Opening the pages on leadership (HR manager’s bookshelf)

Recent books gain credibility by going beyond ‘hero worship’

Wander into any bookstore, head to the business section and you’ll find no shortage of new titles. Some try to explain the secrets of success of famous executives or politicians. Some deal with managing difficult employees. Others offer guidance for developing the reader’s leadership ability.

As a consultant and experienced manager myself, I’m often skeptical. The simplistic advice, the hero worship or the whole aura of mystery — attributing all of the organization’s success (or failure) to a single leader — get in the way of credibility.

But Leading Leaders strikes me as quite different. It’s refreshing because it rings true, it’s easy to read and profound in the way it captures the nature of managing people who are intelligent, independent and leaders in their own rights. This is the nature of the leadership challenge for so many executives and managers.

This column also includes two other recent titles that shed light on, and may stimulate debate about, current leadership topics including knowledge workers, emotional intelligence and a new concept known as “executive intelligence.”

Leading Leaders: How to Manage Smart, Talented, Rich and Powerful People.

By Jeswald Salacuse,
218 pages, Amacom (2006)
ISBN 0-8144-0855-9

Seeing the limitations of the military analogy (directing the troops) and the sports model (inspiring team players), the author, a law professor at Tufts University in Medford, Mass., writes about leading highly educated professionals who are leaders in their own right. In other words, the “elite” followers.

Elites don’t think of themselves as followers. They have their own stakeholders and constituencies to serve and to lead. They have numerous connections and options outside the organization. They have position and negotiating power and they believe their “leader” is beholden to them. (They may even have had a role in choosing the leader.)

The book defines leadership as “the ability to cause individuals to act willingly in a desired way for the benefit of a group” and provides a rich perspective on leadership as a relationship rather than as a quality or set of attributes. From chapter one:

•Your ability to lead other leaders arises not just from your position, resources, or charisma but from your will and skill. If you want to lead other persons, especially leaders, you have to work at the job.

•The basis of leadership, particularly with other leaders, is your relationship with the people you lead. Trust in the leader is a necessary element of leadership, and employees are more disposed to follow a leader in whom they have trust than one they don’t trust.

•Communication is your fundamental tool in building those relationships.

•The key process of leading leaders is communication through one-on-one interactions with the people you would lead. If you lead other leaders, you have to engage them and personally connect with them.

•In developing leadership strategies and tactics, you need to take into account the interests of the people you would lead. Leading leaders is above all interest-based leadership — your job as a leader is to convince them that their interests lie with you.

Chapter three illustrates these principles in “the art of strategic leadership conversations” which are interactive, conflicted, personal and individualized. The author lays out steps for framing the conversation based on the goal, the other person’s interests, shaping those interests, anticipating actions, generating options and gaining commitment for a decision.

At the heart of the book are seven daily tasks of leadership, defined from the follower’s point of view, needs and expectations:

•direction: negotiating the vision;

•integration: making stars a team;

•mediation: settling leadership conflicts;

•education: teaching the educated;

•motivation: moving other leaders;

•representation: leading outside the organization; and

•trust creation: capitalizing your leadership.

The book is remarkably clear and concise in working through these tasks, recognizing the integrity, listening and the relationship building required. It also provides a road map of “how-to” principles, guidelines and examples. Few leaders may excel at all seven tasks, but successful ones work at them all, multitasking among them because they’re all vital and interrelated.

“Smart, talented, rich and powerful people tend to be particularly skeptical of the charismatic leader and the exaggerated leadership ego, if only because they both offend the basic notion of primus inter pares, first among equals, that for them is the fundamental principle that makes them willing to follow other leaders.”

Thinking for a Living: How to Get Better Performance and Results From Knowledge Workers

By Thomas Davenport,
227 pages, Harvard Business School Press (2005)
ISBN 1-59139-423-6

The final chapter in this book, “Managing knowledge workers,” addresses the same question as Leading Leaders. It calls for managers to carefully select and retain knowledge workers, nurture communities, be “player/coaches” and fend off excessive bureaucracy.

This will be far more effective than the typical approach to dealing with knowledge workers: HSPALTA, or “hire smart people and leave them alone.”

The rest of the book takes an analytical, conceptual look at how knowledge workers can be segmented (a typology based on complexity of the work and degree of interdependence) and various interventions that may help improve their performance.

No single performance measure applies to all knowledge work and no single methodology works in all situations. The book reviews process improvement approaches, technology at both the organizational and individual levels, social and intellectual networks, learning processes and the physical work environment.

A couple of insights:

•“Technological interventions into knowledge can be useful, but high-performing knowledge workers say that they get most of their valuable information from other people in their social networks.”

•“High performers learn not only through people, but through a diverse set of work experiences that they insert themselves into. They take calculated risks in their jobs in order to secure new learning experiences. This type of learner should be sought in the recruiting processes.”

The book will be useful to performance consultants, work design and management development specialists as a general road map, but not as a set of specific tools or tactics.

The EQ Edge: Emotional Intelligence and Your Success

By Steven Stein and Howard Book,
351 pages, Wiley (revised 2006)
ISBN 0-470-83836-1

This updated version of a popular book reports on a study of more than 16,000 people and finds that between 15 per cent and 45 per cent of work success can be accounted for by their EQ test score. “Work success” was gauged by respondents’ own rating of how successful they were at their jobs.

Based on the resulting data, profiles are presented on the most important emotional intelligence factors for about 50 occupational groups.

Using case studies and examples from life and work, the authors outline five realms of emotional intelligence:

•intrapersonal (self-awareness, assertiveness, independence, self-regard, self-actualization);

•interpersonal (empathy, social responsibility, relationships);

•adaptability (problem-solving, reality testing, flexibility);

•stress management (stress tolerance, impulse control); and

•general mood (happiness, optimism).

Emotional intelligence has diminished as a hot buzzword, but this book will be popular with readers who find it helpful as a way to describe the many factors that influence performance and success beyond technical expertise and basic intellectual capability.

Executive Intelligence

By Justin
Menkes, 308 pages,
Collins (2005)
ISBN 0-06-078187-4

As an executive search professional, the author is concerned with a problem he observes:

“Today we have a population of executives who, on the whole, do not possess the essential skills necessary to render thoughtful, disciplined action. Nor are they likely to realize how inferior their thinking is. As a result, we have too many business leaders who are prone to taking action without thinking. Further, most executives are completely unaware of the costs of their ‘shoot first’ attitude. There is a pervasive, misguided belief that thoughtful analysis is an obstacle to quick results.”

Senior HR leaders, line executives and leadership development/recruitment practitioners are the audience for this guide to assessing, measuring and developing “executive intelligence,” which is defined as how well an executive:

•accomplishes tasks: define a problem, identify high priority issues and assess what is known and needs to be known;

•works with and through others: recognize underlying agendas, understand multiple perspectives and anticipate emotional reactions; and

•judges oneself and adapts one’s behaviour: identify one’s own mistakes, encourage and seek out constructive criticism and adjust accordingly.

Menkes proposes his model as a way to avoid the irrelevant distractions of personality type, charisma or style. His observations include:

•Charismatic leaders often pose a serious threat to the survival of an organization because they frequently try to appear infallible and decisive at the expense of making the right decision.

•Not one published study has shown emotional intelligence to be a meaningful predictor of job performance beyond what has long been explained by other measures.

•Personality is not a differentiator of star talent. It is an individual’s facility for clear thinking or intelligence that largely determines his leadership success.

Ray Brillinger is a certified management consultant working internationally with organizations on change management, HR strategy and performance improvement. He can be reached at [email protected].

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