Book Review – Be Inspired by Great Leaders – A Practical Guide to Leadership by Alison and David Price

be inspiredMy previous book review, Empower Your Team to Thrive, was written by Alison and David Price and I found it very insightful. When I saw this book on leadership (the other one was on management) by the same authors, I decided to have a look at it. I was surprised to find that it was written in the same A-Z format as Empower Your Team to Thrive.

The authors have used research about leadership and case studies of successful leaders to highlight 26 qualities for successful leadership. In the book’s introduction they make it clear that there is no single quality that makes leaders successful. Rather there are a mixture of qualities and different leaders will exhibit different combinations of qualities that make them successful, but there will be some things that are common to all successful leaders.

Following is a brief review of each chapter in the book. Since this book is really about the A to Z of leadership, each chapter’s title starts with an alphabet, so there are 26 chapters sequenced from A to Z.

A: Aspiration

While there are no definitive factors common to all leaders, a similar theme that all leaders have is the aspiration to achieve goals. Simply put all effective leaders will have a vision and vision is what this chapter focuses on. You will read about examples of from Mohandas Gandhi, Richard Branson and Steve Jobs about the importance and effectiveness of vision. We are also introduced to three elements of a good vision statement which are:

  1. Specificity: the vision must be clear and specific.
  2. Succinctness: succinct and not too wordy. The authors suggest a maximum of 10 words.
  3. Emotional connection: the vision should excite and inspire the listener. It should be people-centred.

The difference between vision and mission is also explained.

B: Backing

No leader can achieve a grand vision alone, they need the backing of other people. Which means a leader must be able to influence others to believe in their vision and support it. Some advice given regarding that are:

  • The leader must believe in their vision. If they don’t believe in it, why should others believe in it.
  • They must be able to manage the risks associated with the idea properly. Nobody wants to back a sinking ship.
  • Leaders must use their network to get support.
  • They don’t need to start building their vision from scratch. They can use their existing achievements as a foundation.

C: Compelling Communication

This is an obvious one. Leaders who want people to hear, understand and buy into their vision must be able to communicate effectively. This chapter leans more towards effective public presentation skills. Using John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King as examples, six themes of effective and influential presentations are explained. Summarily they are:

  • Define where you and your audience are now.
  • Describe your goal.
  • Create a sense of urgency.
  • Reference the negative consequences of failing to achieve the vision.
  • Outline a positive view of the future should the vision be attempted and /or realized.
  • Describe the moment in time when the vision is realized.

Some extra information is also given about delivering good speeches which includes, getting people’s attention early, using repetitive language to stress specific points and speaking slowly.

D: Decide Your Strategy

Strategy is the process leaders take to achieve their vision. To decide one’s strategy, this chapters advices us to answer five questions. They are:

  • Where do you want to be in the future (vision)?
  • What do you need to survive in the short-term?
  • What barriers can hinder you from your vision?
  • What strengths do you have that can help you achieve your vision?
  • What strategies should you adopt to overcome barriers, play to your strengths and move towards the achievement of your vision?

And one more piece of important advice given at the end of the chapter is – keep your strategy simple.

E: Execute

The premise of this chapter is simple – now that you’ve got a vision and strategy, it’s time to make it happen. According to the authors, leaders bring their vision to life by:

  • Appointing people to lead the delivery.
  • Confirming that early planning assumptions are correct.
  • Breaking the overall output down into key deliverables.
  • Sequencing activities and confirming timelines.
  • Managing resources.
  • Setting minimum acceptable standards and monitoring them.

F: Forming the Team

In this chapter the importance of having a good team as a foundation for leadership success is described. Henry Ford, the automobile innovator is used to describe why leaders need a good team. The concept of successful teams is described in three parts with these headings:

  • Coming together is a beginning.
  • Keeping together is progress.
  • Working together is success.

G: Guiding Values

We really can’t talk about leadership without mentioning values because values guide behaviour. Leaders need good organisational values to guide the way people behave to achieve the vision successfully. Essentially this chapter is about values. It uses Innocent, the fruit drink company to explain the importance of values and also gives some advice on how to bring values alive.

H: Help Underperformers

This chapter is about how actions of leaders can help people to progress or deter them. Two inspiring stories are used to illustrate how the support of others can trigger a person to move from being an underachiever to high performer. Teddy Stallard was a young man who was mocked, bullied and treated as an outcast at school until his teacher Miss Thompson took interest in him and changed his performance by changing her own attitude and behaviour towards him. Teddy went on to become a doctor.

Micheal Oher was a young man whose father had been murdered and mother was a drug addict. He was moved between various foster care homes. But the actions of a generous family who offered him more permanent residence and later adopted him led to a turning point in his life. He later became a top football player. These stories give us some pointers on how leaders can help struggling individuals to thrive by taking actions such as:

  • Focusing on meeting people’s basic needs.
  • Providing additional support where needed.
  • Inspiring people by showing you believe in them.
  • Don’t take on negative prejudices from others about people.

I: Inspire Top Performance

Some leaders have the ability to inspire others to perform better. Using a story, this time one more personal to the authors, we are shown some ways that leaders can inspire others to perform much better. Some of the actions inspiring leaders take are:

  • Learning people’s names.
  • Setting the standard of performance to the strongest performer.
  • Praising people for their efforts or performance.
  • Demonstrating that they noticed when people were absent.
  • Showing concern when people aren’t their normal selves.
  • Making people feel like they are the most important person.

J: Joyful Working

This chapter discusses the importance of creating a happy environment to boost performance. Its focus is on integrating fun into work and the advice is for leaders to find ways to do that. Benefits of this include:

  • Increased productivity.
  • People less likely to experience burnout.
  • People have less time off sick.

K: Keep Stakeholders Onside

Here you will read about the leader’s responsibility to work positively with stakeholders. When key stakeholders are neglected, this can affect a leader’s ability to perform, so it is important that leaders learn to build good relationships with crucial stakeholders. According to the authors, leaders should:

  • Build personal relationships with stakeholders earlier on.
  • Identify the needs of stakeholders early.
  • Use stakeholders as ambassadors.
  • Involve them in decision making.
  • Maintain regular communication with them.

L: Listen (With Intent)

Even the most well executed decisions can fail when people who should be involved in the decision feel they have not been listened to. Listening is a key role of the leader. Leaders must create avenues for people to speak while they listen with interest. An acronym used here to remind us about how to listen as leaders is ‘HAT’. It stands for:

  • H: Hear – create opportunities to hear what people are saying so you can listen to them.
  • A: Act – Demonstrate you heard what people said by taking action. Sometimes that action might be on the spot and if not, let people know what you will do later about it.
  • T: Tell – After you’ve listened to people and you are doing something about what they told you, make sure you tell them what you are doing whether it is proving successful or not. Keep people updated. Don’t let them assume that even though you heard them, you are not doing anything about what you heard.

M: Motivate

In this chapter, how to motivate people is covered. There are a number of examples of how Google does this, but the key principle discussed is ‘WIIFM’ or ‘What’s In It For Me?’ The principle here is to find out what is important to people and find ways to meet those needs.

N: No More Negativity

How do you tackle negativity in a team? Especially when things have happened to demoralise people. Though a difficult issue to tackle, there are things that leaders can still do. Ernest Shackleton, the explorer who was able to save his men from a problematic Antarctic exploration is used as an example and some lessons from his experience on how to deal with team negativity are:

  • Share in the pain of the team. Don’t leave the team to do things that you are not prepared to do.
  • Give people the chance to stop and rest. Don’t overwork them.
  • Introduce fun to the team.
  • Take care of yourself. Make sure you are not demoralised.

O: Outside Your Comfort Zone

This chapter is about leaders challenging people to leave their comfort zone. Off course the leader must model that before challenging people. Here you will read about the importance of being a leader who challenges people to leave their comfort zone and some examples illustrating the concept.

P: Progressing Change

How leaders can lead their teams through change is the subject of this chapter. The Change model by Carlo C. DiClemente and James O. Prochaska is used to describe how leaders can inspire others to buy into change. The model has these stages:

  • Stage 1 – Pre-contemplation
  • Stage 2 – Contemplation
  • Stage 3 – Action
  • Stage 4 – Maintenance
  • Stage 5 – Termination

Q: Qualities for Leadership

This is a weird one since I assumed the A-Z is all about qualities of leadership, but this seems to be more focused on the kind of personality that helps leadership effectiveness. Research by the authors carried out by talking to 40 leaders uncovered five top qualities which are:

  1. Emotionally stable.
  2. Warm and outgoing.
  3. Socially confident.
  4. Role models for following the rules.
  5. Able to strike a balance between dominant and accommodating behaviour.

A note of caution for leaders that they be mindful of not overusing certain aspects of their qualities. Balance in using the qualities is therefore important.

R: Respect and Integrity

This chapter deals with a very important aspect of leadership which is character. The ‘Leadership Tent’ analogy is used to explain the importance of character. Imagine a tent held up with five poles, four in the corners and one in the middle. The four corner poles represent different aspects of leadership while the one in the middle is character. The tent may still stand if you remove one of the side poles but not if you remove the centre pole. In other words, leadership fails when the leader has poor character. Negative character traits which make leadership fail include things like acting immorally, not trustworthy and acting hypocritically. You will also read about the worth of integrity and an example of how to command respect.

S: Set an Example

This is another very important aspect of leadership, setting an example. The lesson in this chapter is that, how a leader behaves will influence those who follow the leader. A simple example of how a leader dresses was used to illustrate this point. Summarily leaders should never underestimate the impact they can have on people by setting an example.

T: Times Change

This chapter reminds us all that times are constantly changing. For leadership this is crucial, because it calls for leaders to be adaptable which requires them to think differently about every aspect of what they do and be willing to learn and lead in ways which are fit for different generations.

U: Uniting Divided People

In this chapter you will read about the importance of uniting people who for some reasons are divided. This is another important skill that leaders must master. Nelson Mandela’s work in uniting the divided nation of South Africa is used to illustrate this quality. Some of the lessons pulled out from Mandela’s story are:

  • Uniting people behind a common goal.
  • Influencing key people to become the leader’s ambassadors.
  • Influencing conflicting parties to contemplate unity.

V: Very Stressed

Ignoring the title of this chapter, what it discusses is how to keep calm under pressure or better still, making decisions in times of crisis. The chapter starts out with a personal story from one of the author’s parents. They were on a transnational flight that had hit some turbulence and the pilot kept saying things were okay, but his tone of voice gave away how worried he was. Despite that the pilot was able to land the plane safely. The key question this chapter answers is, how do you stay clam under extreme pressure? Some of the advice discussed here for leaders are to:

  • Recruit people who can handle pressure.
  • Find an outlet for stress.
  • Be outcome-focused.

W: Wrong Direction, Right Decisions

At times plans go wrong, but decisions still have to be made to salvage the situations. It is those kinds of scenarios that this chapter deals with from a leadership perspective. The example used to introduce this aspect of leadership is the failed attempt of the Apollo 13 crew to land on the moon on 13th April 1970. Though the vessel was damaged, and the mission could not be completed successfully, the crew still survived. The authors believed this was down to good decision making. A number of factors according to the authors ensured the crew’s survival which include:

  • Contingency planning and simulation training.
  • Risk assessments.
  • Understanding of the environment.
  • Executing decisions intended.

These are qualities which leaders should use to prepare for making crucial decisions.

X: eXit

The premise of this chapter is that leaders should leave a position, project or organisation before they are not needed anymore or before they are in decline. The cases of Margaret Thatcher and Bill Gates were contrasted. Margaret Thatcher got to a point when she had gone into decline and Bill Gates was able to leave Microsoft before he not needed anymore.

Y: Your Successor

This chapter focuses on succession planning for leaders and offers a few tips on how to do it.

Z: Zeal

Leaders must show passion and zeal for what they do and this chapter advices that, but it also reviews all the previous leadership qualities and this one from A – Z, a befitting conclusion to the book.

This is not your typical leadership book with in-depth information about effective leadership theories and models. But it is inspiring from the perspective that it uses lots of stories and analogies to tell us about what makes leaders effective. While a lot of the stories used may not directly apply to your own leadership context, with a bit of imagination you can find ways to make the lessons applicable to what you do. This book is worth reading because you will get some useful leadership advice from it.



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