I just finished reading “The Leadership Code: Five Rules to Lead By,” from Harvard Business Press. In my experience reading these Harvard Business Press books can be hit-or-miss, since some of them can seem a bit dry and theoretical. For me, The Leadership Code was definitely a hit.
Find the winning formula
- What percent of effective leadership is basically the same? Are there some common rules that any leader anywhere must master? Is there a recognizable leadership code?
- If there are common rules that all leaders must master, what are they?
The authors benchmarked a number of high performers and figured out the answers to these questions and collected some fantastic best practices along the way.
Five rules for leaders
There are five “rules” presented in the book, each accompanied by a set of diagnostic tools to help you determine where you and your organization are in relation to the high performers in the study. Some of the tools focus on your strengths and weaknesses as a leader, while others focus on how functional or dysfunctional your organization may be.
The rules are:
- Rule 1: Shape the Future
- Rule 2: Make Things Happen
- Rule 3: Engage Today’s Talent
- Rule 4: Build the Next Generation
- Rule 5: Invest in Yourself
At this point you may be thinking, “What? Those rules don’t don’t seem very exciting.”
But don’t let these descriptions fool you – The authors present compelling content about accountability, goal setting, true leadership, staff development, dealing with conflict & alignment, and strengthening your own individual skills.
Some things to think about, and some things to do
Each of the rules is discussed in detail, beginning with the findings from the study and a summary of the key capabilities effective leaders demonstrate for that rule. After a discussion of the findings, the authors typically move into guidance on how to figure out where your gaps are in relation to the ideals.
For example, there is a “Leadership code self assessment” test to help you figure out your relative strengths and weaknesses in 5 critical areas, which map to the 5 Rules:
- Talent Manger
- Human Capital Developer
- Personal Proficiency
When you take the assessment, you’ll find you have strengths and weaknesses. The authors found that effective leaders never scored below average on their weaker disciplines.
After you determine your strengths and weaknesses, how do you exploit your strengths and improve your weaknesses to at least average? Good news: the authors do a masterful job of providing practical, actionable advice for each rule. I think the reason the advice rang true was because much of it comes in the form of stories from the high performers, who provide details on how they tackled shortfalls in each of the areas (including some war stories about when things didn’t go very well.
The stories from the high performers made the rules feel “real” and helped me understand how these best practices can be applied in the real world.
Crack the Leadership Code
One important message I took away from this is that there are repeatable best practices that can help improve your leadership in any organization. In other words, if you aspire to become a great leader, there is hope.
The other thing I noted is that the best practices were very congruent with some of the values-based leadership books that have made such an impact on me, like Managing With Aloha, and books I feature in the book list in the left sidebar of my blog.