Friday, September 15, 2017

Book Review: 'The New Alpha' by Danielle Harlan

After completing their formal education, most people concentrate on continuing personal growth while pursuing professional development. Their workplace culture can do much to accelerate or diminish that process and supervisors have the greatest impact, for better or worse. As I began to read this book, I was again reminded of the key insights in a book published in 2002, Free Agent Nation, in which Daniel Pink shares his thoughts and feelings about “the future of working for yourself.” That future has since arrived. This is probably what Danielle Harlan has in mind when suggesting that New Alpha leaders “focus on developing their competencies across three critical domains: personal excellence, personal leadership, and team/organizational leadership.” They are driven by three core beliefs:

1. “Each of us possesses the innate potential to make a unique and meaningful impact in the world.”

2. “By working to become the best version of ourselves, we develop the foundation competencies that are necessary to effectively lead others.”

3. "Being a [begin italics] successful [end italics] leader is about more than what we achieve or accomplish. It’s also about enjoying life and having a positive impact on others and the world around us.”

What Harlan offers is “a holistic and interactive leadership and personal development program that is designed to help you optimize your human potential while also increasing your competency as a leader.” Invoking horticultural metaphors, I presume to add that if a workplace culture is viewed as a “garden,” leaders are those who tend it in order to “grow” other leaders while supervising the process by which to produce an abundant “harvest.”

These are among the several dozen passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the scope of Harlan’s coverage:

o Character and ethics: Citizenship and stewardship (Pages 19-23 and 115-116)
o Self-assessments (28-30, 60-64, 73-74, and 80-83)
o Body language (34-35)
o Development of community (39-42)
o Gratitude and appreciation in relationships (44-47)
o Diversity and privilege (48-53)
o Developing a mindset for success (79-106)
o Mental and emotional well-being (113-116)
o Creativity (114-115 and 232-238)
o Passion and enthusiasm (129-136)
o Environmental conditions for success (130-135)
o Brainstorming for vision identification and development (143-148)
o Mind maps (153-155)
o Goal management (162-169)
o Progress review (178-182)
o Feedback in team leadership (205-207 and 224-225)
o Strategies for team leadership (211-213 and 229-231)

This book is best viewed – and appreciated – as a developmental framework within which to focus on personal growth and professional development in the three aforementioned “domains.” That involves a five-step process for finding and internalizing your personal leadership identity, a four step plan for crafting a vision (and vision board) for your ideal life, six steps to turn your vision into a workable plan of action, six steps for crafting a compelling vision to share with others, and six steps to turn that vision into a workable plan of action.

I also commend Harlan on her brilliant use of self-assessments throughout the book. These exercises function both as a mirror of reality and as a window to potentiality. She also includes dozens of “Do Now” and “New Alpha Tips,” and a “Wrap-Up and Tracking Progress” section at the conclusion of Chapters 1-4, then concluding each of the nine remaining chapters with a call to action appropriate to the subject covered. These and other reader-friendly devices will facilitate, indeed expedite frequent review of key material later. It would also be a good idea to keep a lined notebook near at hand while working your way through the book so that you can record comments, questions, and page references.

Danielle Harlan is convinced – and I agree – that all organizations need New Alpha leadership at all levels and in all areas of the given enterprise, whatever its size and nature may be. That said, it would be a fool’s errand to attempt to apply all of the material provided in her book. The personal and organizational assessments will help to identify where to focus attention and allocate resources. Anticipate and prepare for resistance. Recruit others who share your determination to make a difference, to have a positive impact, in a world that is more volatile, more uncertain, more complex, and more ambiguous than at any prior time that I can recall.

Meanwhile, keep in mind two observations by Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has” and "Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else.”

Editor's note: This review was written by Robert Morris and has been published with his permission. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right. 

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