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Effective Strategic Leadership

Effective Strategic Leadership

The world yearns for better leaders. People recognize that it is not better managers we need but better leaders, within our organizations, as well as on the world stage. And yet those who would be our leaders keep blotting their copybooks. 

John Adair is the world’s first professor in Leadership Studies at the University of Surrey, in England. After a colourful and varied career in many corners of the world as an author and teacher, he has twice been listed among the forty people worldwide who have contributed most to management thought and practice.  

In previous books, Adair has written about leading teams and operational leadership. However, as he moves on to strategic leadership  our first questions might be “What is strategic leadership?” and “What do I need to know, if I want to be a strategic leader in my organization?”  He attempts to answer these questions.

In crisis, people have a tendency to follow a leader who knows what to. However, Adair contends that it is not enough to be technically and professionally competent.  Leadership must be done from the front. Never ask others to do what you would not be willing to do yourself. Leaders must also show humanity, a basic empathy with people. 

Adair debunks the self-made success story as a myth.  We all depend on others, as they do on us. We must think strategically about the relationships that are vital to our success and happiness. He also reminds us we cannot work against the grain of human nature for long. Human relations are built on the five principles of trust, love, integrity, courtesy and generosity. These work positively in our favour over the long-term, and they are all easier to keep than to recover.

Effective Strategic Leadership is not candy for the mind. The author has drawn upon many of history’s leaders to illustrate his points, from Aristotle to Dag Hammarskjold, and has packed a tremendous amount of information between the covers of this book. The tone is not weighty however, just thoughtful. A summary of key points at the end of each chapter is most helpful if a reader gets bogged down.

While it may not be possible to “teach” leadership, John Adair has given us much food for thought and some goals to strive for.

Leadership from Within, by Peter Urs Bender, Stoddart Publishing Co., 1997

To balance the time it might take to read through Adair’s latest, and rather “British” perspective on leadership, Peter Urs Bender offers a very readable and Canadian take on the subject. Although Peter is better known as Canada’s “Presentations Guru”, with the help of a colleague, Eric Hellman, this is a great reference for those of us seeking practical ways to hone our leadership skills.  And it is so Canadian.

 Many of the references he cites come from authors and books I have in my own library.  They are like old friends who come to us by a different route. He has chosen those characteristics that he feels are critical in a leader, and discussed them throughout the book—characteristics such as the ability to set goals, to communicate well, and to be persistent. Early on, we have the opportunity to rate these characteristics ourselves.  How important do we think they are?  

He also asked a number of Canadian high-achievers how important they thought these characteristics are, in achieving success. To find out how they rated these characteristics, we only have to turn to the Appendix at the back of the book.

Here are the results of his survey, including some well-known Canadians like Eli Bay, the relaxation expert, Dave Broadfoot, the comedian, and Mark Cullen, a familiar figure on HGTV.  

Bender has taken much of the literature on leadership theory and distilled it into the practical essence of what we need to know in order to be the person we want to be.  Be aware of not only your own personality type but of the personality types around you, with whom you must interact. Know where you want to go, and be enthusiastic about the journey. Be willing to take a few risks along the way. He reminds us that we learn more from our failures than we do from our success.  The learning may hurt more but it stays with us.  And continually, we should work at becoming a better communicator.

I will read Adair’s book and ponder his message, while I will read and re-read Leadership from Within and try to act differently. “Its not what you know, its what you are doing with what you know,” says Bender.

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