The Heart of Leadership: A book review by Bob Morris

Heart:LeadershipThe Heart of Leadership: Becoming a Leader People Want to Follow
Mark Miller
Berrett-Koehler Publishers (2013)

How healthy is the cardiovascular system of your organization’s workforce?

Those who have read one of more of Mark Miller’s previously published books already know that he has superb reasoning and writing skills in combination with the talents of a raconteur. What we have in this volume is a business fable about today’s business world. There are a setting, cast of characters, themes, plot, conflicts and tensions, and eventually resolution. The focus is on Blake Brown (age 28) whose career and personal life currently consist of frustrated aspirations, self-doubt, and – thus far – unfulfilled potentialities. His future at Dynastar is uncertain. He sets out on a quest to find out why “leaders are different.” His mentor (Debbie Brewster) and five of his late father’s associates are involved in the process. Details are best revealed within the narrative, in context. However, I am comfortable sharing a few of what I consider to be Miller’s most important insights.

First, Miller is convinced – and I agree – that leaders have a certain presence that attracts interest and, over time, helps them to earn respect and trust. Call it “it,” call it whatever you like. For whatever reasons, we feel something special in their presence. Now I am not talking about charisma. My own opinion (perhaps Miller agrees) is that charisma resembles an expensive fragrance. It has a pleasing aroma but should not be consumed. The leaders Miller has in mind are genuine, authentic, and consistent in terms of their affirmations and, especially, their behavior. .

Also, I agree with Miller that all organizations need effective leadership at all levels and in all areas of the given enterprise. More to the point, Miller believes that almost anyone can become an effective leader if — HUGE “if” — they sustain a commitment to five essential values: a hunger for wisdom; expectations of the best and to be the best; acceptance of personal responsibility and accountability; response with courage, especially during a moral crisis; and lastly, always think of others and their welfare first.

It is important to keep in mind that the development of a “heart of leadership” is a never-ending process. The nature and extent of that will probably determine the nature and extent of one’s personal growth and professional development. Although one’s character may trump one’s other attributes, character is not mutually exclusive with natural talent and intelligence, a superb formal education, highly developed skills, deep and deliberate practice to sustain constant improvement (i.e. the “10,000 Hour Rule”), and serendipitous timing.

In my opinion, this is Mark Miller’s most important and most valuable book…thus far. The leadership he affirms helps to define most of the companies that are annually ranked each year among the most highly regarded and best to work for. They are also annually ranked among those most profitable with the greatest cap value in the industry segment. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

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