The Definitive Book On Leadership

The Definitive Book On Leadership

What is it about leadership that prevents someone from writing the definitive book?

If you visit Amazon, the on-line bookshop, and enter “leadership” into the search facility, it will bring up 84,187 titles (02.02.14). Reading one book a day, it would take 281 years to read them all – and new titles are being added each week! So what is it about leadership that prevents someone from writing the definitive book?

There is widespread agreement that leaders are people who achieve results and bring about change. There is, however, very little agreement about how they do it, hence the number of books.

The attributes people expect of their leaders are well documented. Yet none of this fully explains why some people are regarded highly as leaders. Military trainers have long been aware that their vigorous selection and development processes consistently deliver highly competent leaders but cannot explain why, despite identical training, a handful emerge as inspirational leaders. Experience in the private sector shows that many inspirational leaders have emerged, who have not had any formal development at all!

Another factor which prevents the definitive book is that the demands of leadership are constantly changing. As the working environment changes some skills, which were previously regarded as being somewhat important, are increasingly regarded as of critical importance and vice versa.

One such skill is the ability to build partnerships both inside and outside of the organisation. Future leaders will need to create six different types of partnerships; three inside the organisation and three outside.

Internal Partnerships will need to be formed with Direct Reports, Co-workers and Other Managers. External Partnerships will need to be formed with Customers, Suppliers and Competitors.

Partnerships with Direct Reports
One of the emerging critical challenges for leadership is the effective management of knowledge workers, that is people who know more about what they are doing than their manager does. The traditional hierarchical leadership approach is rarely effective in this situation and leaders will have to develop “win-win” situations where the leader is seen as a partner rather than the boss!

Partnerships with Co-Workers
Traditionally leaders have been taught to compete with colleagues for people, resources and ideas and have been rewarded for doing so. Future leaders will have to move out of their silos and learn to share people, capital and ideas. This may mean taking a short term loss so that the organisation can take a long term gain.

Partnerships with Managers
Apart from the CEO, every leader in an organisation has a manager, and some will be both. Where direct reports know more than their managers, they will have to learn to influence “up” as well as “down” and “across.” The manager’s role then becomes one of a partner leading a network rather than a manager leading a hierarchy.

Partnerships with Customers
The growing shift towards building long-term customer relationships, rather than achieving short-term sales means that suppliers need to develop a much deeper understanding of their customers’ total business. Leaders will have to accept that they may need to make many small sacrifices to achieve larger gains. In other words, they will have to act like partners.

Partnerships with Suppliers
In the past, where many companies sold stand-alone products, partnering with suppliers was not only regarded as unnecessary by many leaders, but as unethical by some! With the current trend towards integrated and often customised solutions, leaders are increasingly recognising that their success is directly related to that of their suppliers.

Partnerships with Competitors
This is the most radical area of change where partnerships with competitors have moved from the unthinkable to the commonplace, with emerging leaders seeing competitors as potential customers, suppliers and partners. This inevitably changes the concept of “winning!”

The six trends towards more partnering clearly reinforce each other. As these trends continue, it will become increasingly difficult to determine who is a customer, supplier, direct report, manager or partner!

A critical and underlying component of successful leadership is to understand the context within which the individual or individuals are being expected to operate so that their leadership development focuses on particular competencies rather than addressing all aspects, which can confuse and demotivate. To prepare an effective leadership development programme requires top managers:

  • to acknowledge what the company’s key objectives are
  • define the critical success factors necessary to achieve them
  • ensure conditions essential for success are clearly understood.

To assist with this we at ALC have developed a “Road Map to Higher Performance” which can be downloaded from our website:


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *