HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership: A book review by Bob Morris

Posted on: March 9th, 2011 by bobmorris

HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership

Various Authors with Editors of Harvard Business Review

Harvard Business Press (2011)

This is one in a series of volumes that anthologize what the editors of the Harvard Business Review consider to be the “must reads” in a given business subject area, in this instance leadership. I have no quarrel with any of their selections, each of which is eminently deserving of inclusion. Were all of these article purchased separately as reprints, the total cost would be $60 and the value of any one of them exceeds that. Given the fact that Amazon now sells this one for only $14.13, that’s quite a bargain. The same is true of volumes in other series such as “Harvard Business Review on….” and “Harvard Business Essentials.”

Those who authored or co-authored the ten articles in this volume do indeed provide enlightening perspectives on the dimensions of leadership. Some may ask, “Why another book on this subject?” Years ago, a colleague on the faculty at Princeton pointed out to Albert Einstein that he always asked the same questions on his final examination. Why? “Because every year the answers are different.” I cannot recall a prior time when changes in the business world were more numerous and occurring faster. Core values and valuable insights that illuminate those values may remain the same but the nature and extent of possible applications of them certainly do not. It remains for each reader of these articles to decide (a) which are most relevant to her or his needs and interests, and (b) how to derive greatest benefit from those selected.

For example:

“I have found that the most effective leaders are alike in one crucial way: They all have a high degree of what has come to be known as emotional intelligence. It’s not that IQ and technical skills are irrelevant. They do matter, but only as “threshold capabilities”; that is, that they are entry-level requirements for executive positions. But my research, along with other recent studies, clearly shows that emotional intelligence is the sin qua non of leadership. Without it, a person can have the best training in the world, an incisive, analytical mind, and an endless supply of smart ideas, but he still won’t make a great leader.”

According to Goleman, the EI skills are Self-awareness (knowing one’s strengths, weaknesses, drives, values, and impact on others), Self-regulation (controlling or redirecting disruptive I pulses and moods), motivation (relishing achievement for its own sake), 
 Empathy (understanding other people’s emotional makeup), Social skill (building rapport with others to move them in desired directions). Daniel Goleman, “What Makes a Great Leader?” HBR (June 1996)

Here’s another excerpt in which, as in Goleman’s article, the “what” and “why” are carefully explained so that readers can then determine how to apply what they have learned.

“Every company needs transformational leaders – those who spearhead changes that elevate profitability, expand market share, and change the rules of the game in their industry. But few executives understand the unique strengths needed to become such a leader. Result? They miss the opportunity to develop those strengths. They and their firms lose out.” David Rooke and William R. Torbert, Seven Transformations of Leadership,” HBR (April 2005)

By the way, the first five of the seven are Opportunist (Wins any way possible: self-oriented, manipulative, “might makes right”), Diplomat (“Avoids conflict: wants to belong; obeys group norms; doesn’t rock the boat), Expert (Rules by logic and expertise: uses hard data to gain consensus and buy-in), and Achiever (Meets strategic goals: promotes teamwork; juggles managerial duties and responds to market demands to achieve goals). Rooke and Torbert acknowledge that the “leader’s voyage of development is never an easy one” and, in fact, it involves a process rather than a destination. That said, for individuals as well as for their organizations, the action logics they embrace, Rooke and Torbert assert, can “reap rich rewards.”
All of the other eight articles were also written by world-class authorities on leadership (e.g. Peter Drucker and John Kotter) and the material they provide will also be invaluable sources of information, insights, and wisdom throughout each leader’s  “voyage of development.”

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