Okay: so let’s be clear from the start – Collinson and Jay have a consultancy to promote. Cunningly called The Simplicity Partnership, it provides business consulting to a range of impressive clients. All of which is fine, since their approach is something that I’ve been interested in for a while; hence my enthusiasm to review their book, which is targeted at all business managers and leaders.
Whether or not leadership is successful depends on context.
Leadership is not a quality of leaders per se but rather of the relationship between leaders and followers.
Leadership is not just about existing social realities but also about the transformation of social reality.
This book moves the discussion about leadership onwards, and the authors focus on our identification with the “we” and the associated notion of how we behave. In this respect, it draws from a classic psychological tenet of social identity theory.
Identify your talents and get the most from your people
This book is designed as a toolkit for leaders who want to get the most out of the jobs that they do, by maximising the possibility of doing what they love doing, what they are good at and what makes for success. It’s a practical guide which has the possibility to radically change how leaders think and behave. Not surprisingly, given the title, underpinning all of this is a focus on strengths.
Although first published in 1993, the second edition, published a couple of years ago shows how relevant the concept of stewardship remains in this complex and ever-changing world of leadership that we work in. It addresses the distribution of power, purpose and rewards within the workplace and the need to do this has become increasingly relevant as we move away from traditional hierarchical structures to more distributed ones that unleash creativity. The culture change the many organisations are seeking will only be cosmetic without addressing these core issues.
It’s a well-structured book that talks us through the theory, the actions that are needed and then some logical steps to get there. It ends by exploring the wider impact on society that this approach might have and fits therefore neatly into the fort and groups model of leadership addressing all four elements; the personal, the team, the organisational and society at large. I also like the way the book is laid out; the pages broken up with interesting quotes and sidebars and navigation is made easier by some side titles; all very useful to avoid the book getting bogged down in being just another textbook.
When I talk to the boardrooms of organisations we work with and I ask them what outcomes are they looking for from the work we do; how will they know the change program has been successful? I almost always get some variation on the same theme; they want people to take more ownership and more responsibility wherever they are in the organisation. What I like about the principle of stewardship is that at its heart it is about creating organisations where this principle is embedded. It’s all about relationships, but relationships that are built through partnership not hierarchy; based on empowerment not dependency. Peter Block talks about the distinction between partnership and patriarchy.
One of the things that I like about the book is it isn’t just theory; Peter gives a range of different solutions to restructuring and organisation to fit in with the concept of stewardship. I particularly enjoyed the chapter on reward systems that support stewardship. The author starts by challenging and debunking many of the traditional ways that we look to reward people. He talks about the process of ranking people and makes the well judged comment that this is literally a means of keeping people in line. When talking about pay for performance he says that actually a more accurate description based on the fact that it is our boss who evaluates is pay for compliance. So the structure of our reward system has to reflect the kind of organisation we are trying to create. One approach would be to give the people in the organisation the power to decide their own pay system - covering everybody from the top to the bottom.
I’m usually a little nervous about books that focus on the attributes of the great CEOs. I think there is often too much emphasis given on the correlation between an organisation’s success and the behaviours and attitudes of the CEO. There may have been a time when the influence of the CEO was high, but in today’s world leadership is necessarily more distributed through the organisation, and success depends on everyone in the organisation showing leadership, taking responsibility and ownership.
To be fair to the author, he makes it clear that he doesn’t believe in a reductionist approach whereby you can predict or select based on three attributes and guarantee success. He sees these attributes as symptoms of the success as much as they are the cause.
Also, the lessons in this book will be applicable to very valid for a wider group than just the CEOs. Justin makes it a good read through the interesting use of stories in the simple structure is created. His approach was to analyse a range of qualities across 200 CEOs ranked by performance and to look for correlation between success and the leadership qualities. These were honed down into three broad categories
The three attributes are realistic optimism, subservience to purpose and finding order in chaos. I can see the value of these factors and how they link in with other similar studies and so this has plausibility in my view
Realistic optimism is contrasted with impervious optimism. A leader has to have a vision and be optimistic about its implementation whilst at the same time being aware of the actual circumstances in which they are operating. I think we can all agree on the danger of impervious optimism and have many examples of our own here.
Subservience to purpose is about the dedication to the goal. The most successful CEOs have an attractive vision that they personally drive through. The same is true of leaders at all levels: having a vision you truly believe in gives you the drive to achieve and gives your team the inspiration to support you. I see a link here to Patrick Lencioni only is model of dysfunctional teams. In this, the top level, results, is about the focus that you put on the success of the that overall unit not your own personal fiefdom
The last one, finding order in chaos, is that ability to maintain clarity of thought even when things are going wrong. The ability to sift out the important information and to make timely decisions based on that. Emotional intelligence is key here. That ability to maintain calm and focus, to avoid the amygdala hijack, whilst still retaining that ability to express the emotions of passion or anger or whatever is appropriate.
Overall, a fascinating read about how great leaders bring out the best in themselves and in others