What Happens Now?: A book review by Bob Morris

What Happens Now?: Reinvent Yourself as a Leader Before Your Business Outruns You
John Hillen and Mark Nevins
SelectBooks (May 2018)

“I must follow the people. Am I not their leader?” Benjamin Disraeli

John Hillen and Mark Nevins note that the leadership bookcase is a crowded one, “but in writing this book we offer a new layer of insight from our in-the-trenches work with leaders of all kinds.” As executives proceed to a higher level of authority and responsibility, and are bewildered by the new challenges they face, they inevitably ask themselves, “What happens now?” Most of those who read the book can identify with that situation.

Much of the material in the book focuses on seven stalls that many executives encounter when asked to rise above the status quo (what got them there) to meet the more ambiguous challenges of sophistication. There are seven specific “stall points” that “can bewilder just about every leader at one time or another.” I prefer not to list them here. They are best revealed within the narrative, in context. In fact, a a separate chapter is devoted ti each.

I agree with Hillen and Nevins: “identifying, getting ahead of, and reinventing yourself to power through leadership stalls is critical. Mastering sophistication, rather than merely complexity, demands self-development, and over time, radical change of yourself. You need to adopt mindsets and behaviors you haven’t been fully aware of before. And you need to become a student of a new process for doing so.”

They acknowledge the power of distinguishing sophistication from complexity. “If complexity calls on you to change the mechanics or structure of your organization, sophistication calls for you to change yourself and others.If complexity calls for changing your skills, sophistication calls for changing behaviors. If complexity calls for management initiatives, sophistication calls for leadership mindsets.”

John Hillen and Mark Nevins urge their readers to pay close attention to warning signs nd remember that stalls are common and maybe ´ven inevitable, even for the  best leaders. Make a habit asking yourself regularly, when you sense a stall coming and before you even hit it: ‘What happens now?'”

They recommend a three-step response: “First of all, scale up your situational awareness. What’s changing in your organization? What do you need to change in yourself to tackle the emerging challenges?…Second, assess and understand yourself.. Can you become a balanced critic of your own strengths and weaknesses? Can you struggle to see that, when faced with new challenges of sophistication, Are you a ready-fire-aim leader who misinterprets growing sophistication for growing complexity?… perhaps [begin italics] you’re [end italics] the problem? Are you a ready-fire-aim leader who misinterprets growing sophistication for growing complexity?…Third, act deliberately to recover from — or avoid — those seven deadly stalls. Develop capabilities that change your behaviors and thinking. Ask, ‘What can I become?'”

That’s sound advice for leaders at all levels and in all areas of the given enterprise. It will, of course, help them to accelerate their personal growth and professional development. Meanwhile, it will prepare them to help others to do so, also.

The Disraeli comment is not as frivolous as it may seem. In a world that has become more volatile, more complex, more uncertain, and more ambiguous than at any prior time that I can remember, leaders are under pressure that could buckle a nuclear submarine. They must continuously reinvent, indeed update themselves just to keep pace with what is happening in a global marketplace.

This probably what Richard Dawkins has in mind when observing,“Yesterday’s dangerous idea is today’s orthodoxy and tomorrow’s cliché.”

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