Deutschman’s objective was to write what turns out to be an especially entertaining and engaging as well as informative analysis of “real” leadership, what Bill George would characterize as “authentic” leadership. He explains that aspiring rulers struggle to preserve their positions, stewards focus on strengthening the status quo while preserving its values and priorities, and “lemmings” repeat the same practices and strategies that previously ruined other organizations whereas “real” leaders establish and instill the one or two values “that will be most important for an organization or a movement or a community.” They “talk the talk” (i.e. affirm the right values) and “walk the walk” (i.e. consistently demonstrate those values in their behavior). The exemplars include Steve Jobs, Herb Kelleher Martin Luther King, Jr., Wendy Kopp, Ray Kroc, Nelson Mandela, Danny Meyer, Fred Smith, and both Thomas Watson Sr. and Jr. Deutschman differentiates real leaders from those whose behavior (invoking another cliché phrase) “talk a good game” but don’t play it. For example, Mark Fields, Al Gore, Frank Lorenzo, Laura Turner Seydel, and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
There is much of substantial value in this book when Deutschman stays out of the pulpit and concentrates on real-world situations that demonstrate the core values of real leadership. For example, there is some fascinating material in Chapter Two when he first discusses Ray Kroc obsession with cleanliness in every McDonald’s location, Fred Smith’s obsession with FedEx’s punctuality, and Charles Schwab’s obsession with impeccable integrity throughout his entire organization. All of them led by example, working side-by-side with their associates, asking no one to do what they had not already done themselves. Deutschman also discusses several military leaders, all of whom also led by example. In modern warfare, it makes no sense for generals to place themselves directly in harm’s way but Norman Schwarzkopf, Richard Cavazos, and William Latham had already demonstrated their courage in brutal combat on numerous occasions in the past. By the time they became general officers, their reputations for both valor and integrity had preceded them. They had earned – and deserved — the respect and trust of those who served under them.
At the conclusion of the final chapter, Deutschman observes: “The final proof of leadership isn’t having new ideas; it’s pursuing an idea obsessively – with every action, in every moment, with everyone watching – for many years or even for several decades. That’s when you’re a real leader.” All real leaders exemplify in everything they do and how they do it the same values they so passionately affirm.