Mastering Leadership: Review of a Must read leadership book

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Book cover of Mastering Leadership by Robert Anderson and William AdamsFew leaders talk about the difficulties they face when becoming and being a leader. Like newbie parents miss a manual for the education of their kids, there is no step-by-step guide on how to become and be a great leader. What is clear though is that good leadership requires competencies, experience, and a huge dose of personal development. A sum of requisites that can turn quite challenging at some stages. – If there was something like a leadership manual, the recently published leadership book “Mastering Leadership” by Robert Anderson and William A. Adams would be a good candidate. It discerns the qualities of leadership needed to develop an effective leadership style over time.

Mastering Leadership goes beyond other leadership books

Mastering Leadership is not just another leadership book. It goes beyond standard leadership literature as it tackles leadership development not only from the competencies perspective. The key difference lies in the authors’ focus on the so-calles inner game of leadership. Whereas most leadership development targets the outer game of competencies and processes, Mastering Leadership considers all three areas as equally important. More than that, according to the authors “the inner game runs the outer game. […] Since this truth is largely ignored, most efforts to develop mastery in leadership focus on the outer game of competence with little focus on the inner game of consciousness”.

According to Anderson/Adams three key domains are fundamental in order to develop a great effective leadership: Leadership Consciousness, Leadership Competencies and Leadership Process.

The 3 domains of leadership effectiveness from the book Mastering Leadership by Robert Anderson and William Adams

What is the inner game of leadership?

The inner game of consciousness according to Anderson/Adams consists of these six components:

  • Our meaning-making system: what we use to make sense of the world
  • Our decision-making system: how we analyze, decide, and act
  • Our values and spiritual beliefs
  • Our level of self-awareness and emotional intelligence
  • The mental models that we use to understand reality, think, act, and create
  • The internal beliefs and assumptions making up our personal identity

The outer game of leadership

The outer game consists of these components:

  • The science of leadership and domain of management
  • Effective use of resources (people, time, money)
  • Management systems such as strategy, execution, processes, metrics
  • Competencies such as communication, accountability, people development

Five levels of leadership

Building on top of several leadership-related theories such as cognitive and rational emotive psychology (David Burns), Stages of Adult Development (Robert Kegan), and System Thinking and System Dynamics (Peter Senge), Mastering Leadership develops a universal leadership model. The Adult Development Model by Robert Kegan with 5 stages of development is the backbone of Mastering Leadership.

Leaders develop through a maximum of 5 leadership stages: every leader starts from the Egocentric Leadership stage, with an autocratic and controlling style. The 2nd stage is called the Reactive Leadership, characterized by a complying, controlling, protecting attitude that depends on how others see us. With about 75% of leaders operating from this stage of leadership, it’s the most common leadership style. The Creative Leadership style is the next level, a visionary style where leaders share power and inspire. Only 5% of leaders develop to the so-called Integral Leadership style, dominated by the leader’s system awareness and a holistic vision that goes beyond the organization. The ultimate stage is called Unitive Leadership.

Boot camp for leaders with 6 leadership practices

Moving from one leadership stage to another takes time. “Each stage is inevitable. […] Development is a disintegration-reintegration process. At each development inflection point, we are challenged to let go of old ways of knowing before new ways of sense-making have booted up. This is destabilizing. Consequently, these transitions, in childhood and adulthood, are often hard.”

It takes courage to face the truth about ourselves. Leaders who are committed to improving their performance must commit to growing as individuals

Still Mastering Leadership offers 6 leadership practices that are critical to increase the pace towards the next leadership level:

Discerning Purpose: It’s the continuous practice to pay attention, define and pursue your personal purpose worthy of your deepest commitment. Very much in line with Apple-founder Steve Jobs’ famous commencement speech at Stanford, purpose drives and points us in the direction of our highest inspirations.

Distilling vision: Vision is the center piece of effective leadership. Distilling the vision means to translate the personal purpose into a vivid description of the desired future of our life (and organization). According to Anderson/Adams “vision is personal, specific, lofty, strategic, and collective”.

Know your doubts and fears: This practice refers to the “terrible truth number one. – I am the problem”. In order to live up to our own vision and purpose, it is important to identify when fear, anxiety and inner conflict take the lead of our agenda. To get to the next leadership level, one must go through a deep introspection on the parts of oneself that “are not yet ready to embody our vision–that are too small, too scared, too reactive, too controlling, too cautious, etc”.

Engage in authentic, courageous dialogue: Based on purpose, vision and knowledge of your fears and doubts, the next challenge is to speak the truth. This more than anything requires courage: “There is no safe way to be great. And there is no great way to be safe. Transformation requires courage. There is no way around it.” So, practicing to speak the truth, especially in difficult situations – in conversations with oneself, with others, within the management team, and within the whole organization.

Develop intuition, open to inspiration: Practicing intuition develops a leader’s trust in knowledge that goes beyond the rationals, the leader’s leap of faith. “Leaders must learn to use data and rational analysis as far as it can go and then listen to their gut, their intuitive knowing about the best or right thing to do.”

Think systemically: See and explore the dynamics of the current system, and instead of fixing the short-term problems, resist the urge and focus on “strategic actions aimed at particular points of leverage that […] get a multiplied return in improved performance”. Thus, transform the system to support the new purpose and vision.

Leadership has more to do with character, courage & conviction than with specific skills

Bold statements backed with big data

Anderson/Adams’ work is not only based on their joint +70 years of coaching and leadership experience. All statements are backed with data. Big data. More than half a million leadership surveys from The Leadership Circle, a reference for leadership and company culture assessment used to evaluate leaders from all over the world. They have been crossing, crunching and correlating the information in order to prove their points. A scale of insight that – to my knowledge – no other leadership book can offer.

The verdict

Mastering Leadership: An Integrated Framework for Breakthrough Performance and Extraordinary Business Results is serious stuff. If you look for a pill to bring your leadership to the next level, this one goes right to the deep fundamentals of leadership development. It does not offer quick fixes, and this is exactly why I like it. Its robust insightful leadership theory offers a complete, sustainable, challenging, and therefore very realistic longer-term leadership development approach. On the flip side, for my taste some parts of the book are too technical and explain too many scientific details of the Leadership Circle’s data model. Plus, both the style and certain redundancies make it a sometimes dry read. Still, the content is very much worth digging through these parts. One of the best leadership books I’ve read, a must read for every leader.

You can download the full first chapter of Mastering Leadership on the website of the authors.