The Infinite Leader: A book review by Bob Morris

The Infinite Leader: Balancing the Demands of Modern Business Leadership
Chris Lewis and Pippa Malmgren
Kogan Page INSPIRE (October 2020)

How to answer these key questions: How much of WHAT is needed WHERE? WHEN? Also, WHY?

Long ago I realized that most of my limits were self-imposed. And as time passed, I realized that that was also true of most other people. Henry Ford once observed, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re probably right.” More recently, Pogo the Possum concluded, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

In his most recent book, The Infinite Game, Simon Sinek explains that In finite games, like football or chess, the players are known, the rules are fixed, and the endpoint is clear. The winners and losers are easily identified. In infinite games, like business or politics or life itself, the players come and go, the rules are changeable, and there is no defined endpoint. There are no winners or losers in an infinite game; there is only ahead and behind.

Perhaps Chris Lewis and Pippa Malmgren had at least some of this in mind when they wrote a book in which they explain “how to manage the demands of modern business leadership.” The global business world today — especially with the emergence of the coronavirus — is much more volatile, more uncertain, more complex, and more ambiguous than at any prior time that I can recall.

According to Lewis and Malmgren, “At the heart of the Infinite Leader idea is what we call the zero model of leadership, which shows how leadership can be balanced. Of course, balance is something seldom achieved and, in that respect, is infinite.” The greater challenge, in my opinion, is sustaining balance [begin italics] appropriate tyo the given context [end italics], especially amidst endless change that is often disruptive.

Think in terms of leadership that balances competing issues such as short-term < > long-term benefits and shareholders < > non-shareholders (e.g. customers, community). Years ago, Herb Kelleher (then chairman and CEO of Southwest Airlines) was asked how his company had higher profits and greater cap value that all of its nine competitors [begin italics] combined [end italics]. “We take great care of our people, they take great are of our customers, and our customers take great care of our shareholders.” Balances continue to vary based on the given circumstances but the formula remains the same.

No brief commentary such as mine can do full justice to the value of the material that Chris Lewis and Pippa Malmgren provide in this book. But I hope I have at least indicated why I think highly of it. To sum up my take:

o All of the greatest leaders throughout history were human beings, therefore imperfect
o All solutions and all answers that leaders make are imperfect but some are better than others.
o Marshall Goldsmith: “What got you here won’t get you there.”
o In fact, I presume to add, it won’t even allow you to remain “here.”
o Circumstances change so leaders must adjust the given balance (e.g. allocation of resources).
o Short-term results can help to achieve long-term objectives. Organizations need both.
o Companies annually ranked among the most highly admired and best to work are also annually ranked among those profitable with greatest cap value in their competitive marketplace(s).

Let’s give Lao-tse the last word on leadership,  from his Tao Te Ching:

“Learn from the people
Plan with the people
Begin with what they have
Build on what they know
Of the best leaders
When the task is accomplished
The people will remark
We have done it ourselves.”



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