Thinkers 50 Leadership: A book review by Bob Morris

50 LeadershipThinkers 50 Leadership: Organizational Success through Leadership
Stuant Crainer and Des Dearlove
McGraw-Hill Education

What is the cutting-edge thinking about how leadership can achieve and then sustain organizational success?

This is one of the volumes in a series published by McGraw-Hill Education and co-authored by Stuant Crainer and Des Dearlove. They wrote it in response to that question.

I really like the basic concept: Crainer and Dearlove selected a major business subject such as leadership and then asked, “Which cutting edge thinkers should we consult to share their thoughts about this?” They had already read many of their books and articles and even interviewed several of them. A generous selection of the most valuable material they obtained is provided in this volume. The first chapter is called, appropriately, “How We Got Here.” That is, how perspectives on leadership have evolved over time.

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Here is one of the Q&As from an interview of Jim Collins:

What do you think will be the characteristics of the new generation of leaders?

I think humility is a good start. I think we got to a point where people thought that if you wanted to be a leader, you had to be arrogant. No. First, leadership is about hope, leadership is about change, and leadership is about the future. And if you start with those three premises, I want leaders who are willing to listen because the future is not clear. People can tell you about the past because there’s ertainty about the past. With the future, there’s not much certainty, so you have to listen, and bring in multiple perspectives.

Let me use a metaphor. I look at good leaders like sheepdogs. Good sheepdogs have to follow three rules. Number one, you can bark a lot, but you don’t bite. Number two, you hAve to be behind; you cannot be ahead of the sheep. Number three, you must know where to go, and you mustn’t lose the sheep.

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Here is another Q&A, from their interview of Gary Hamel:

What should organizations do to obtain the extraordinary leaders they need?

One of the questions we have to ask is, is the problem finding or growing these extraordinary leaders? Or is it building organizations that can thrive even when they have fairly mediocre leaders?

I think it is much more the latter. If you look at any measure, democracies have outperformed totalitarian systems over the past 100 years.

When you look at the data, the thing that strikes you is that democracies are resilient and adaptable. In a democracy, power flows up and accountability flows down. In companies, it tends to be exactly the opposite. So it’s not that we shouldn’t strive to improve our leadership skills and capabilities, it’s just that at the end of the day, I think that the notion that we’re going to invest a lot of authority over strategy and direction in a small group of people at the top who are somehow superhuman is an entirely bankrupt notion.

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Granted, these are snippets but they do give you at least a sample of the thoughtful and thought-provoking material that is presented throughout the book. Other thought leaders who contributed to this volume include John Adair, Warren Bennis (Q&A), Bennis and Robert Thomas (conversation), Peter Drucker, Syd Finkelstein, Stew Friedman, Rob Goffee (Q&A), Marshall Goldsmith, Herminia Ibarra, Gareth Jones, Barbara Kellerman, W. Chan Kim, Renée Mauborgne, C.K. Prahalad, Kate Sweetman, and Chris Zook.

Those who share my high regard for this book are urged to check out the Thinkders50 volumes on innovation, management, future thinkers, and strategy. Also, Crainer’s The Ultimate Business Library: The Greatest Books That Made Management, published by Captone/A Wiley Imprint, and The Management Century: One Hundred Years of Thinking and Practice, part of the J-B BAH Strategy & Business Series.

I also greatly admire Dearlove’s The Ultimate Book of Business Thinking: Harnessing the Power of the World’s Greatest Business Ideas and Business the Richard Branson Way: 10 Secrets of the World’s Greatest Brand Builder (Big Shots Series).

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