Leadership is not what it used to be.
The definition of leadership is shifting from what you could call the Steve Jobs model, the recognition of a singular individual who is founder and CEO, to a definition that has almost nothing to do with your title or place in a hierarchy.
“We start with a fundamental premise: that leadership is an action,” says Jeff Klein from Wharton. “Leadership can be contributed by any member of a team or an organization. It’s that set of actions that will align, excite, or propel a group toward a common goal. It’s not the sole responsibility nor the sole right of those in positions that carry authority.”
In other words, you’re a leader if you’re good at spurring successful collaborations. Simple as that. To explain the difference between old-school leadership and new-school leadership, Klein borrows a metaphor from the Harvard Business Review article “Understanding ‘New Power'” by Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms.
As the authors describe it, old power is like a currency. Held by few. Jealously guarded. Closed, inaccessible, and leader-driven. By contrast, new power is like a current. Made by many. Open, participatory, and peer-driven. Like water or electricity, it’s most forceful when it surges. The goal with new power is not to hoard it but to channel it.
“Leadership, if you really think about it, has nothing to do with titles and org charts and everything to do with the ability to influence people,” adds Harry Kraemer Jr., clinical professor of strategy at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and former CEO of Baxter International, a $12 billion global health care company. Kraemer believes that a leader with an understanding of new power will have an edge when it comes to retaining young talent. “The younger generation of employees have the desire and need to feel part of something–and to know what they’re doing is worthwhile,” he says. “They won’t stick around if they don’t think the right things are happening.”
Where does all of that leave you, if you’re a leader with old power but you want to helm an organization that embraces new power? Klein suggests you alter your thinking about hiring, talent assessment, and leadership development. Instead of focusing so much on an employee’s individual talents, evaluate the way your employees collaborate with others–especially across departments and hierarchical strata. Also, consider which employees always seem to be a part of successful teams and projects. Who are the teammates everyone else wants to work with? Those are your organisation’s leaders, regardless of what their titles are.
Here are 7 of the most popular books on leadership, presented in comic-strip animations:
The 21 Irrefutable Laws Of Leadership
What would happen if a top expert with more than thirty years of leadership experience was willing to distill everything he had learned about leadership into a handful of life-changing principles just for you? It would change your life! John Maxwell has done exactly that in “21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership”. He has combined insights learned from his thirty-plus years of leadership successes and occasional mistakes with observations from the worlds of business, politics, sports, religion, and military conflict.
World-renowned Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck, in decades of research on achievement and success, has discovered a truly groundbreaking idea-the power of our mindset.
Dweck explains why it’s not just our abilities and talent that bring us success-but whether we approach them with a fixed or growth mindset. She makes clear why praising intelligence and ability doesn’t foster self-esteem and lead to accomplishment, but may actually jeopardize success.
With the right mindset, we can motivate our kids and help them to raise their grades, as well as reach our own goals-personal and professional. Dweck reveals what all great parents, teachers, CEOs, and athletes already know: how a simple idea about the brain can create a love of learning and a resilience that is the basis of great accomplishment in every area.
The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth
Are there tried and true principles that are always certain to help a person grow? John Maxwell says the answer is yes. He has been passionate about personal development for over fifty years, and for the first time, he teaches everything he has gleaned about what it takes to reach our potential.
- The Law of Intentionality: You don’t just grow “accidentally”, you must be intentional and deliberate about it.
- The Law of Awareness: You cannot improve if you don’t know yourself: where you stand and where you need to work the most.
- The Law of the Mirror: To effectively work on yourself, you must first believe you are worth the effort. That means getting rid of limiting self beliefs and developing a high self esteem.
- The Law of Reflection: Do take and schedule time to reflect on yourself, your lessons learned and your next steps.
- The Law of Consistency: What will really make you grow in the long run is consistency.
- The Law of Environment: The people and the environment around you are major contributors (or detractors) of your growth. Make sure the people and the environment around you are not pulling you down but helping you up.
- The Law of Design: You must look at self growth seriously. Look at it as a mission and design your plans to make it happen.
- The Law of Pain: No pain, no gain. Maxwell says that it’s good management of bad experiences that leads to the biggest growth. Or as Ray Dalio said: pain + reflection = growth.
- The Law of the Ladder: Everything you built rests on the foundations of your character, who you are. If you go very high without a solid personal character, you’re on shakier and shakier foundations.
- The Law of the Rubber Band: If you’re not stretching yourself, you aren’t growing. Look for change, look for the next growth opportunities.
- The Law of the Trade Offs: To achieve your full potential you must be willing to sacrifice something.
- The Law of Curiosity: Growth is fuelled by questions and curiosity. To keep growing, you need to be thirsty about knowing more and more.
- The Law of Modelling: Find a mentor and look for a coach who has already been where you are going.
- The Law of Expansion: Don’t think there’s ever a limit to your growth and expansion. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done or achieved, you can always do more.
- The Law of Contribution: The greatest joy in life is in contribution. As you grow yourself, help others to grow as well.
The Effective Executive
The measure of the executive, Peter Drucker reminds us, is the ability to ‘get the right things done’. Usually this involves doing what other people have overlooked, as well as avoiding what is unproductive.
He identifies five talents as essential to effectiveness, and these can be learned; in fact, they must be learned just as scales must be mastered by every piano student regardless of his natural gifts. Intelligence, imagination and knowledge may all be wasted in an executive job without the acquired habits of mind that convert these into results.
One of the talents is the management of time. Another is choosing what to contribute to the particular organization. A third is knowing where and how to apply your strength to best effect. Fourth is setting up the right priorities. And all of them must be knitted together by effective decision-making.
Strengths based Leadership
“StrengthsFinder 2.0” has become a landmark study of great leaders, teams, and the reasons why people follow.
Nearly a decade ago, Gallup unveiled the results of a landmark 30-year research project that ignited a global conversation on the topic of strengths. More than 3 million people have since taken Gallup’s StrengthsFinder assessment, which forms the core of several books on this topic, including the number 1 international bestseller “StrengthsFinder 2.0.”
In recent years, while continuing to learn more about strengths, Gallup scientists have also been poring over decades of data on the topic of leadership. They surveyed a million work teams, conducted more than 50,000 in-depth interviews with leaders, and even interviewed 20,000 followers around the world to ask exactly why they followed the most important leader in their life.
In “Strengths Based Leadership”, bestselling author Tom Rath and renowned leadership consultant Barry Conchie reveal the results of this research.
10 Leadership Contracts
Joe Currier’s book is a practical guide to help ambitious, upwardly mobile individuals to build credible leadership. While the “contracts” are grounded in traditional strategic initiatives to advance one’s career and elevate the business “bottom-line”, the principles also offer valuable suggestions to establish other partner-relationships, including spousal and parental opportunities.
“The 10 Leadership Contracts” are not rigid, legally-binding agreements. They are concrete action-steps to produce passionate partnerships grounded in trust, respect, and excellence. The 5th Contract may exemplify the healthy tension embedded in “power teams”: “My partners are my competition AND my responsibility”.
Start with Why
Here’s a favourite to finish, and to get started.
Why are some people and organisations more inventive, pioneering and successful than others? And why are they able to repeat their success again and again? In business, it doesn’t matter what you do, it matters WHY you do it.
Start with Why analyses leaders like Martin Luther King Jr and Steve Jobs and discovers that they all think in the same way – they all started with why. Simon Sinek explains the framework needed for businesses to move past knowing what they do to how they do it, and then to ask the more important question-WHY?
Why do we do what we do? Why do we exist? Learning to ask these questions can unlock the secret to inspirational business. Sinek explains what it truly takes to lead and inspire and how anyone can learn how to do it.
If there is one concept that has dominated leadership thinking in recent times, then it is probably the “Growth Mindset” as articulated by Stanford psychologist, Carol Dweck, building on her research on mindsets and their effects on achievement and success.
Over the last year, as I have been working closely with Microsoft, for example, I’ve realised that the Growth Mindset is probably the most important idea that has helped Satya Nadella to define a new culture, a new freedom, and a new vision for his organisation. And to triple its market capitalisation over the initial five years of his leadership, regaining the mantle of world’s most valuable company.
Mindsets of course are soft and conceptual. Dweck has been particularly successful at making this more meaningful through her “what it is/isn’t” diagram, and applying her ideas primarily to children’s education, and then secondly to the minds of business leaders.
The hardest part is to turn a concept of the mind, into a practice of reality … part of the everyday working of an organisation, understanding the implications for processes, behaviours, decision making and performance metrics. and then implementing them not as a fashion, but as a meaningful approach that challenges and changes, enhances and extends, the direction of the business.
Other similar concepts have added, or sometimes confused, the picture.
Neuroscience advances offer a rigour to understanding our brains and behaviours, whilst mindfulness has added a more cult-like aura, converged the yoga studio with the workspace. Its value can be huge, being more aware of yourself and your surroundings, and “seizing the nowness” as opposed to the tendency of many corporate workers to otherwise drift in an isolated, internal vacuum.
More of that later, first let’s consider “mindset” …
Fixed and Growth Mindsets
“The view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life. It can determine whether you become the person you want to be and whether you accomplish the things you value.” says Dweck.
In her book Mindset she proposes that two fundamental mindsets dominate our thoughts and consequently our actions: the growth and the fixed mindsets. The growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are malleable and able to be cultivated through effort. The fixed mindset is based on the belief that your abilities are permanent.
Dweck further analyzes these mindsets and their effects on various domains such as sports, business, relationships, ability, and parenting. She concludes that the growth mindset leads to higher achievement whereas the fixed mindset often leads to early plateaus and lower levels of success.
The Fixed Mindset
Through Dweck’s research, the fixed mindset hampers success and must be avoided in domains where one seeks to find achievement. If we believe that our abilities such as creativity and intelligence cannot be changed, any successes become confirmations of our ingrained skill set and an affirmation of our worthiness. This leads us to avoid failure at all costs in fear of exposing our true selves.
Let’s use a fixed mindset to interpret intelligence. In this system of thought, we believe our intelligence is static, leading us to want to appear intrinsically smart. This can result in: avoiding challenges, giving up easily when faced with obstacles, not giving 100% effort, ignoring criticism, and feeling threatened by the success of others.
If we see life through a fixed mindset:
- We become trapped in a black-and-white world of success and failure.
- We take easier classes in school to maintain our identity as a “straight-A” student.
- We fear effort because it means we’re not good enough.
- We become kings of remedial jobs.
- We surround ourselves with yes-men.
- We avoid social interactions.
- We blame others and dodge confrontation.
- We reject change.
- We embrace ideologies without questioning them.
- We believe in an idealized “true love” where our partner is instantaneously and perfectly compatible.
- We avoid responsibility.
- We play it safe.
The Growth Mindset
Believing that our qualities can be cultivated leads to different fundamental thoughts and actions. This mindset changes the implication of failure from unworthy to opportunity. Failure becomes a minor setback and a chance to learn. This growth-oriented worldview places deep meaning in effort, learning, and reaching one’s potential.
Using a growth mindset, let’s approach intelligence again. Unlike the fixed mindset, we believe intelligence can be developed, leading us to want to learn. A desire for learning often results in: embracing challenges, working through obstacles, valuing effort, learning from criticism, and finding inspiration in the success of others.
If we have a growth mindset:
- We live in a world of potentials, where focused learning and effort will lead to a “good” life.
- We embrace challenges.
- We value effort’s role in achievement.
- We listen to opposing viewpoints.
- We aren’t afraid to let go of false presuppositions.
- We face our fears.
- We compromise when necessary.
- We take responsibility.
- We embrace change.
Of course, this is an abstract concept that needs thoughtful implementation, to shape the attitudes and behaviours, choices and metrics, that will deliver it in reality. Here are some useful links:
Going beyond fixed and growth mindsets
Whilst the opposing descriptions of these two mindsets is helpful in bringing some clarity to what they are, the mind is not quite so binary. James Anderson calls the reality, more of a “Mindset Continuum.”
When we see mindsets as a dichotomy, we misjudge the subtlety and complexity of Dweck’s work. We may also misunderstand what we must do to change our Mindsets. Students can’t instantly “have” a Growth Mindset. We can’t expect our teaching strategies to suddenly result in students taking on challenges, embracing effort and learning from their mistakes.
Rather, our goal is to help students become increasingly growth oriented. It is more realistic and helpful to expect that as students become more growth oriented, they will persist a bit longer. They will take on a bit more of a challenge, put in a little more effort, and respond more positively to mistakes. Their progress towards a Growth Mindset is gradual.
Furthermore, if we view Mindsets as a dichotomy, we run the significant risk of adopting a one-size-fits-all approach. Students at different stages along the continuum have different worldviews – therefore, they require different teaching strategies. A student with a Fixed Mindset will respond and act differently to a student with a Low Growth Mindset, so we must adapt our teaching methods accordingly.
In other words, a Growth Mindset is not a declaration, it’s a journey – one that involves small, progressive shifts in thinking, rather than huge leaps. Most people aren’t Fixed or Growth, but somewhere in between.
As Dweck says, “Nobody has a Growth Mindset in everything all the time. Everyone is a mixture of Fixed and Growth Mindsets. You could have a predominant Growth Mindset in an area but there can still be things that trigger you into a Fixed Mindset trait.”
The right mindset for business leaders
What matters most, in a business context, is understanding how does all this translate to the mindset of a business leader, and ultimately to everyone within an organisation culture. What are the implications for leadership development, for the role and behaviours of leaders in organisation, and the ability of organisations to focus, develop and succeed in today’s world of market complexity and relentless change.
In my forthcoming book “Extraordinary: How to step up to lead the future of business” I take on this challenge, defining the new mindset for business leaders.
It builds on all of the above, but also with some added insight from the rapidly evolving field of business applied neuroscience. In particular it looks at what it takes for a business leaders to make sense of their complex environment to compete today, but even more importantly, to succeed tomorrow.
Too much leadership thinking has focused on “today” … the ability to deliver operationally, to engage employees and customers in the present, the organisational status quo. Yet in today’s business environment, the dynamics of constant change – driving both challenge and opportunity – is the major dynamic which leaders need to manage.
In particular they become more focused on where they are going, rather than where they are. That requires sense making, to find the best opportunities for future growth, and to dispense with incrementalism, and instead make more dramatic, disruptive choices. This drives a much greater focus on future, rather than just growth – revolutionary beyond evolutionary.
Time to embrace a “future mindset” … Unlock your Einstein dreams and Picasso passion … Embrace your Mandela courage and Ghandi spirit. Be more curious, be more intuitive, be more human. Ask more questions. Don’t be afraid to have audacious ideas, to challenge the old models of success, and turn future ambitions into practical profitable reality.
- What is a mindset?
- Hit Refresh: Microsoft’s “growth mindset”
- The New Leadership Mindset: Mindfulness and Neuroplasticity