Leadership Sustainability: A book review by Bob Morris

Leadership SustainabilityLeadership Sustainability: Seven Disciplines to Achieve the Changes Great Leaders Know They Must Make
Dave Ulrich and Norm Smallwood
McGraw-Hill (2013)

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Aristotle

I was wondering when someone would address the issue of leadership sustainability and thus was delighted to see that Dave Ulrich and Norm Smallwood have. Those who have read one or more of their previous collaborations (Results-Based Leadership, Leadership Brand, and The Leadership Code) are already familiar with the quality of their thinking as well as the scope and depth of their erudition. They are anthropologists who continue to explore an ever-expanding, ever-accelerating, and ever-changing global business world. As the subtitle of this latest book reveals, their focus is on “seven disciplines to achieve changes great leaders know they must make.” As for the list of seven, they seem less like disciplines than they do as areas of engagement within which discipline is absolutely essential. That is, essential in each.

Ulrich and Smallwood became convinced decades ago that leaders are important but leadership is even more important. One of their missions in life is to help as many o0rganizations as possible to establish and then sustain a program that develops leadership at all levels and in all areas of the given enterprise. So, the program must be sustained but so must the effectiveness of those it develops. How? Constant and continuous improvement.

More specifically, leaders must ensure that (in Albert Einstein’s words) “everything is as simple as possible but no simpler”); manage time as the most precious of resources; accept and insist that others accept personal accountability for behavior; manage all other resources (especially those that are renewable, such as energy and enthusiasm) with rigor as well as prudence; measure everything and everyone that are essential to achieving and then sustaining excellence (however defined); nourish a culture within which there is a shared commitment to answering questions, solving problems, meeting obligations, and achieving goals; and finally, meanwhile, achieve leadership sustainability with initiatives based on the seven disciplines and 31 principles that are examined in this book.

These are among the dozens of passages of special interest and value to me, also listed to indicate the scope of Ulrich and Smallwood’s coverage.

o Leadership Sustainability (Pages 6-7)
o How Leaders Sustain Their Desired Improvements (16-21)
o Building Simplicity 27-28
o Prioritize, and, Filter and Frame (31-39)
o Tell Stories, Create a Narrative (39-45)
o Mastery of Time (55-77)
o Take Personal Accountability (84-89)
o Hold Others Accountable (96-103)
o Coaching, and, Expectations of a Coach (112-1115 and 123-124)
o Tracking in the Workplace (138-139)
o Tie [Decisions, Behavior, etc.] to Consequences (151-157)
o Self-Reflection, Improvisation, Resilience (173-186)
o Connect Change with Personal Values, and, Connect Change with Organizational Purpose (201-207)
o Celebrate Success (211-213)
o Diagnosing Your Leadership Sustainability (216-220)
o Responsibility for Building Leadership Sustainability (236-243)

Now more than at any prior time than I can remember organizations have several compelling needs and daunting challenges. For example, developing leadership and management skills at all levels and in all areas of the given enterprise; involving most valuable people in the recruiting, interviewing, candidate evaluation, and onboarding process; and establishing and then nourishing a workplace culture within which innovative thinking thrives. The information, insights, and wisdom provided in this book can help leaders in any to address needs and respond effectively challenges such as these.

Dave Ulrich and Norm Smallwood end their book with a challenge and a promise: “We challenge you to not just read but also ponder, internalize, and apply these seven disciplines. We promise that if you do so, your leadership will move from rhetoric to results. Your personal brand will be about getting things done, and your desires will be realized. We encourage you to spread your wings and use the ideas here (and online ) and share your experiences with us.” I presume to offer my own best wishes, adding that most self-limits are self-imposed.

What are you waiting for? The sky is yours.


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