Book Notes: HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership

HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership by Wanda T. Wallace
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What Makes a Leader?

Divisions with a critical mass of Emotional Intelligence (EI) out performed those without by 20%. EI comprises of 5 skills:

  • Self-awareness: knowing your strengths, weaknesses, drives, values and how you impact other.
    • Self-confidence, Realistic self assessment, Self-deprecating sense of humor, Thirst for constructive criticism
  • Self-regulation: controlling disruptive impulses and moods
    • Trustworthiness, Integrity, Comfort with ambiguity and change
  • Intrinsic Motivation: relishing achievement for its own sake
    • A passion for the work itself and for new challenges, Unflagging energy to improve, Optimism in the face of failure
  • Empathy: understanding other people’s emotions and feelings
    • Expertise in attracting and retaining talent, Ability to develop others, Sensitivity to cross-cultural differences
  • Social skill: building rapport with others so you can move in the same direction
    • Effectiveness in leading change, Persuasiveness, Extensive networking, Expertise in building and leading teams

EI are skills which we can practice, develop and improve.

What Makes an Effective Executive

What do effective leaders have in common? They get the right things done, in the right ways-by following eight simple rules:

  • Make smart decisions
    • Ask what needs to be done
    • Ask what’s right for the enterprise
  • Convert that knowledge into effective action
    • Develop action plans
  • Ensure accountability throughout your organization
    • Take responsibility for decisions
    • Take responsibility for communicating
    • Focus on opportunities, not problems
    • Run productive meetings
    • Think and say “We,” not “I”

What Leaders Really Do

Leadership is not just a matter of charisma and vision. Leadership skills are not innate, they must be acquired and developed. To understand leadership we need to know how it is different to management.

Management is about coping with complexity; bringing order and predictability.
Leadership is about learning how to cope with rapid change and to be able to adapt to it.

Planning and budgetingSetting direction
Organising and staffingAligning people
Provides control and solves problemsProvides motivation

The Work of Leadership

In bussiness there are many complex and changing problems and it is people throughout the organisation which needs to be able to adapt to these. This work is tough on everyone and the solutions are counterintuitive.

  • Rather than providing solutions, you must ask tough questions and leverage employees’ collective intelligence.
  • Instead of maintaining norms, you must challenge the “way we do business.”
  • And rather than quelling conflict, you need to draw issues out and let people feel the sting of reality

How do we do this?

  1. Get on the balcony. Move back and forth between the action and the “balcony.” You’ll spot emerging patterns, such as power struggles or work avoidance. This high-level perspective helps you mobilize people to do adaptive work.
  2. Identify your adaptive challenge. Ask which beliefs, values, and behaviors needed overhauling. Resolving these will bring company wide collaboration.
  3. Regulate distress. To inspire change-without disabling people-pace adaptive work:
    1. Let employees debate issues and clarify assumptions safely
    2. Provide direction. Define key issues and values. Control the rate of change: Don’t start too many initiatives simultaneously without stopping others.
    3. Maintain just enough tension, resisting pressure to restore the status quo. Raise tough questions without succumbing to anxiety yourself. Communicate presence and poise.
  4. Maintain disciplined attention. Encourage managers to grapple with divisive issues, rather than indulging in scapegoating or denial. Deepen the debate to unlock polarized, superficial conflict. Demonstrate collaboration to solve problems.
  5. Give the work back to employees. To instill collective self-confidence (versus dependence on you) support rather than control people. Encourage risk taking and responsibility-then back people up if they err. Help them recognize they contain the solutions.
  6. Protect leadership voices from below. Don’t silence whistleblowers, creative deviants and others exposing contradictions within your company. Their perspectives can provoke fresh thinking. Ask, “What is this guy really talking about? Have we missed something?”

Why should anyone be led by you?

Of course, you need vision, energy, authority and strategic direction but you also need these qualities if you want people to follow you:

  • Show you’re human, selectively revealing weaknesses.
  • Be a “sensor”, collecting soft people data that lets you rely on intuition.
  • Manage employees with “tough empathy”. Care passionately about them and their work, while giving them only what they need to achieve their best.
  • Dare to be different, capitalizing on your uniqueness.

Crucible of leadership

Extraordinary leaders find meaning in and learn from the most negative events. Such transformative events are called crucibles-a severe test or trial. Crucibles are intense, often traumatic and always unplanned where leaders emerge from adversity stronger, more confident in themselves and their purpose as well as more committed to their work.

Four skills enable leaders to learn from adversity:

  1. Engage others in shared meaning
  2. A distinctive, compelling voice
  3. Integrity
  4. Adaptive capacity. This most critical skill includes the ability to grasp context, and hardiness. Grasping context requires weighing many factors (e.g.. how different people will interpret a gesture). Without this quality, leaders can’t connect with constituents.

Level 5 Leadership

Only 11 of the 1,435 Fortune 500 companies have sustained stock returns at least three times the market’s for 15 years after a major transition period (see Good To Great). These 11 companies has one thing in comment – a “Level 5” leader at the helm. Level 5 leaders have both deep personal humility with intense professional will. What are the leadership levels?

  1. Highly capable individual: Makes productive personal contributions through talent, knowledge, skills, and good work habits
  2. Contributing team member: Contributes to the achievement of group objectives; works effectively with others in a group setting
  3. Competent manager: Organises people and resources toward the effective and efficient pursuit of predetermined objectives.
  4. Effective leader: Catalyses commitment to and vigorously chases a clear and compelling vision, stimulates the group to high standards of performance
  5. Executive: Builds enduring greatness through a paradoxical combination of personal humility plus professional drive

Each layer sits on top of the one before and to be an effective level 5 leader means mastering all 5 levels.

Seven Transformations of Leadership

A key leadership skill is leading transformations. There are seven types of ation logic – these have a significant impact on how the transformation is executed and received.

OpportunistWins any way possible.
Self-oriented, manipulative
Good in emergencies and in pursuing salesFew people want to follow them for the long term
DiplomatAvoids conflict.
Wants to belong, obeys group norms and doesn’t rock the boat
Supportive glue in teamsCan’t provide painful feedback or make the ard decisions needed to improve performance
ExpertRules by logic and expertise.
Uses hard data to gain consensus and buy-in.
Good individual contributor.Lacks emotional intelligence, lacks respect for those with less expertise
AchieverMeets strategic goals.
Promotes teamwork, juggles managerial duties and respond to market demands to achieve goals.
Well suited to managerial workInhibits thinking outside the box
IndividualistOperates in unconventional ways.
Ignores rules they regard as irrelevant
Effective in venture and consulting roles.Irritates colleagues and bosses by ignoring key organisational processes and people.
StrategistGenerates organisational and personal change.
Highly collaborative, weaves vision with pragmatic, timely initiatives, changes existing assumptions
Generates transformations over the short and long termNone
AlchamistGenerates social transformation.
Reinventing organisations in historical ways.
Leads society wide changeNone

Discovering your Authentic Leadership

Authentic leaders achieve by being themselves. To be able to do this you really need to know yourself.

  1. Which people and experiences in your early life had the greatest impact on you?
  2. What tools do you use to become self-aware? What is your authentic self? What are the moments when you say to yourself, this is the real me? 3. What are your most deeply held values? Where did they come from?
  3. Have your values changed significantly since your childhood? How do your values inform your actions?
  4. What motivates you extrinsically? What are your intrinsic motivations? How do you balance extrinsic and intrinsic motivation in your life?
  5. What kind of support team do you have? How can your support team make you a more authentic leader? How should you diversify your team to broaden your perspective?
  6. Is your life integrated? Are you able to be the same person in all as aspects of your life-personal, work, family, and community? If not, what is holding you back?
  7. What does being authentic mean in your life? Are you more effective as a leader when you behave authentically? Have you ever paid a price for your authenticity as a leader? Was it worth it?
  8. What steps can you take today, tomorrow, and over the next year to develop your authentic leadership?

In Praise of Incomplete Leaders

The biggest myth in leadership is the “complete leader”: someone at the top who’s got it all figured out. Trying to be this person is a danger to you and your company. Instead accept that you’re human, with strengths and weaknesses. Understand the four leadership capabilities all organizations need:

  • Sensemaking: interpreting developments in the business environment
    • Constantly understanding changes in the business environment and interpreting their ramifications for your industry and company
  • Relating: building trusting relationships
    • Building trusting relationships, balancing advocacy (explaining your viewpoints) with inquiry (listening to understand others viewpoints), and cultivating networks of supportive confidants
  • Visioning: communicating a compelling image of the future
    • Creating credible and compelling images of a desired future that people in the organization want to create together
  • Inventing: coming up with new ways of doing things
    • Creating new ways of approaching tasks or overcoming seemingly insurmountable problems to turn visions into reality

Then find and work with others who can provide the capabilities you’re missing. Not only does this produce better results but it also promotes leadership throughout the organisation – leading to new ideas the company needs to excel.

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