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  • Writer's pictureJon Bircher

Leadership Unleashed - Book Review

Updated: Nov 7, 2021

Unleashed: The Unapologetic Leader’s Guide to Empowering Everyone Around You

Frances Frei & Anne Morriss

Leadership is becoming increasingly complex. Expectations on leaders is intensifying; with greater visibility and scrutiny around leadership style and approach. Leaders are told to identify their strengths, be aware of their shadows, change their behaviors, become more vulnerable, make better-faster decisions, be mindful and heart-led, galvanise and serve. No wonder leaders are burning out as they try to hold it all together, doing their very best. With such a focus on self-leadership – perhaps we risk losing sight of what true leadership is all about.

In this beautifully written leadership guide, Frances Frei and Anne Morriss argue that leadership starts by recognizing that it is not about you - a phrase first introduced to me by Tommy Spaulding in his book the Heart-led leader.

This is a thoughtful, engaging and accessible book packed with delightfully crafted and quotable leadership insights. It is at times playful, and others challenging. It also includes one of the most powerful leadership definitions, I have come across

“leadership is about empowering other people as a result of your presence – and making sure that impact continues into your absence.”

I love this definition, in particular the intentionality behind ‘presence and absence’.

This central concentric model, balances simplicity and wholeness and provides a natural framework for the book, divided into 2-parts - Presence and Absence and into 5-sections - Trust, Love, Belonging, Strategy and Culture.

Many of the concepts expressed in Unleashed have been described elsewhere, however this book holds them all together in way that others don’t. In particular, I love how strategy and culture are introduced as direct extensions of who you are as a leader and, how when used purposefully, allow you as a leader to empower others even in your absence. In the first part of the book - Presence, the authors unpack the inner 3 sections of Trust, Love, and Belonging.

“Mastering trust, love and belonging - the core competencies of empowerment leadership – is an extraordinary achievement. But practicing them requires you to be present for the action.”

And, in the second they dive into Absence, and the power of Strategy and Culture

“The most successful leaders are influencing people far beyond their direct reach and are intensely aware that success depends on what happens in their absence… strategy and culture are invisible forces that shape organizations and empower other people whether or not you happen to be present.”

Throughout, I appreciate the mix of leadership concepts, frameworks, stories and case examples as well as valuable ‘breakout sections’ including deep-dives, examples, tips, reflections, questions and gut checks.

“An extraordinary amount of energy is being stored up in the distance between who we are and who we might be.”


Trust: The foundation of leadership, the bullseye, is trust – according to the authors this is built when leaders reveal empathy, logic, and authenticity. Building on this, Frances Frei delivers a fantastic TED talk on this subject.

Love: Successful leaders motivate others by setting high standards and revealing deep devotion. I love the positive tension between these two ideas, a little like the tension required to hit a note on a piano string.

“The gift of helping someone reach for a better future than the present they’re living is among the purest forms of human love we know.”

Belonging: Explores the practical task of building and leading inclusive teams where people who don’t look and think and talk like you can be unleashed.

Strategy: Focuses on how strategy can create value for all stakeholders, not just financial returns for your company. This is not a deep-dive into good strategy but I love the leadership emphasis regarding the importance of ruthless elimination and also how clear strategy supports better decision making throughout the organisation, even in your absence.

“We believe that strategy is the direct extension of who you are as a leader, Strategy embeds your own values and beliefs into your organizations behavior, it carries who you are into the corners of the company you could never reach on your own. Our challenge to you is to use that superpower to unleash potential of, well everyone”

Culture: Highlights culture as a further extension of your values as a leader and the collective way things get done, what is true and how people in an organisation can flourish even in your absence

“Culture carries its guidance to the farthest corners of the organization to places you may never go and people you may never meet.”

What about vision?

I only had one fundamental challenge with this book - I believe leadership is about guiding people from one place to another and that great leaders galvanise teams around a compelling vision and then do everything they can to support them in delivering it. The authors mention vision at the beginning and even though you could argue it is part of strategy, in my humble opinion it feels glaringly absent from the model and the thinking. I would like to see a little more discussion on this, and how to unleash others through a compelling vision as well as a clear strategy.

That said, for me this has already become a key leadership reference book for me, and supports, builds on and holds together many of the leadership, strategy and culture classics that I refer to regularly. I will leave you with one final quote.

“Only when you can imagine a better version of someone can you play a role in helping unleash them”

About the Authors

Frances Frei

Frances Frei is a professor at Harvard Business School. She recently served as Uber’s first Senior Vice President of Leadership and Strategy to help the company navigate its very public crisis in leadership and culture. Frances regularly works with companies embarking on large-scale change and organizational transformation, including embracing inclusion and diversity as a lever for improved performance. Her TED Talk on the topic of building trust has logged over 4 million views.

Anne Morriss

Anne Morriss is a highly sought-after leadership coach and the Executive Founder of The Leadership Consortium, a first-of-its-kind leadership accelerator that works to help more and varied leaders thrive. Her collaborators have ranged from early-stage tech founders to Fortune 50 executives to public-sector leaders building national competitiveness. Anne has spent the last twenty years building and leading mission-driven enterprises, serving most recently as CEO and founder of GenePeeks, which addressed the urgent need for better personal health information.

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