert has added is that, nowadays, the simple declaration of a state of affair by a person who is known suffices to confer upon it truth value. So whether a Republican leader is called a "war criminal" by a member of the Democratic Party, or a discussion of "end of life" procedures is called a "death panel" by a Republican spokesperson, these statements are deemed true simply because they have been repeatedly uttered in the public arena.
The cause of this state of affair is undoubtedly complex. In my Truth, Beauty, and Goodness Reframed (2011), I argue that the challenge to truth comes from three complementary sources: (l) increased knowledge about the wide range of cultures around the globe, many of which hold apparently incompatible views about the world; (2) the postmodern critique of such traditional notions as truth, according to which claims to truth are seen as simple assertions of power; and (3) the human tendency, particularly during adolescence and early adulthood, to adopt relativistic stances ("you've got the right to your opinion, just like I have the right to my opinion"). Whatever the relative contributions of these and other factors, it seems clear that leadership becomes more difficult when everyone's story is considered equally valid, independent of corroborating evidence.
Every observer of the contemporary scene notes the explosion of information, claims, and counterclaims in the air, or in its contemporary manifestation, cyberspace. No doubt at least some of that information is valuable, even invaluable. But much of what is available in the digital world is idle chatter, spreading of rumor, confusion of opinion with reason or evidence, and the like. I label this state of affair "twaddle." Ultimately, given enough time and investing enough due diligence, it is possible to arrive more reliably than before at the actual state of affairs. But for most of us, most of the time, we are drowning in twaddle.
Finally, as epitomized by the website Twitter, there is now a premium on messages that are brief, vivid, and memorable. Perhaps they need not be as brief as the 140 characters permitted in a tweet. But by virtue of the forces of advertising and entertainment on the one hand, and the unrelenting demands on time on the other, there is an enormous premium on getting to the point and avoiding complexity. Einstein famously quipped, "Everything should be as simple as possible but not simpler." Alas, the priority given to conceptualization of Twitter length makes the articulation of more complex stories, as well as less familiar stories, far more difficult.


  • "An insightful book...[one of the] leadership classics."—Chicago Tribune
  • "Full of insights and illuminating detail.... Effective leaders put words to the formless longings and deeply felt needs of others. They create communities out of words. In Leading Minds, Gardner shows that he is just such a leader, able to articulate and clarify what many of us have been thinking on the subject for a long time."—Warren Bennis, Harvard Business

On Sale
Dec 6, 2011
Page Count
480 pages
Basic Books

Howard E. Gardner

About the Author

Howard Gardner is the John H. and Elisabeth A. Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Senior Director of Harvard Project Zero. The author of more than twenty books and the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship and twenty-one honorary degrees, he lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Learn more about this author