Monthly Archives: May 2021

Book Notes: Leadership is Language

Leadership is Language: The Hidden Power of What You Say and What You Don’t by L. David Marquet
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The language we use is a by-product of the industrial age – where we use language to convincing, coerce, comply and conform. A “prove and perform” mindset rather than an improve mindset. We present things as certain and ourselves invincible rather than acknowledge reality. This was a world where the aim was to reduce variability rather than embracing it, there “red word” was done by the people at the bottom and “blue work” was done by the people at the top – so all brains were not engaged, managers spoke and doers listened.


  • Prove
    • I did it!
    • We need to show we can do this
    • Nailed it
  • Protect
    • Wasn’t me
    • No, I’m fine
    • We did the best we could with the time we had
  • Improve
    • How can we make it better?
    • How can I do better?
    • What have we learned?
Red WorkBlue Work
Avoid variability
Narrow focus
Embrace variability
Broad focus
Work types

The solution

  • Control the clock instead of obeying the clock
    • Make a pause possible and pre-plan the next pause
    • Give the pause a name e.g “time out”, raising a hand, pulling a cord
    • Instead of pressing on with red work – call a pause
  • Collaborate instead of coerce
    • Vote first then discuss
    • Be curious not compelling – ask better questions
    • Invite dissent rather than drive consensus
    • Give information not instructions
  • Commitment rather than compliance
    • Commit to learn, not (just) do
    • Commit actions not beliefs
    • Chunk it small but do it all
  • Complete defined goals rather than continuing work indefinitely
    • Chunk work for frequent completes early, few completes late
    • Celebrate with not for
    • Focus on behaviour not characteristics
    • Focus on journey not destination
  • Improve outcomes rather than prove ability – use language which is:
    • Forward not backward- e.g. what would we do differently?
    • Outward not inward – e.g. what could we do to better serve our customers?
    • On the process not on the person – e.g. How could this be done better?
    • On achieving excellence not avoiding errors – e.g. What does great look like?
  • Connect with people rather than confirming to the role
    • Flatten the power gradient
    • Admit you don’t know
    • Be vulnerable
    • Trust first

Book Notes: The New Extraordinary Leader

The New Extraordinary Leader: Turning Good Managers into Great Leaders by John H. Zenger and Joseph R. Folkman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There are a few points the book makes – crucially that leadership can be developed and is not a fixed quantity. Leaders can have a huge impact and yet organisations provide very low levels of support and development especially early on in peoples careers. They describe the skills as a tent with 5 pillars, developing any one increases the value of the others.

  • Personal Character – principled, honest, trusting, credibility
  • Personal Capability
    • Technical/professional acumen – technical and product understanding plus being able to communicate is concisely.
    • Problem-analysis and problem-solving skills – define, analyse and recommendation for resolution
    • Innovation – ability to have a fresh outlook to problems
    • Learning agility – willingness to act on personal feedback
  • Focus on Results
    • Results driven – Setting deadlines, reinforcing the importance of hitting targets and holding others accountable
    • Stretch goals – ability to set and have accepted stretch goals
    • Initiative – sponsor initiatives or actions to push things forward
    • Making decisions – make decisions and more forward in the face of ambiguity
    • Risk taking – a willingness to take acceptable risks
  • Interpersonal Skills
    • Communicating powerfully and prolifically – communicate in an efficient and interesting way
    • Inspiring other to high performance – installing inspiration and motivation.
    • Building positive relationships – strong and positive relationships with others
    • Developing others – increasing team effectiveness and productivity and engagement
    • Collaboration and teamwork – naturally people horde and compete but collaboration and teamwork is key
    • Valuing diversity – building engagement and valuing everyone’s input
  • Leading Change
    • Develops strategic perspective – understanding distinctive advantages
    • Champions change – helping teams navigate change as opposed to resisting
    • Has customer and external focus – staying close to the customer and understanding their current and future needs

Character is key – grow it by focusing on your behaviours this will change your attitudes and improve your character.

Your niche is the combination of your competencies, passion and the organisations need.

Organisational cultures:

  • Genteel – focus on kid and consideration
  • Candor – strong feedback culture
  • Learning – innovation and self development
  • High-integrity – doing the right thing, being honest and ethical
  • Fair – strong desire to treat people fairly
  • Political – political and connections are the most critical factors
  • Bureaucratic – many norms to uphold, great adherence to processes and procedures
  • Clan/Club – nurturing and mentoring people
  • Lofty – people held to a high standard
  • Fun/Celebration – high priority on making work fun
  • Technology – technical expertise are highly regarded
  • Execution – a drive forward to achieve results on time and budget
  • Error-Avoidance – excellence, quality and conformity with errors being punished
  • Customer – a focus on satisfying the customers needs and responding to their requests
  • Commendation – individual efforts are rewarded
  • Adhocracy – fast and first with entrepreneurial spirit
  • Sales – everything revolves around sales and bussiness development
  • Process – efficiency through slavishly defining and following work processes
  • Virtual – people contribute to the same goal but work independently
  • Start-up – fast growing, ill-defined, high energy and excitement

Don’t start with your worst characteristic unless it is a fatal flaw – else focus on your strengths.

The fatal flaws:

  • Not inspiring due to a lack of energy and enthusiasm
  • Accepting mediocre performance in place of excellent results
  • Lack of clear vision and direction
  • Loss of trust stemming from perceived bad judgement and poor decisions
  • Not collaborative or a team player
  • Not a good role model (failure to walk the talk)
  • No self-development and learning from mistakes
  • Lacking interpersonal skills
    • Sins of commission – abrasive, insensitive…
    • Sins of omission – look people in the eye, learn names, listen, laugh, prise, smile…
  • Resistant to new ideas, thus did not lead change or innovate
  • Focus is on self, not the development of others