For Your Own Development, What Do You Think Leadership Lessons Should Look Like?

Leadership Lesson: Leadership lessons are everywhere. Open your mind. Be willing to look deeper into the unfamiliar, to draw out and see the lessons.

Recently, in the course of researching and looking for new books to read, I was reading book reviews, considering what each book might offer, and I came across one of my favorite leadership books – The Leadership Challenge – How To Make Extraordinary Things Happen In Organizations by James Kouzes and Barry Posner.

I consider The Leadership Challenge to be my original leadership handbook and bible. It was one of the required reads for the Managerial Skills class in my MBA program, and it was truly what hooked me completely on leadership.

Maybe it became my leadership bible because it was one of the first books in which I could relate to or appreciate every page, example, and story. It was the first read I came across which was an all-encompassing picture of what leadership entailed, as evidenced in my own experiences and those of my classmates up until that point in our careers, so everything was relevant and applicable.

And since I read The Leadership Challenge, I’ve come across many great books that do a deep dive into the various components of leadership but never one that served as an over-arching guidebook.

Because of that holistic approach to leadership, it was this book that steered me toward leadership coaching. There’s a humanity in the book, and it paints a great down-to-earth picture of the realness and sincerity that can exist in leadership. I know how much the book has influenced and guided me, sharpening my focus on all-things-leadership, and since I read it I’ve kept reading continuously about leadership and everything that goes into it, getting my hands and eyes on any book that has to do with building oneself up.

So, as I was researching books and reading reviews – I wasn’t only looking for “leadership” books but any type of book that helps a person develop herself — I was curious what other readers had taken away from The Leadership Challenge, and so I began reading its reviews on Amazon.

I stopped reading after one review in particular caught my eye. The person noted that the book was a disappointment — that it, more or less, didn’t tell you how to be a leader or provide “enough practical solutions for the real world on the job problems.” It continued that the book “had a very ‘rose colored glasses’ way of looking at leadership which is not always true when faced with real people.”

Obviously, like with any other book, or film, or art form, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” and what we take away is going to be subjective to our own interpretation.

The humanity piece of The Leadership Challenge is what spoke to me but maybe not others. The humanity piece of leadership is the component that means the most to me, but, again, maybe not others. My belief is that by applying that humanity to leadership, we realize we’re only human, admitting we’re not flawless, which allows us to see the true base of self off of which to begin working.

The lesson here is for that particular customer/reviewer in question and anyone else with that same understanding: there is no standard recipe for leadership. Different groups and different audiences will have different needs and react differently to different stimulus in their different environments. Nothing is cookie-cutter, and no fix-all, panacean mold exists.

To underscore that claim through an example, picture yourself, a leader, at a cooking counter with all the ingredients to get to the “perfect” dish. Now, picture other leaders at their own counters with the same ingredients. Countless leaders. Each of you is serving your own table of guests – those who are in your charge.

Only each leader will know how they should use their ingredients to get their table the best meal. Only each leader will know what their environment is and how they can utilize their resources in and for that environment.

If you switch leaders and environments, there’s no guarantee that recipes (or lessons) that worked in one environment will work in the next. Providing for that new environment (or table) would entail learning the tastes each person is looking for and knowing how they will react, in order to meet the goal of making their experience enjoyable.

Leadership is about resourcefulness, not having an identical approach to every environment. It is about looking at what you have – the unique features of each environment – and determining what to make best with it.

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So, you’ll never find a leadership book that will tell you to do this, this, and that. At some point, each resource, book, or lesson is going to ask you to consider your environment, listen to it, and acknowledge the uniqueness of your own challenges—or, at least, it should.

It will never say Do this, and you will get this result! There’s a high probability that even the first step in any such book would get you a different result in different environments. Some good, some bad, but all unique.

In any material we read, our expectations need to be tempered and realistic, while the advice is simultaneously vetted.

Be sure to consider the reasoning behind your dismissal of an idea or approach before discounting the entire lesson.

So, What About You?

  • How do you break down the information, guidance, and advice you take in?
  • Are you able to tailor what you read and learn to your environment and apply it to your needs? How do you go about doing that?
  • If you and a colleague have read the same book, how did each of you view the book? Similarly? Differently? Did it depend from section to section?

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