Sunday, March 21, 2010

Book Review by Prof.M.S.Rao – “Develop Your Leadership Skills” by John Adair (Publisher Kogan Page)

“It is easy to find a thousand soldiers but very difficult to find a general.” – Chienese proverb.

I have read the book titled “Develop Your Leadership Skills” (Publisher Kogan Page) authored by John Adair who is the first professor of leadership studies globally and is the authority in the domain of leadership development. The book provides practical tips that are easy to understand and apply for a layperson. It helps you understand the essential leadership qualities, appreciate the leadership roles and finally master the key leadership skills and abilities.

The book helps readers who like to take up leadership roles and responsibilities. It makes you an effective leader. It equips you with theoretical inputs, ideas and principles to learn leadership skills. It blends both management and leadership effectively. It provides several exercises, checklists and key questions for testing various leadership abilities and skills. It is based on author’s military experiences with anecdotes

John Adair says, “As long as the results are effective there is no point in differentiating between leadership and management.” To prove his point he quotes Chinese proverb,”What does it matter if a cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice?” Whether you are a manager or a leader you need to deliver goods which are more important than being labeled either as a manager or a leader. We shall briefly look at few more takeaways from the book.

Takeaways from John Adair:

“It is better to have a lion at the head of an army of sheep than a sheep at the head of an army of lions.” – Daniel Defoe
• If you want to become a leader you have to be clearer about the role of leadership first.
• If you really work hard at leadership, your skills will become more habitual or unconscious. Then people will call you a natural leader.
• Personality and character are integral part of leadership.
• Leadership is situational. For instance, Winston Churchill was a great leader in wartime, but not so good in peace. It is very clear that what works for an individual might not work again as the times and technologies change rapidly.
• Irrespective of the field you are into and the level of leadership, there are three things that you should always be thinking about: task, team and individual. He goes further and declares that leadership is essentially an ‘other-centered activity’ – not a self-centered one.
• Leadership exists at three levels such as team level, operational level and strategic level.
• If communication is sister to leadership, then motivation is its brother.
• Good leaders don’t blame their tools, but work with what they have and deliver results effectively.
• Leaders must always take a ‘helicopter view’ of what is going on in their organizations.
• Only leaders can grow leaders.

The author provides key principles for motivating others such as motivate yourself; select people who are highly motivated; set realistic and challenging targets; remember that progress motivates; provide fair rewards and give recognition.

He takes the quote of Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu about leadership, “A leader is best when people barely know that he exists; not so good when people obey and acclaim him; worst when they despise him. Fail to honor people, they fail to honor you. But of a good leader, who talks little, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, thy will all say, ‘We did this ourselves’”.

John Adair coined the term ‘strategic leadership’ way back in 1970 by blending strategy with leadership. He effectively connects leadership with change management. He compares the connectivity between the both with a proverb, “The bird carries the wings and wings carry the bird.” Change always calls for leadership without which change cannot be effected smoothly and successfully.

The author opines that currently organizations provide leadership training only for senior level leaders ignoring the middle and lower levels which is a step in retrograde direction. In fact, it is the lower level leaders who are close to customers. They also need to be trained and groomed as leaders for achieving organizational excellence and effectiveness.

The author says, “Corporate culture should also encourage a climate of self-development in leadership. Organizations only have 50 per cent of the cards in their hands; the other 50 per cent are in the hands of the individual. There may be no leadership courses available to you, but you can still learn leadership.”

Although human resources or training specialists are available to assist you to formulate and implement leadership strategy, ultimately it is you as a CEO who have to take initiative for making the things moving forward as you are in the driving seat.

The author lists out 7 principles for developing leaders in organizations
• Develop a strategy for leadership development,
• Selection,
• Training for leadership,
• Career advancement,
• Line managers as leadership developers,
• Culture and
• Growing leaders if you are in the role of chief executive.

Apply all the seven principles to develop leadership talent and potential irrespective of the level of management and retain them in leadership pipeline.

John Adair concludes the book with the quote of John Buchan, “The task of leadership is not to put greatness into people but to elicit it, for the greatness is there already.”


The book is worth reading for all those who like to know the basics of leadership qualities, roles and skills. It provides you with tips, tools and techniques that enable you to excel as an effective leader in your field.

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