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Practical Lessons in Leadership: A Guidebook for Aspiring and Experienced Leaders Paperback – June 28, 2007
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Top Customer Reviews
Pros – The book gives great little tips and the authors do a good job of describing what they mean by each tip. I also liked the Apex case-study that prefaced each chapter because it helped to give you a realistic scenario to apply the lessons of the chapter to.
The most useful information I got out of the book was the communication protocol and finally some authors realizing your leadership style changes depending on your team dynamics.
Cons – Sometimes the book felt like a teaser for their website and other resources. The authors would give you enough information about a topic only to refer to their website for more information throughout the entire book. As usual, the authors realize brainstorming and giving constructive feedback are items lacking in most leadership resources but they didn’t really expand or provide any new insights into these areas other than refer you to find other resources to expand your knowledge.
My biggest con is that I think this book is best done in a group setting (book club type format, leadership academy, etc.) because the case study and end of chapter questions lend themselves more appropriately to this type of setting versus an individual read from cover to cover.
The conversational, easy-flowing writing style creates an enjoyable reading experience. The book repeated a well-paced pattern: leadership vignettes, leadership lessons, and then off to the Web site for the authors view on the vignettes. Each chapter begins with a preface consisting of a realistic leadership vignette - a challenging scenario that puts the reader in the shoes of a leadership dilemma. Then the chapter introduces the leadership concept being discussed, such as "To Lead or Not to Lead?". The chapters interweave leadership lesson and concepts, pragmatic philosophies, and the two author's personal experiences.
Then after reading the chapter, but before moving on to the next, I found myself visiting the Web site to read the authors perspective on the vignette in that chapter's preface. Readers don't have to use the Web site in conjunction with reading the book, but I found myself very curious to learn more about how the leadership concepts could be applied to the vignette.
The three chapters that I found particularly beneficial were on the topics of choosing to be a leader or a solo performer, credibility and providing meaningful feedback.
The authors challenge the reader to honestly assess if they've got the right motivation, values, and qualities to be a leader. They help the reader make this determination between choosing a solo career versus a leadership career without judging one choice as "better" than the other - just very different.
I was refreshed by the lack of theoretical prose that seems to be too prevalent in most management books. It's down-to-earth stuff, yet it had enough weight to leave me thinking about the ideas for days after I set the book down. The perspective on credibility was liberating from the perspective that they encourage leaders to "be themselves" but also to develop the leadership habits and traits that their followers really want from them (follow-through, sincerity, honesty, visible agendas, giving credit, going to bat for their team, getting to know team members, and being respectful).
In the end, this was one of those books that I wished I would have read at the beginning of my career instead of 20 years into it. But as the title mentions, it is also a guidebook for experienced leaders. I highly suggest it for all who are, or want to be, in leadership roles.
The main title promises that these are practical lessons and that you will learn things that will help you in the day-to-day, nitty-gritty work of leading a group of people. The book lives up to that promise.
The sub-title promises that this book will be valuable for both "aspiring" and experienced leaders. The book lives up to that promise, too.
In the Introduction, the authors say: "The choice to lead is often made without understanding." They're right.
Many people choose to take a promotion to management because it's the only way to increase income and prestige. They don't think about how their life and work will change. Many companies offer promotion to management without analyzing whether a person can succeed in the specific work of leadership.
Part One, "To Lead or Not to Lead?" tells a person considering moving into leadership how to make a good decision about whether to do so. It's worth the price of the book all by itself.
The authors point out that leadership should be a specific career choice because it is a specific kind of work. Some people will have the talent to do it well. Others will not. You'll find seven questions to help you determine your ability and willingness to succeed in a leadership position.
Chapter 2, "Solo Performer or Leader," helps you look at leadership from both sides. If you decide that you want to pursue leadership work, Chapter 3 will help you answer the question: "How do I get there from here?" The authors give you eight solid career planning questions to help you sort things out, along with lots of good advice.
Part Two of the book is about "Succeeding from the Start." It, too, is worth the price of the book all by itself.
There's help on two different transitions. There is advice about how to make the move from individual contributor to supervisor or manager including excellent material that will help you understand your new role and how to deal with some common challenges. There's solid practical advice like "Everybody has an agenda" and "Your associates' personal problems become your problem."
The authors also remind you that "you want to change people, but people don't change much." Every manager with some experience has found that out the hard way. The people at Gallup have established it with research. It's just one of many bits of the wisdom in this section.
There is also advice about how to make the transition to leading a new group. Early in Chapter 5 you're advised to "have a plan for the first few months." Then the authors give you tools to develop that plan.
They describe four primary start-up tasks and give you question lists to help you plan each one. They identify six agenda killers and address the special challenges of what they call "internally-placed, first-time leaders."
They're the people who are promoted and often assigned to supervise the people they've been working with. A couple of hundred years ago, Wellington's British Army knew that was a bad idea and transferred men promoted from the ranks to a different unit. Many of today's companies haven't caught up with Wellington on that one.
With Part Three we move on to issues for experienced managers. In Chapter 7, the authors tell you to "Forget everything else. Here's the real job." The real job is creating an effective working environment. Naturally, they tell you what one looks like with "Seven Indicators of an Effective Work Environment."
There's direct and helpful advice on giving feedback which the authors call "the most dreaded task imaginable." My own research supports that statement.
Working managers tell us that talking to people who work for you about performance is one of the hardest things they have to do. Most books on leadership don't offer any advice on how to do it. This book offers a lot.
There's a process for analyzing supervisory situations. This is simple, straightforward, and actionable advice about what to do when you are thinking about a face-to-face encounter with someone who works for you.
There's also first rate advice on developing the knowledge and skills of the people who work for you. You'll find "Four Axioms for Developing Others" (the first two are that you can't do it for them or to them) and an excellent Individual Development Plan Worksheet.
The final section of the book is about "Tying It All Together." There's a ton of practical advice and also "Twelve Questions to Keep You and Your Team Focused."
Whether you dip into it for advice on a specific issue or problem, or you read it straight through you'll find a lot of value in this book. I do have some quibbles, though.
I wish they'd written two books. I'd like one book for people considering leadership as a career choice and another book for those already in leadership positions.
The case studies that precede each chapter and the questions that follow each chapter may work well in a classroom or group-use setting. For me they interrupted the flow of the book.
I found the web site to be poorly organized to support the book and missing several promised links. That may be fixed by the time you visit the site. You'll want to do that after buying this book and, if leading a group is something you do or something that you're considering as a career choice, you should, definitely, buy this book.