Hacking Leadership: A book review by Bob Morris

Hacking LeadershipHacking Leadership: The 11 Gaps Every Business Needs to Close and the Secrets to Closing Them Quickly
Mike Myatt
John Wiley & Sons (2014)

“Put simply, the greatest testimony to the power of real leadership is what happens in its absence – very little.”

The title refers to a major organizational need: Leadership at all levels and in all areas of operation that will help to achieve what Mike Myatt defines as the skills needed to “discover an alternate path, clever and skillful tricks, shortcuts and workarounds, breaking the code, deciphering complexity, influencing outcomes, acquiring access, creating innovative customizations to existing/outdated methodologies.”

As defined, these hackers defy the status quo, an organizational culture whose values usually result from what James O’Toole so aptly characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.” They avoid policies and procedures that make no sense…but they also avoid confrontation. The terms “stealth” and “guerilla” come to mind. Myatt: “Hackers are innovative thinkers who acquire and distribute knowledge, tips, and tricks for solving complex problems — they reinvent strategies, protocols, and practices to create more effective solutions to both existing problems and new challenges. They adopt the mind-set of innovating around best practices in pursuit of next practices.”

These are among the dozens of business subjects and issues of special interest and value to me, also listed to indicate the scope of Myatt’s coverage.

o The Leadership Gap Defined (Pages 3-5)
o Hacking the Status Quo (11-13)
o To Hack the Future, You Must Have Clear Perspectives on the Past (36-37)
o Great Leaders Hack the Future by Pulling It Forward (40-42)

For each of the following, “hacking” = eliminating, replacing, improving, and/or transforming.

o Hacking the Impulsivity Gap (48-50)
o Hacking the Gap Between Strategy and Culture (58-60)
o Hacking the Rumor Mill (67-70)
o Hacking Stability (73-75)
o Hacking the Loyalty Gap (83-86)
o Hacking the Four Dimensions of Talent Gap (86-89)
o Hacking the Definition (93-96)
o Hacking the Decision Gap (115-119)
o Hacking the Communications Gap (126-131)
o Hacking the Change Gap (142-145)
o Hacking Perfection

Some of Myatt’s most valuable insights help his reader to explain how and why leaders must identify personal, team, organizational, and market blind spots as well as gaps and then deal with them in the most effective fashion. “Therefore it’s critically important for leaders to understand that most blind spits exist in the form of gaps — positional gaps, philosophical gaps, strategic gaps, operational gaps, knowledge gaps, and so on. Gaps exist in every organization: The issue is whether you recognize them, and if so, how you choose to deal with them.”

To repeat, Myatt advocates hacking leadership at all levels and in all areas. If I understand him (and I may not), he views hacking as an on-going process because, as Richard Dawkins once observed, “Yesterday’s dangerous idea is today’s orthodoxy and tomorrow’s cliché.” To paraphrase Dawkins, the successes of yesterday’s hacking become today’s status quo and tomorrow’s stagnation.

Mike Myatt concludes: “In the final analysis, leadership is less about structure and more about vision and philosophy. Nothing inspires change and innovation like great leadership, and, likewise, there is no more costly legacy system you maintain than poor leadership. Put simply, the greatest testimony to the power of real leadership is what happens in its absence — very little.”

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