“If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when?” Rabbi Hillel the Elder
What we have here in a single volume is a combination of Steve Farber’s earlier works, The Radical Leap (2009) and The Radical Edge (2006). He relies on a hybrid genre, serving as the narrator of a business fable in which he is also the protagonist. As do Eliyahu Goldratt and Patrick Lencioni in their own works, Farber tells a fictitious story anchored in real-world situations, one that has a setting, cast of characters, plot developments, themes, conflicts, tensions, climax, etc. The lessons to be learned, he suggests, comprise what he describes as chronicles that could serve as “A Daily Handbook for Extreme Leaders.”
In summary, here is what Farber offers: “Extreme Leadership is intensely personal and intrinsically scary. You are striving to change the nature of things, and that’s a scary endeavor because you are asking yourself and others to give up the familiar. It is scary because you have no guarantee of a positive outcome. It is scary because you don’t know how you are personally going to be judged; your credibility is on the line. There is no way — absolutely no way, therefore — to participate in an authentic leadership experience without fear.
“We’ve been conditioned to believe that fear is `bad. And while it’s true that fear can save your life or keep you from doing something stupid, avoiding it can also keep you from doing something great, from learning something new, and from growing as a human being. Fear is a natural part of growth, and since growth, change and revolution are all on the Extreme Leader’s agenda, fear comes with the territory.
“In the right context, therefore, your experience of fear (or exhilaration, for that matter) is your internal indicator that you’re moving in the right direction. That you really are leading, in other words. That scary/exhilarating experience is what I call the Oh S***! Moment or OS!M.
“To put it bluntly: if you’re using all the buzzwords and reading all the latest leadership books, and holding forth at every meeting on the latest management fads, but you’re not experiencing that visceral churning in your gut, and you’re not scaring yourself every day, and you’re not feeling that OhS***!Moment as regularly as clockwork, then you are not doing anything significant — let alone changing the world — and you are certainly not leading anyone else. As an Extreme Leader, your OS!Ms will happen as a result of your taking a Radical LEAP every day.”
This extensive quotation identifies the “what” of Extreme Leadership. Farber insists – and I agreed – that’s the easy part: explaining what it is and what it isn’t, what’s involved, etc. Hundreds (thousands?) of books on leadership in recent years have also identified the “what.” The much more difficult challenge is to explain the “how” of Extreme Leadership and few have done it better than Farber has. Extreme behavior is quite literally to (if not beyond) assumed limits, dating to 14th century Old French derivation of the Latin term extremus or “outermost, utmost, farthest, last.” However, there is an even greater challenge than understanding “how” and that, obviously, is to become and then continue to be an Extreme Leader. That requires a “radical leap” of faith, not only in what can be accomplished but also in one’s ability to do it. It also requires radical effort (i.e. beyond assumed capabilities and presumed limits).
Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton have much of value to say about what they characterize as the “Knowing-Doing Gap” but also about what they characterize as the “Doing-Knowing Gap.” The business fable that Farber presents within this volume provides a wealth of information, insights, and advice that will help the reader to avoid or eliminate both gaps. Throughout the narrative, there are frequent references to “changing the world.” Farber acknowledges that definitions and especially measurements of “world” will vary among those who read the book. They must, however, must “get clear” on how they “want the world to be different from the current reality.” Long ago I realized that most human limits are self-imposed and presumably Steve Farber agrees. What is “extreme” for one may be “normal” for another. The same is true of perceptions of what is possible.
In my opinion, one of this book’s key points is to challenge all assumptions about capabilities and limitations (especially one’s own), summon the faith as well as the determination to improve the world (however defined and measured), and then have it. As I reached the conclusion of this book, I was reminded of Rabbi Hillel the Elder’s questions, “If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when?”