After 14 years, my latest book is about to launch. “Gee”, you might say, “that’s a long gestation period”. And of course you’d be right! Why so long? Well, a couple of reasons . . .
The idea of a book on leadership first came to me when I was asked to give a presentation to the marketing students at the Beijing Institute of Technology. The year was 2008, and I’d been invited to Beijing by the publisher of the Chinese edition of my first book, What To Do When You Become The Boss: How new managers become successful managers.
As an aside, it was a bit scary, presenting to a couple of hundred students of whom I was told, only about twenty percent spoke English. Of course I had an interpreter. However, if you’ve ever presented to an audience the majority of whom do not speak your language, you’ll know that one of the challenges is pausing after every few sentences for the local interpretation – it does kind of interrupt the flow.
Fortunately, I’d thought about this challenge in advance and had a number of visual aids to illustrate the key points I was making. And one of those key points was the difference between leadership and management. I used the metaphor of a hat (which I put on) to demonstrate that when one is appointed to a manager’s role, the organisation gives you a “manager’s hat”. The people you manage will do things for you because of your role and title and the “hat” that you wear. However, once you’ve been in the role for a while and suddenly your hat is taken away (perhaps for example, with a change to self-directed teams), “Would your people still do the things for you then that you are asking them to do now, even though you’re not their official manager any longer?”.
When you can answer unequivocally, “Yes”, you know that they’ve just given you your leadership badge – your badge of honour – and you no longer have the need for the hat (at which point I took my hat off and threw it into the crowd – to laughter and applause).
That’s when the thought first came to me. Although What To Do When You Become The Boss contained a description of the difference between management and leadership, it was about management “how to’s”, not about developing as a leader.
That presentation to the marketing students in Beijing was how the thought for a leadership book started. But why, oh why, has it taken 14 years for the book to materialise?
Well, As Warren Bennis, the leading leadership researcher and author suggests, “One cannot be taught to become a leader but one can learn to become a leader over the years through life and work experiences; through mentors and personal reflection”.
I agree with Bennis that leadership can’t be taught – it’s learnt through experience and in particular, reflecting on one’s experiences. My challenge then, was to create a book that fits with this philosophy and provides experiences from which to learn and reflect – and without reverting to the inadequate “How to’s” put forward in many so-called leadership books, courses and programs.
To provide readers with a range of stories that they can read and reflect on - and gathering suitable stories has taken quite a number of years! Of the 27 stories I’ve gathered, the vast majority are ones that have been in the international press AND have a potential leadership aspect to them. For example, there’s one about the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. Another about the Murdoch fiasco involving the News of The World newspaper that hacked the phone of murdered school girl Milly Dowler. And another from the Tour de France of 2008 - positive this time - even though some riders were taken away by the French Police for drug offences!
Each of the 27 stories has four “Reflection Questions” for the reader to answer to provoke a learning experience from the story. These stories and reflection questions, should also encourage readers to seek their own leadership stories as a basis for life long leadership learning and development.
Additionally, each story has a suggested meeting format the reader can use with his or her team as the basis for making team meetings interesting, memorable and most importantly, relevant, or as a trigger as to how other stories (and events) can be used as a key team leadership tool for both manager and team.
Finally, at the back of the book there’s a template for developing one’s own leadership development plan (this can also be downloaded from my website).
So, because What To Do When Leadership Is Needed has been designed as a workbook for manager of teams who aspire to become leaders, it may just enable you to, “throw your management hat into the crowd”.
Note: What To Do When Leadership Is Needed: a workbook for manager of teams who aspire to become leaders will be released on 20th July 2022