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The I of Leadership: Strategies for Seeing, Being and Doing Hardcover – May 13, 2013
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it is what he does with the well-worn material that is original - and highly ambitious his book does stand out from the pack of leadership literature The good news is that Nicholson has forged the tools to help would-be leaders rise to the challenge (Financial Times, May 2013) Combined with analysis of cases from several decades, this book is as richly-textured as it is insightful. (Communication Director, June 2013)
From the Inside Flap
This is the leadership book you have to read: a barn-storming new take on what makes the inner leader.
Using stories and examples from the lives of leaders,(from the sports stadium to the White House to the office of the CEO), Nicholson shows vividly how the capacity of leaders to see what others do not see frames their actions and allows them to transform, build, destroy, or stabilize. Leaders fail through lack of insight – into themselves and into the worlds they inhabit.
The strategic challenge of leadership is to find the right balance between impact and versatility and the successful crafting of an identity that merges the leader and the surrounding culture or ‘zeitgeist’.
This book resonates with insights and searching questions on the nature of human leadership. It will be an invaluable guide to managers, consultants and people everywhere.
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The author provides a three-point framework for analysing leadership: Situations, Processes and Qualities:
* Situation is the answer to the question: What needs to be led?
* Processes are the answer to the question: How is leadership being exercised?
* Qualities are the answer to the question: Who is leading?
Leadership success arises from being the right person, at the right time and place, doing the right things. Some people have adaptable leadership skills, which are suitable for many different types of situations, whereas others have narrower leadership skills, suited only to particular environments.
The book goes on to talk about critical leader relationships, suggesting that a leader can be significantly more effective if he or she has access to a partner -- which could be a spouse but more commonly is a friend or business associate -- who helps to strengthen the leader's willpower, supplies an enriched portrait of the world, and tells the truth in ways that the leader can accept. The perfect critical leader relationship is with someone similar enough to the leader to be able to generate trust and understanding, but different enough to bring fresh thoughts, feelings and actions.
Another key concept is that of Destiny, Drama and Deliberation. Destiny is the elements of predetermination in a person's life according to factors like upbringing and environment. Drama consists of unpredicted experiences that alter the person's life course. Deliberation is the conscious choices that the person makes after considering the available options. All three elements are essential in the making of a leader.
The book contains plenty of interesting anecdotes, but will it actually help the reader to become a better leader? Like most books, this one will probably connect more with some readers than with others. It should undoubtedly help some to see leadership in a different and clearer light.
Nigel Nicholson is in the absolute top cadre of leadership thinkers and writers of our era. His book is a phenomenal broad and deep discourse on the mysterious subject of leadership.
In this book he gives the broad picture of the human condition of leadership and then goes to what many writers miss - the personal character, life and thinking of the leader and the requirement for leaders to engage in self-reflection. He gives a number of models that provide a practical picture for implementation by leaders. The point of introspection he says, in part, is for every leader "to have their own story, otherwise you will just be part of someone else's". The golden thread through the book is the need for self-awareness. The title captures his key message of "bringing the mind of the leader into the foreground".
It's beautifully written - the voice is straight-forward, the style is candid, stories of leaders we know about help make the points and you hear the sense of humour of the writer through his witty turn of phrase. And it's tight; there is so much packed into every page. It's a rich offering indeed.
To say this is a "must read" treads too lightly. This is an absolutely necessary read for anyone involved in leadership - leaders (at every level), leadership developers and anyone involved in the appointment of leaders. We really need the gems in this book, including knowing the 4 quadrants of leadership motivation, the role of Destiny, Drama and Deliberation, and the 4 elements of every leader's story.
The insight that really resonated with me was CLRs – Critical Leader Relationships. Nicholson argues that these are the people who help leaders with their most difficult decisions. In organisations they can be upward, downward, and lateral but Nicholson argues that perhaps the most useful are external be it a spouse, personal coach or advisor. According to Nicholson most leaders take CLRs for granted but successful leaders typically have CLRs that provide:
• Help (Bill Gates & Steve Ballmer in the early years of Microsoft),
• Insight (Warren Buffett & Charlie Munger),
• Challenge (Micheal Eisner & Frank Wells, in Australia Leighton’s Wal King & Dieter Adamsas were a formidable pairing.)
• Ideas (Steve Jobs was always on the hunt for creative intellects) and/or
• Support (Margaret and Dennis Thatcher)
Nicholson suggests that one task leaders should undertake at least annually is an analysis of their CLRs.
It was also pleasant to read a book published in the UK on Leadership making reference to one of Australia’s more successful CEOs, “Scroo” Turner, (wrongly called by “Screw” by Nicholson but a forgivable mistake). According to Nicholson, Turner read a paper by him on evolutionary psychology and business published in the Harvard Business Review. The paper caused Turner to reorganise Flight Centre into units of families (stores), villages (clusters of stores) and tribes (aggregates of villages totalling no more than no more than 150 people which is known as Dunbar’s number and is the size below which self management can be maintained).
The two key messages of The ‘I’ of Leadership stem from its title. The first is a ‘pun’ on I. Leaders should use their inner eye to become self-ware and be able to answer authentically the question “Who am I and why am I here? Good leaders are self-aware.
The second key message was a new word, “decenter”. Many leaders suffer from eyestrain: I did this, I do that, I make the decisions. I-I-I punctuates their conversation. According to Nicholson, (and his book he quotes some great examples) good leaders get inside the heads of the other people and used that knowledge to build successful relationships, particularly CLRS.
Of course these are the first principles of emotional intelligence and Nicholson like so many writers on this subject suffers from the same problem. The exhortations to be self-ware and empathetic are all to the good but my belief is that unless you have a theory of temperament such as the Humm-Wadsworth the exhortations will soon be forgotten. I call it putting on the ‘Humm’ glasses in my workshops and once you have put them on you never look at yourself or other people the same way again.