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The Unseen Leader

How History Can Help Us Rethink Leadership

  • Book
  • © 2023


  • Profiles four unknown or misunderstood historical leaders who achieved remarkable success
  • Presents a new leadership narrative
  • Challenges the "Action Fallacy": our mistaken belief that great leadership requires a propensity for action

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About this book

The Unseen Leader delivers one simple but immensely powerful point: we need to radically rethink how we discuss leadership.

In this book, American historian Martin Gutmann passionately challenges the received wisdom that history's great leaders were individuals with a proclivity for action and brash words. Drawing on extensive historical scholarship and contemporary leadership theory, Gutmann delves into the journeys of four unknown or misunderstood leaders who achieved remarkable successes in vastly different environments—the Polar North, the deserts of Arabia, the sugar plantations of the Caribbean, and Second World War London. What emerges is an entirely new narrative on leadership. Contrary to the perception of heroic protagonists forging ahead boldly, history's truly great leaders were often precisely those who didn't need to generate excessive noise or activity. Instead, they skillfully minimized dramatic circumstances. Their stories challenge our present-day conception of leadership and can inspire the leaders of tomorrow. 


Table of contents (7 chapters)

  1. Toward a New Leadership Story

  2. Rethinking Leadership


“The book’s impressive scholarship is balanced with an engaging and accessible writing style that targets general readers. A convincingly argued, well-researched counternarrative to the history of ‘great leaders.’” (Kirkus,, April 14, 2024)

“I loved the stories in this book that were so well researched and often showed a different perspective of historical leadership. … Highly recommended for those who want to know what is and what isn’t, ‘leadership’.” (Bob,, March 15, 2024)

“This book was thoughtful and provocative. ... the case studies in this book, the author has aimed to shine a light on what are the truly useful and actionable takeaways from looking at these people and how they played the cards they were holding. We enjoyed it, and would recommend checking it out.” (Simon Cocking, Irish Tech News,, November 9, 2023)

“A provocative look at what history really teaches us about effective leadership. This book will challenge you to rethink some of your core assumptions about what it takes to align people around common goals.” (Adam Grant, #1 New York Times bestselling author of THINK AGAIN and host of the podcast Re:Thinking)

“A delightful and powerful read. Through the simple act of profiling four of history’s overlooked or misunderstood leaders, Gutmann challenges some of our most sacred leadership assumptions and lays the foundations for a new leadership story.” (Erin Meyer, Ph.D., New York Times best-selling author of No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention and Professor at INSEAD)

“Deeply insightful and refreshingly unique! The Unseen Leader tells the profound tales of four leaders that teach and inspire us about the leadership that often doesn’t make headlines, but rather quietly and purposefully instructs and guides teams to lasting success. This is a captivating read that will challenge you to see leadership in a new light and offer practical ways you can become the leader you strive to be today.” (Dr. Marshall Goldsmith is the Thinkers50 #1 Executive Coach and New York Times bestselling author of The Earned Life, Triggers, and What Got You Here Won’t Get You There)

“This book is a game-changer for anyone seeking to lead with purpose and impact. Gutmann challenges us to rethink our traditional notions of leadership by highlighting the often-overlooked, unseen leaders who make a lasting impact. Drawing on historical examples and his training as a historian, Gutmann portrays how these hidden leaders carefully analyze their surroundings, mitigate or diminish conflicts, and act in accordance with the forces of history to accomplish their goals. The book provides practical ways for aspiring leaders to become the kind of “unseen leader” who can make a real difference in the world. At a time when leadership is increasingly synonymous with heroism, hubris, ego, and unfettered power, Gutmann offers a refreshing take on an alternative style that is effective and most importantly—needed—at this time. It's a must-read for anyone who wants to lead with vision, purpose, and lasting impact.” (Fred Swaniker, Founder of the African Leadership Group)

“With one foot firmly planted in his training as a historian, Gutmann skillfully challenges readers to reexamine two fundamental assumptions often made about leaders and leadership. One provokes readers to critically examine the role that any one individual can have on the outcome of historical events. Great leaders, he suggests, may be the individuals who read the environment, minimize or de-escalate, act in alignment with historical forces, and know when the old rules, no longer apply. By moving away from our individualistic/heroic exemplars of history, we may uncover a vast array of others who deserve accolades for their unseen leadership.” (Scott Allen, Robert M. Ginn Institute Professor for Leadership & Social Responsibility at John Carroll University and host of podcast Phronesis)

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lucerne School of Business, Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts, Lucerne, Switzerland

    Martin Gutmann

About the author

Martin Gutmann, Ph.D., is a Professor at the Lucerne School of Business, Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts, Switzerland. 


Bibliographic Information

  • Book Title: The Unseen Leader

  • Book Subtitle: How History Can Help Us Rethink Leadership

  • Authors: Martin Gutmann

  • DOI:

  • Publisher: Springer Cham

  • eBook Packages: History, History (R0)

  • Copyright Information: The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2023

  • Softcover ISBN: 978-3-031-37828-7Published: 27 September 2023

  • eBook ISBN: 978-3-031-37829-4Published: 26 September 2023

  • Edition Number: 1

  • Number of Pages: XIII, 197

  • Topics: Business Strategy/Leadership, History, general, Personality and Social Psychology

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