What You Really Need to Lead: A book review by Bob Morris

Posted on: September 29th, 2015 by bobmorris

What You ReallyWhat You Really Need to Lead: The Power of Thinking and Acting Like an Owner
Robert Steven Kaplan
Harvard Business Review Press 2015)

To paraphrase Henry Ford, “Whether you think you can be an effective leader or think you can’t, you’re probably right.”

The last time I checked, Amazon sells 157,049 books in the “Leadership” category and 69,443 in the “Business Leadership” category. Why another? My answer is that, just as in residential real estate there is a buyer for every house, there is an aspiring leader for every book that explains “how to think and act like an owner.”

I agree with Robert Steven Kaplan that “leadership starts with an ownership mind-set. That is, do you think as if you are in the shoes of a decision maker and act in a manner that takes ownership of the consequences of your actions?…Once you have developed an ownership mind-set and are willing to take responsibility for learning to be a leader, you will improve your effectiveness by empowering others to act in the same way.”

What Kaplan shares in this book is based on wide and deep experience in helping aspiring leaders to think and act like an owner. He is an empiricist and, better yet, a pragmatist, determined to understand what works and what doesn’t, as ewell as why insofar as leadership development is concerned.

These are among the several dozen passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the scope of Kaplan’s coverage:

o Creating a Leadership Frame: It Starts with an Ownership Mind-Set (Pages 12-18)
o An Ownership Mind-Set (22-23)
o Do You Try to Figure Out What You Believe as if You Were in the Shoes of a Decision Maker? (24-34)
o The Ability to Act on Your Convictions (34-40)
o What Sent Wrong? (44-48)
o Are You Listening? (60-64)
o Staying Open to Learning (64-65)
o The Creeping Threat of Isolation (69-71)
o It’s a Process versus a Destination (84-86)
o Vision, Priorities, and Alignment (86-98)
o The Second Process Integral to Ownership: Understanding Yourself (98-116)
o How to Build Relationships (127-131)
o The Seniority Dilemma (136-139)
o The Power of Brainstorming (144-145)
o Learning to Work with and through Others (146-148)
o Take Ownership of Your Life (150-156)
o Focus on Adding Value to Others (157-162)
o Be Open to Learning (162-164)
o Make Use of Tools That Create Greater Ownership (168-179)

The primer format works especially well in this book. Thoughtfully, Kaplan includes Appendix A, “Essentials of What You Really Need to Lead,” which reviews the key points made in each of the chapters. “Suggested Follow-Up Steps,” an even more important reader-friendly device, provided at the conclusion of each chapter that also reviews the key points and facilitates active interaction with the material. In addition to highlighting key passages, I recommend having a lined note book near at hand in which to record documentation of “Follow-Up Steps” as well as comments, questions, references, annotations, etc. that are most relevant to the reader’s specific circumstances. There are also several blank pages following biographical information about Kaplan.

I agree with him that “we really don’t have a widely shared understanding of what leadership is“…and isn’t. He correctly stresses the importance of having sufficient confidence in being able to do – and do well – whatever must be done to achieve the given objective. Self-doubts are normal and challenges are inevitable. Hence the importance of the owner’s mind-set. Although there may not be a shared understanding or even a general consensus about what leadership is and does, all of the great leaders throughout history had exceptional courage in one form or another. This is probably what Jack Dempsey had in mind when asserting that “champions get up when they can’t.”

These are among Robert Steven Kaplan’s concluding remarks: “The problems of the world aren’t going to be solved by someone else. If they’re going to be solved, they will have to be addressed by someone like you…If you follow the [ownership] approach, I don’t know how much money, power, or status you’ll ultimately have. But I do believe you will find a path to leading in your own distinctive way. More importantly, I think you will [begin italics] feel [end italics] like a big success, and that will make all the difference.”

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