Looking at leadership through the eyes of John W. Gardner: Post 2

In my last post, I discussed the books by John Gardner that I had read thus far (Individual Differences in Level of Aspiration, On Leadership, and Excellence: can we be equal and excellent too?). In this post, I will briefly discuss Gardner’s remaining works and provide some of the data that I have collected that supports my hypothesis.

The next book in Gardner’s lineup is Self-renewal: the individual and the innovative society. In Self-renewal, he explores the individual’s role in society and society’s role in the life of the individual. He says that society needs the individual just as much as the individual needs society. Society needs individuals who are willing to take on challenges and look at things in a new light. It needs people who are willing to put in the time and effort to renew the society because, in Gardner’s opinion, if society does not renew it starts to decay and fall apart. Gardner also says that individuals need society to have a place where they belong and to help nurture their creativity and ingenuity.

After Self-renewal comes No Easy Victories. This book is a compilation of Gardner’s earlier writings and speeches with some new writings added in. Therefore, No Easy Victories follows many of the same lines as Gardner’s earlier work. There is a focus on education, on the individual and individual potential, and on the renewal of society.

Next Gardner wrote The Recovery of Confidence which is about how society can renew and people can become more engaged in society. He focuses a lot on the renewal of institutions, on individuals and how they fit in with society, and, for the first major time, on leadership. Mostly this book follows the themes from the other books pretty well.

Gardner’s penultimate book is In Common Cause which goes into detail about the inner-workings of the citizen’s advocacy group Common Cause that Gardner helped found. He talks about why Common Cause started and how it operates, and he goes into great detail about the inner workings of the group.

This brings me to the end of John Gardner’s writings and to my own inquiries into the trends of leadership in the US. I used the Swem Library databases to compile quantitative data on how many books were published each year and how many books with leadership in the title or as a subject were published each year. The graph results are below. As you can see, the curve for books with leadership in the title or subject is much steeper than that of the other curve, and it starts going sharply upward around 1990. This follows my assertion that a larger focus on leadership has, in part, been a reason for the sharp decline in citizen participation in democracy throughout the mid- to late-1900s.

Number of Books Curve leadership as the subject number of books published


Gardner, John W. In Common Cause. New York: Norton, 1972. Print.

Gardner, John W. No Easy Victories. Ed. Helen Rowan. New York: Harper & Row, 1968. Print

Gardner, John W. The Recovery of Confidence. New York: Norton, 1970. Print.

Gardner, John W. Self-renewal: The Individual and the Innovative Society. New York: Harper & Row, 1964. Print.