I recently finished reading Why Leadership Sucks – The Fundamentals of Level 5 Leadership and Servant Leadership by Miles Anthony Smith. A copy of the book was offered to me by the author, to whom I am very grateful.
As the title indicates, this book focuses on discussing authentic servant leadership, which as esteemed author Jim Collins designates as Level 5 leadership. The book is composed of four parts. Part 1 and 2, discuss servant leadership. Part 3 discussed humility, which is a key value for authentic leadership. Finally, the last part, part 4 includes common situations through which the previous learnings are applied.
Below are key excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:
1- ” Jim Collins describes Level 5 leadership in his book Good to Great as a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will (fierce resolve). He goes on to write of the five attributes Level 5 leaders possess: They are self-confident enough to set up their successors for success. They are humble and modest. They have “unwavering resolve.” They display a “workmanlike diligence— more plow horse than show horse.” They give credit to others for their success and take full responsibility for poor results. They “attribute much of their success to ‘good luck’ rather than personal greatness.”
2- “Servant leadership is about caring for others more than for ourselves. It is about compassion for everyone who serves the group. It enriches everyone, not just those at the top. Servant leadership requires us to sit and weep with those who weep within our organizations. It requires getting down and dirty when hard work has to be done. There is nothing in my organization that anyone does that I should not be willing to do myself if it promotes the good of us all. HANS FINZEL, THE TOP TEN MISTAKES LEADERS MAKE”
3- “Great leaders ask great, thoughtful questions. We all have a strong desire to be understood, but we have a responsibility to our team to listen first.”
4- “When making decisions, stop and ask yourself whether you are trading short-term gain for long-term pain. Also think of how this affects others, not just yourself. And when you choose to delegate, don’t reverse course. It does more damage than not delegating in the first place.”
5- “We are either ignorant of the need for us to actively participate in empowerment, or we choose to be lazy, since true empowerment takes a lot of work. In order to empower others, we must define the power and authority they have in decision making. I liken this to setting guardrails on a task or project being delegated; it is our job as a leader to define what we want them to do— and more importantly, what we don’t want them to do. Then we must define what types of choices they can make without our involvement and what decisions they must bring to us for input. Then they have been genuinely empowered, since we have properly equipped and invested in them first.”
6- “In the vacuum created by a lack of communication, people tend to dream up and believe in the wildest explanations of fact.”
7- “We need to leave situations better than we found them. One of my goals in my career is to leave the organization better after my stewardship tenure than it was when I began. We should have the same goal in any relationship.”
8- “Mutual responsibility is at the core of accountability; the onus is not solely on the manager to provide direction. It is equally the duty of the leader and team member to hold each other accountable.”
9- “After we have done our part as leaders by coaching, we must step back and allow others the opportunity to make mistakes, even if it costs us or the company something of value in the short term.”
10- “It is quite risky to let our guard down and make ourselves vulnerable with others by giving them the right— no, the duty— to call us out on our faults. But doing so allows us to prove our true leadership in the sense that we are comfortable in who we are, despite our shortcomings and insecurity. This leads to others recognizing and choosing to follow our trustworthy, genuine authority.”
11- “But I learned a valuable lesson not to put absolute faith in any one person. It simply sets them up for failure and sets us up for disappointment when they make a mistake. Having said that, we do need leaders who will stand up and choose to do what is right, but leaders are human and all of them will make poor choices. Some of them will fail spectacularly. And even though leaders have failed me, I won’t stop trusting all leaders, just the ones who prove untrustworthy.”
12- “Much as the wisdom of Solomon admonishes us that “there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven,” 14 there is a time to display emotion (sorrow, anger, etc.) and a time for a lack of emotional display.”
13- “The best managers/ leaders can both inspire people (leadership) and hold them accountable for work that needs to be done (management).”
14- “Organizations who think they are maintaining/ holding ground are mistaken. You are either growing or dying. JIM COLLINS”
15- “Chris Zook and James Allen point to four key rules that companies should follow to increase shareholder value. Build intolerance for excess complexity. Compete for the long term. Focus on your greatest strengths. Make strategy a search for a repeatable model that can replicate and adapt your greatest successes again and again.”
16- “All Level 5 leaders, it turns out, are hedgehogs. They know how to simplify a complex world into a single, organizing idea— the kind of basic principle that unifies, organizes, and guides all decisions.”
17- “The company that quickly builds on the failures of the first-to-market company, learning from their mistakes and improving on their initial efforts, is likely to reap a majority of the market without having to invest the same R& D money.”
A very light and educative read. The author’s examples are on point to illustrate the concepts presented. Finally, the numerous references embedded within this book on leadership (servant and authentic) makes it a great starter within this field.