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A true leader is different, 17 May 2011
Book Review: `Inside The Leader's Mind'
Liz Mellon, Prentice Hall, May 2011
Liz Mellon's recently released book is subtitled `Five ways to think like a leader'. It sounds as if it might read like a myriad other books on leadership; and indeed its professed purpose is to help the reader become a true business leader, something that will remain an imaginative dream for the vast majority of mortals. But here is the evidence that this one is just a touch different.
First, it avoids preaching. There are some disadvantages to taking an anecdotal route, with a swathe of examples and quotes from real and successful business lives which may or may not prove a point, but this is a fresher and more thought-provoking channel than a purely didactic approach.
Second, the text challenges the reader in person to take the test in each of the five areas, and to recognize the difference between a highly effective executive and a fully capable leader. It is a call to honesty in self-assessment which is both unfrightening and potentially very revealing: if you duck the honesty bit, you know you are failing the test anyway.
Third, it describes regions of thinking about leadership which the subjects of her interviews themselves regard as interesting and new. This is relatively untrodden territory.
Here are the five ways to think like a leader:
- >Realise you have no safety net. You are on your own;
- >Live with uncertainty to the extent that you are comfortable in discomfort;
- > Have a clear sense of purpose in your solid core;
- >Be aware of your responsibility as a leader for linking the past, present and future of your organisation, which is evolving on your watch;
- >You personify what the enterprise stands for and maintain the energy for full commitment. You are the enterprise.
Life and human variety are not tidy and Ms Mellon does not insist on painting these five concepts in clearly separate colours. Having no safety net is uncomfortable; the solid core pervades everything; integrating the past into the future makes you, temporally and temporarily, the enterprise. But the language is uncomplicated and the reader is carried along a natural river of revealed insight. It is an enjoyable journey.
But will it make you a leader? The book makes no claims, because it is up to you. And it makes no false promises, because throughout the text there are hints of a very important distinction between rare leaders and mere mortals, that the former start with the hidden advantage of a strong instinctive capacity to move to the front, take on the risks and hit the right decision spots. This inner compass is explained in the section on the solid core, and so the book does not skate past it. But it suggests that the people the author is really addressing are those who have already discovered an inner sense of purpose.
Even for them, though, there are lessons to be learnt here; and the lightness of the presentation is an attractive camouflage for the seriousness of the subject. It carries a value way beyond the world of commerce.