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Bola Owoade

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Book Review – HBR’s 10 Must Reads On Leadership


HBR Must Read - LeadershipIntroduction

This is one the HBR's 10 Must Reads series. This one focuses on leadership. It's a compilation of ten articles from Harvard Business Review. While the articles may seem dated, they are very much still relevant as they cover timeless principles applicable to leadership.  Each article is written by a different authors which means by reading this book you get different perspectives that complement each other on leadership. Published in 2011, the book has 10 chapters and 217 pages. Following is a quick review of each chapter.

Chapter One - What Makes a Leader? Crucial question which the author, Daniel Goleman attempts to answer in this chapter. Coleman writes that effective leaders have one thing in common: emotional intelligence. In the article he explains what emotional intelligence is by outlining five components of it which are:

  1. Self-awareness
  2. Self-regulation
  3. Motivation
  4. Empathy
  5. Social skill

Each of these components are covered in detail.

Chapter Two - What Makes an Effective Executive: Written by the late Peter F. Drucker  and originally published in June 2004, this article highlights eight practices of effective executives. The practices are:

  1. They asked, "What needs to be done?"
  2. They asked, "What is right for the enterprise?"
  3. They developed action plans.
  4. They took responsibility for decisions.
  5. They took responsibility for communicating.
  6. They were focused on opportunities rather than problems.
  7. They ran productive meetings.
  8. They thought and said "we" rather than "I."

Chapter Three - What Leaders Really Do: This third article in the book was written by John Kotter and originally published in the HBR in 1990. Kotter's premise in this article is that leadership is different from management and he goes into detail as to why he believes so. In describing their differences he concentrates on three main areas which are:

  1. Planning and budgeting (management) versus setting direction (leadership).
  2. Organizing and staffing (management) versus aligning people (leadership).
  3. Controlling activities and solving problems (management) versus motivating and inspiring (leadership).

He writes that though they are distinct, they are complimentary and are both needed for success. He uses some real life examples to make his point and also discusses the importance of creating a culture of leadership.

Chapter Four - The Work of Leadership:  This article written by Ronald A. Heifetz and Donald L. Laurie was originally published in 1997. It deals with change, referred to as leading adaptive work by the authors. According to them, "Adaptive work is required when our deeply held beliefs are challenged, when the values that made us successful become less relevant, and when legitimate yet competing perspectives emerge."  These are adaptive challenges and the authors argue that they need adaptive leadership. Adaptive challenges have no easy or direct answers. Six principles are outlined to help leaders deal with adaptive challenges.

  1. Get on the balcony: stand back and notice emerging patterns before moving forward with decisions.
  2. Identify your adaptive challenge: Get to know what the challenge is and its nature.
  3. Regulate distress: Maintain a stable level of productive tension, don't let people get overwhelmed by the change. Pace the work in a way that is acceptable.
  4. Maintain discipline attention: Don't let difference become a distraction. Confront and deal with differences in views, opinions and experience that can become divisive.
  5. Give the work back to employees: Avoid letting people depend on you. Pass work to them and then provide appropriate support.
  6. Protect leadership voices from below: Give voice to people from below, even those that may not seem comfortable like whistle-blowers, creative deviants, and other such voices. It can help create an open environment where learning is encouraged.

Chapter Five - Why Should Anyone Be Led By You? This article asks a crucial question, why should anyone be led by you. It was first published in the year 2000. Robert Goffee and Gareth Jones, the authors, had been asking executives this question for over 10 years before publishing the article. Information compiled from their research led to the discovery of four qualities that inspirational leaders share.

  1. They selectively show their weaknesses: This helps show who leaders really are by not just focusing on what they really do well. It can help to create an environment of trust and collaboration.
  2. They rely heavily on intuition to gauge the appropriate timing and course of action: Their ability to collect and interpret soft data helps them know just when and how to act.
  3. They manage employees with tough empathy: They care for people and empathize with them intensely but also focus on giving people what they need not what they want.
  4. They reveal their differences: They take advantage of what is unique about themselves and use it for their benefit.

Chapter Six - Crucibles of Leadership: Warren G. Bennis and Robert J. Thomas describe crucibles of leadership as negative events in a person's life that they learn from and use to become more effective in their leadership capability. They wrote that, "...our recent research has led us to conclude that one of the most reliable indicators and predictors of true leadership is an individual's ability to find meaning in negative events and to learn from even the most trying circumstances." So this article originally published in 2002 is about how leaders deal with adversity and learn from it, ultimately emerging as a better leader. They highlighted five skills which enable leaders to learn from adversity: engage others in shared meaning, a distinctive, compelling voice, integrity and adaptive capacity.

Chapter Seven - Levels of Leadership - The Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve: Jim Collins  discusses level five leadership in this chapter which he refers to as, "the highest level in a hierarchy of executive capabilities that we identified." There are four other levels according to Collins which can produce success, but level five is unique because it is at that level that leaders build enduring greatness through a combination of humility and personal will. The combination of humility and a strong will is a paradox at that level of leadership, but it is what Collins and his team picked out in their research and he writes extensively about that in this article which was originally printed in 2001.

Chapter Eight - Seven Transformations of Leadership: David Rooke and Wiliam R. Torbert who wrote this article originally in 2005 believe that what differentiates leaders is, "the way they interpret their surroundings and react when their power or safety is challenged." They call this a leaders internal "action logic." Based on this assertion they conducted extensive research and came up with seven action logics, which are opportunistic, diplomat, expert, achiever, individualist, strategist and alchemist. Each of them are explained. There is also information on how to move from one action logic level to another.

Chapter Nine - Discovering Your Authentic Leadership: This article focuses on the subject of authentic leadership. Authentic leadership is about people being themselves and not trying to be like others. The authors quote that, "no one can be authentic by trying to imitate someone else. You can learn others' experiences, but there is no way you can be successful by trying to be like them." The authors, Bill George, Peter Sims, Andrew N. McLean and Diana Mayer have identified seven key questions leaders need to be mindful of in developing themselves as authentic leaders:

  1. Which people in your experiences in your early life had the greatest impact on you?
  2. What tools do you use to become more self-aware?
  3. What are your deeply most held values?
  4. What motivates you extrinsically?
  5. What kind of support do you have?
  6. Is your life integrated?
  7. What does being authentic mean in your life?
  8. What steps can you take today, tomorrow and over the next year to develop your authentic leadership?

Each of these questions are discussed in more detail and some of the information in this chapter challenges the mainstream thoughts on leadership.

Chapter Ten - In Praise of The Incomplete Leader: This is an interesting article which challenges the notion of the great and flawless leader, or simply the leader that can do no wrong. This quote says it all, "It's time to end the myth of the complete leader: the flawless person at the top who's got it all figured out. In fact the sooner leaders stop trying to be all things to all people, the better off their organizations will be."The authors Deborah Ancona, Thomas W. Malone, Wanda J. Orlikowski, and Peter Senge, believe that leaders need to accept they are human with strengths and weaknesses, but at the same time four leadership capabilities that all organizations need.

  1. Sensemaking: interpreting developments in the business environment
  2. Relating: building trusting relationships.
  3. Visioning: communicating a compelling image of the future.
  4. Inventing: coming up with new ways of doing things.

There is also information on how to balance these four leadership capabilities.

This is an interesting book with diverse thoughts on leadership, although looking closely you will discover that most of the qualities used to represent leadership by the different authors are the same, just explained in different language. If I were to pick my top three learning points from the book, they would be:

  1. The five qualities of emotional intelligence
  2. Becoming an authentic leader
  3. Realizing that there is no complete leader

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Bola Owoade

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