Being the Boss: A book review by Bob Morris

Being the Boss: The 3 Imperatives for Becoming a Great Leader
Linda A. Hill and Kent Lineback
Harvard Business Review Press 2011)

Who you are will determine what you do and how you do it

The book’s subtitle refers to three imperatives for becoming a great leader and all are essential: Manage yourself, manage your network, and manage your team. The material is organized within three Parts, each devoted to one of the imperatives. Note the sequence. Linda Hill and Kent Lineback are quite correct when suggesting that those who cannot manage themselves effectively cannot manage anyone else effectively. It should also be noted that they are world-class pragmatists. The material they provide in their book is based on a wide and deep body of research on managers’ real-world behavior. They skillfully invoke the “journey” metaphor when examining two processes: self-discovery and becoming a great leader. In fact, there is also a third process: helping others to become a great leader.

Credit Hill and Lineback with making skillful use of several reader-friendly devices such as checklists of key points that are inserted and then discussed throughout the narrative. For example, these are provided in the first four chapters:

The eight “inherent paradoxes” of management (Pages16-20)

Why the paradoxes define the fundamental nature of management (20-21)

Most common misconceptions about management (38-43)

Self-audit questions: knowing when and how to use authority (45-48)

Why being both a boss and a friend can be incompatible (52-56)

Competence and Character: The elements of trust (59-70)

Hill and Lineback also provide a Summary at the conclusion of each of the three Parts that serves as a self-assessment with regard to where the reader is at this point in the journey to become a great manager. The questions in each Summary as well as those posed elsewhere serve two separate but interdependent purposes, both of them critically important: They challenge the reader to determine progress re both the journey of self-discovery and the journey of leadership development. The reader is thus actively involved in the dual process, rather than merely reading about it.

To me, some of the most valuable material is provided in Chapter as Hill and Lineback help the reader to “define the future” to derive nine substantial benefits (147-151). They explain how and why to formulate a written plan to encourage their reader to communicate goals and involve others. They also recommend an unwritten plan exists in the reader’s mind “as a living, evolving understanding” of what to do, where the journey’s destination is located, why the reader seeks it, and how to reach it. “Think of your written plan as a partial snapshot of your unwritten plan at a given moment. That written plan will differ from your broader, more fluid, and more disorganized unwritten plan in key ways.”

Readers will appreciate the fact that Hill and Lineback explain in detail the three key elements of a written plan and then provide a series of direct questions to guide and inform its creation. Some questions address immediate issues, others intermediate issues, and still others issues that are “one year and three or more years out.” It is imperative that the reader be clear about her or his current situation, equally clear about where she or he wants to be in the future, and then specific about how to get from the current situation to the ultimate destination. Individuals as well as members of a team must answer these questions. Great leaders ensure that the right questions are asked and, of equal importance, that answers to them are correct and complete.

Linda Hill and Kent Lineback fully understand – and appreciate – how difficult it is to embark and then remain on the journey they propose. They wrote this book for aspiring leaders and offer additional assistance at the website identified on Page 255. If viewed as “gardeners,” great leaders “grow” other great leaders. That is perhaps the single greatest obligation – and satisfaction – of “being the boss.”


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