The Power to Empower Others

August 5, 2020

Book Review by Kristen Cudd

There is no shortage of leadership books out there. They help leaders join the race but never quite push them across the metaphorical finish line. The problem is that they focus on you, the leader. Frances Frei and Anne Morriss’s book Unleashed: The Unapologetic Leader’s Guide to Empowering Everyone Around You works from the assumption that “leadership, at its core, isn’t about you. Instead, it’s about how effective you are at empowering other people and unleashing their potential.” Truly effective leadership is exhibited in others, both in the leader’s presence, and in their absence.

Presence: Trust, Love, Belonging

The authors first focus is on leadership when a leader is in the presence of the people being led. There are three levels explored within this context: trust, love, and belonging.

The authors lay out a formula that contains three primary drivers of trust: authenticity, logic, and empathy. “People trust their leader when they believe they are dealing with their authentic self, when they have faith in their leader’s judgment, and when they believe you care about them.” Trust is broken down when any of those three drivers are lacking.

Leaders are “most effective in empowering other people” when they consistently have high expectations and devotion to their people. The authors call this the “highest form of love,” even though it is “tough.” Where a leader falls among the intersections of severity, justice, neglect, and fidelity help the leader understand how to reach for the optimal mix of standards and devotion that unleash people. 

Businesses benefit from employing a diverse set of people who feel empowered to show up to work as their authentic selves. Leaders struggle with recruiting and retaining “people who don’t look and think and talk like them.” Overcoming this challenge in the key to having empowered people who feel “safe, welcomed, celebrated, and cherished.”

Absence: Strategy, Culture

The truly impactful leader continues to empower others, even in their absence. Leading in absence is “where you get to change lives and accelerate action at the scale of organizations and beyond.” Typically, performance levels off or even falls away when the leader “leaves the proverbial room.” Leaders need additional tools to be able unleash people’s potential in their absence.

Strategy refers to how employees are empowered “to deploy the resources they control in the absence of direct, hands-on leadership.” Employee decision-making is rooted in how well the strategy is communicated to them. Leaders who create an optimistic and innovative strategy believe that customers, employees, and suppliers can all win. When done right, leaders can add value to every stakeholder through strategy that gives power to everyone.

Culture is the answer when we ask, “how are things really done around here?” Behaviors from meeting etiquette to information sharing are derived from company culture. It is a “collective agreement” about what is important, cause for celebration, or a reason to be ashamed. Many people are unaware of the particulars of their culture until there is “something that needs to change.” Leaders who become “culture warriors” will affect “maximum change.”

Leaders looking for a fresh perspective on getting the best from the people they serve will enjoy this well-researched and balanced book. The authors present an engaging mix of theory, application, and real-world examples that provide a cohesive and navigable road map to lasting change. Clear, concise, and to the point, the authors model effective “unapologetic” leadership in their writing style and tone. Readers can rely on the effectiveness of the framework presented as the authors themselves have their own recent, relevant, front line implementation of it.

Unleashed gives leaders an opportunity to radically transform their leadership by turning the focus away from themselves and towards the potential of the people they lead.


Kristen Cudd

Kristen Cudd is a Contributing Writer at Soundview. She spent seven years in publishing working with business book authors. She loves sharing her viewpoint as a contributing writer for various publications across multiple niches. Her other reviews can be found here.


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