Book Review: The Last Word on Power

A mentor of mine once told me that, in his opinion, executives must re-invent themselves every seven years. It was not until recently that I truly understood what that meant.

Originally published in the mid-1990s, The Last Word on Power by Tracy Goss has deep ideas that leaders should consider. In the book, Goss explains a framework she calls, “executive re-invention.”

thelastwordonpowerThe framework is about how leaders can use self-reflection to free themselves from preconceived notions that hold them back. Goss suggests that if leaders are looking to transform the groups they lead, they must first transform themselves.

One of the more powerful ideas in the book is one Goss calls, “The Universal Human Paradigm.” The idea behind this concept is that humans believe that there is a way things “should” or “shouldn’t” be (p.77). In truth, this is a construct. Goss writes that there is really only the way things actually are. In other words, restricting judgment and accepting reality will allow leaders to accept the risk and reinvent themselves and change the world.

Goss describes the process for becoming aware of our own versions of “The Universal Human Paradigm,” and then how to reinvent oneself from that point. To free ourselves from, “The Universal Human Paradigm,” we must, “Die before going into battle.” Among the resources in this chapter is a rather dark story about Buckminster Fuller, a famous 20th century architect, and how he talked himself out of suicide to pursue the life he was too afraid to seek previously. Although this one anecdote may seem depressing, keep reading. In the steps that follow, Goss advice merits reflection and the work of going through the framework point by point.

The concepts in the book remind me a lot of stoic philosophy and how we can excel in life by accepting the world as it is.

The Last Word on Power is a dense and thought-provoking read. As I went through the book, I found myself believing in the concepts, although putting them into practice has been challenging. Like “The Universal Human Paradigm,” communities and organizations are filled with a set of paradigms and mental models that form its culture.

Unlike some of the other frameworks I have read about, this one I feel is particularly hard to implement in an existing culture, unless the change comes from the top leader of the organization. If the President or CEO undergoes a reinvention, then it can open the door for others to reinvent themselves as well. However, without that initial step, implementing the framework could come off as insubordinate, rude, or, at the bare minimum, strange.

The parts that stick with me from the book usually involve individuals going off and doing something they would rather do than work because their transition is so transformative, clear, and obvious. As someone who is engaged and happy in my current role, there are parts of the framework that feel like they either don’t apply or are unrealizable.

Still, the framework has many elements that can work for everyone. Acknowledgement that no matter how much we plan, the chances of achieving a life plan are low and knowing that our work will never feel complete are powerful to grapple with and reconcile.

The Last Word on Power is a worthwhile read. No matter where you are in an organization, exploring and working through the framework will be beneficial. This is also a great book to discuss with a learning partner because of its complexity.

KEY TAKEAWAY: According to the concepts in The Last Word on Power, re-invention starts with the work of inner personal reflection. Once we accept reality as it is, we can start to make changes in our lives to achieve important things for society. I recommend this book to explore the richness of the framework and to strive for implementation.


The Last Word on Power is available for purchase on Amazon for $16.99 (does not include Prime discount)