Leadership: A Book Review

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The letter I!nDungeons & Dragons, Leadership is easy to acquire – you just need to reach level 6 (although a Cloak of Charisma helps). Real life is not that simple.

The difficulty of mastering the principles of leadership, as anyone who endured the Level 3 interview knows, starts with defining what leadership means. Then you need to choose, which aspects to evolve, implement, and practice. There are many ways to work on your leadership skills – observing others, mentoring, and finally, practice.

Books on leadership are often overlooked as tools for improvement. Frequently treated with contempt, they can be a valuable help if applied wisely and in conjunction with actual self-development. It is not enough to simply browse or read a book on leadership. You should look at the advice in context of your situation – broadly (e.g. your role in the judge program) or narrowly (e.g. team leader at the next GP) – and then applied to an area requiring improvement.

Over the past year, I've read a couple of books and would like to share my experience and thoughts on them. Each review contains an overview of the content, followed by my experiences with the book.

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen R. Corey

This is a book about self-development. Divided into three parts, it first focuses on helping develop you as yourself ('Be Pro-active,' 'Begin with an End in Mind,' 'Put First Things First'). The second deals with functioning in a society / group, your relations with others ('Think Win/Win,' 'Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood,' 'Synergize') and ends with a discussion on constant growth ('Sharpening the Saw'). The habits are discussed in detail with a lot of personal anecdotes illustrating the author's points. Each chapter also wrap-up with exercises meant to stimulate the reader.

My experience with this book reaches back almost six years, when I first discovered it in a library. A year ago, I felt an urge to reread it and bought myself a copy. It's definitely a book you go back to. The book does not immediately lend itself to improving your leadership skills. It does, however, help to build you up as a leader from the ground up. It also contains a great definition of a leader, which I often use in L3 interviews to demonstrate a difference between leaders and managers.

Now Discover Your Strengths, by Marcus Buckingham & Donald O. Clifton

The thesis set by these researchers from the Gallup Institute is that the successful people always develop their strengths and only Band-Aid their weaknesses. Once this thesis is defined and explained, the reader is urged to take an online test (the book comes with an activation key for a one-time test) to discover his five top personality themes (out of 34). These are then described in detail,showing how one can apply himself to build on them and also how to aid others demonstrating these traits.

This was a big eye-opener for me. Not the part about diversity or playing to your strengths – this is emphasized in the judge program – but what my actual traits are. It explained a lot of my personal decisions and my frustration with the judge program several years back. This is probably the least useful of the three books reviewed here, but it's a great read.

Note: This book is a sequel to First Break All the Rules, which I have not read and I don't think it is useful for our purposes, being heavily focused on business practices.

The Leadership Challenge, by Jim Kouzes & Barry Posner

This book directly deals with the aspects of leadership. While it talks about leadership in the business setting, none of the concepts presented here can't be applied to leadership within the judge program. The book is a detailed overview of a training program given by the authors and can be supplemented with much additional material.

If you want lots of advice and handfuls of things to try, this is the book for you. I was reading this on my way to GP Amsterdam early this year and actually taking notes on things I was going to improve on at that event. This included running the team meeting, working with other judges and approaching the event more confidently. And it really showed – the feedback I got from both senior and lower-level judges was probably the most positive I ever received.

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