Is This Leading Somewhere
Does the world really need 38, 542 different versions of leadership? That’s a recent count of books offered on Amazon. Behind each book there is an author, a consultant and a different point-of-view on what leadership is about. While a confusing marketplace of ideas, this is an important topic as “leadership” lies at the heart of talent management efforts. What do we think about our leaders today? Do we have enough leaders for tomorrow? How do we develop leaders?
So what’s the right version of “leadership by the book” to help us in our role as talent management champions? Let’s take a stroll through a sample of the offerings.
First there is a bookshelf – some parts dusty – stuffed with leadership based on historical figures. Need to toughen up? Try Machiavelli on Modern Leadership, Patton on Leadership, or Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun. For another view, pick your president role model, such as Lincoln on Leadership, George Washington Leadership or Ulysses S. Grant Strategies for Leadership. Other historical choices include Churchill on Leadership, Leadership Lessons from the Life of Gandhi and Leadership Lessons of Crazy Horse.
Move over to the next aisle and you’ll go from the concrete lessons of history to the imaginative world of leadership by metaphor. A quick scan of titles urges readers to imagine leadership as An Engine, As Jazz, At High Altitude, Clearly Artful, A Cycle, A Rhythm and Rhyme. But it does get a bit confusing as well. Is it Leadership from the Inside Out or Outdoor Leadership? In the musical genre, is it Leadership and the Art of the Conductor or Ensemble Leadership? How about titles of leadership as a Bus, A Rock or Naturally Organic?
Think metaphoric leadership titles confuse, try choosing between Feminine Leadership or My Little Black Book of Leadership (lessons from my ex-girlfriends); Bold Leadership or Servant Leadership; Vince Lombardi on Leadership or The Leadership Secrets of Santa Claus.?
Care for something more down to earth? How about The Imperfect Leader, Leadership for Dummies or The Idiot’s Guide to Motivational Leadership?
By The Numbers
How about we sum it all up by looking at the numbers bookshelf of leadership. How many leadership rules are there? Here’s a countdown:
- 417 Rules of Awesomely Bold Leadership
- 124 Actions for Everyday Leadership
- 100 Greatest Leadership Principles of All Time
- 75 Principles of Conscious Leadership
- 50 Leadership Skills Handbook
- 21 Laws of Leadership
- 15 Lead Well and Prosper
- 7 Steps to Leadership Excellence
- 5 Leadership Essentials for Women
- 4Es of Leadership
- 1 Style of Leadership
Finally, perhaps the most honest of the bunch, a title sitting on a shelf by itself: A Very Short, Fairly Interesting and Reasonably Cheap Book About Studying Leadership.
A Personal, Practical Playbook
Having read many of these books, heard from the authors or sat through their seminars, I find some of it useful, some nonsense and some quite confusing. For example if “the leadership SECRETS of X” are so unknown, why is it one of the most frequent titles? Can’t be much of a secret!
Yet, tomorrow there will be more leadership titles on Amazon, new celebrity leaders to emulate and fresh metaphor for us to consider. It is certainly entertaining, and speaks to a few deeper messages about the craft of developing star leaders.
First, leadership is a challenging and complex field of study. To be useful, it needs to connect personally. The manufacturing supervisor may better identify with a historical figure, the marketing manager is inspired by a creative metaphor. The finance leader just wants a list to follow. In other words, what inspires and what instructs counts. We should allow for that variation.
Second, leadership needs to be practical. While allowing for freshness and inspiration, we should avoid chasing the fad of the moment. More leadership development efforts are wasted by spinning through the latest and loudest leadership fashions. The better books on leadership have much in common, a foundation that has been proven over time and not discovered last week! Stick to the basics. All in all, the most useful and universal expectations have five simple components: trust, direction, innovation, people, results. Simple works better than complex. Remember, leaders throughout your organization – with different abilities and backgrounds – will have to master the same leadership dance moves!
Third, leadership needs to come from your playbook. Outside theories and stories are fine, but the real power is to set in place your organization’s view of effective leadership. Your words, your history, your lessons well executed over time grow the best leaders.
One of the most important leadership legacy moments happen when a new leader takes over a team. The playbook needs to be instructive on what the leader should do and not do upon start-up. Along side assisting the leader in the new circumstances of onboarding, the next chapter reminds us that we shouldn’t forget getting the team onboard with the new leader.
© Kevin D. Wilde