Did you watch the polls during the primaries and leading up to the U.S. presidential election? Are you all polled out? I know I was, so I wasn't sure if I wanted to read a book by a couple of guys from Gallup based on polling research on leadership. On the other hand, it wasn't politics, and the topic was leadership, so I read it. Now, of course, I'm glad I did.
Tom Rath and Barry Conchie are no strangers to business leadership. Rath has been on both the Wall Street Journal and BusinessWeek bestseller lists with previous publications, and Conchie knows a thing or two about developing executive talent: he leads Gallup's executive leadership consulting services and speaks internationally on leadership.
Together they've summarized Gallup's findings on leadership from both above and below: how leaders lead, and why followers follow. It's actually a pretty short book, but it has some nifty resources at the end to help you get a handle on how to implement the lessons of the research.
So, about the research - it's nothing radical - just a fresh look at a perennially engaging subject. I thought it was fun that of 1,001 people randomly surveyed, 97 percent rated their ability to lead as being at or above average. Take heart, we can lead one another out of this economic crisis! Of course the research went much deeper, and the authors reviewed decades of Gallup data, including more than 20,000 in-depth interviews with senior leaders and studies of more than a million work teams. They also studied more than 10,000 followers around the world asking what they see in their leaders that makes them want to follow.
Here's a good insight: avoid the temptation to try to excel in everything. You're just a leader, not a Superman. Rath and Conchie caution against efforts to become well-rounded, to develop your weaknesses. The most effective leaders understand their strengths and play to them. They actually work to strengthen their strengths. They run toward their strengths with open arms. That's the first major lesson of the research.
The second follows from that: effective leaders build teams that fortify their personal weaknesses. Though the leader isn't well-rounded, the team is. This takes some humility. In recognizing strengths, an effective leader is, by implication, admitting some degree of weakness. The extent to which he is unafraid to do so determines the strength of his team. Is there any more powerful asset than a strong team?
The third lesson is about understanding the needs of your followers. Followers seek to have their needs met by their leaders: that's why they follow. When the initial survey of followers was tabulated and the researchers looked to see what three words each participant had written in to describe what an important leader contributes to their lives, clear patterns began to emerge.
In some cases, more than 1,000 people had written in the exact same word. The research reveals that the four basic needs of followers are: trust, compassion, stability, and hope. You've got to connect with us, leaders, or you'll find yourselves in a lonely place.
So, what kind of a leader are you? How can you build your strengths and the strengths of your team? Don't quite know? No problem, with this book you can go online and take the Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment. It's been around for a while and has helped millions discover their strengths. It expresses strengths in 34 themes. Once you have the results of the assessment, the resource section shows you how to lead from each of the 34 StrengthsFinder themes.
This book is a quick read - you only really need to cover the first 100 pages or so, and then skip to your themes in the back. Rath and Conchie have given a practical insight into how to make your strengths attractive to those who follow.
I give this 4 cups of coffee.