Book Review: 'Leading So People Will Follow' by Erika Andersen
Leading So People Will Follow Erika Andersen Jossey-Bass/A Wiley Imprint (2012)
A thorough and insightful examination of “those core timeless attributes” of leadership that are essential to human fulfillment
Those who have read any of Erika Andersen’s earlier works — notably Growing Great Employees: Turning Ordinary People into Extraordinary Performers and Being Strategic: Plan for Success; Out-think Your Competitors; Stay Ahead of Change — already know that she is among the business world’s most knowledgeable authorities on what effective leadership is…and isn’t. I think her latest is her most important and most valuable book…thus far.
In it, she focuses on “what those core timeless attributes [of great leadership] are, why they are so essential to us, and perhaps most important, how to develop these attributes yourself.” She characterizes them as “archetypal elements” that help to explain why people follow some people and not others. At one point she realized, “I had indeed stumbled onto something primal, that I had identified those attributes that resonate in our ‘looking for leaders DNA.’” They are Farsighted, Passionate, Courageous, Wise, Generous, and Trustworthy. Not a headsnapper among them, nor does Andersen make any such claim, but all are eminently worthy of the chapter she devotes to each.
I commend her on her brilliant use of several reader-friendly devices that include dozens of “Try It” sections inserted throughout her lively and eloquent narrative. For aspiring leaders-in-training, I think these exercises resemble (at least to some extent) the purpose and functionality of simulation exercises that pilots-in-waiting use to gain valuable experience without risk.
I also commend her on her clever use of “Core Ideas” that are also strategically inserted throughout the narrative. They will facilitate, indeed expedite review of key points later.
These are among the dozens of passages that caught my eye:
o Drawing the Leadership Map (Pages 8-10) o Why Farsightedness Is Important (22-25) o How to Envision a Possible Future (28-30) o How to See Past Obstacles (43-44) o How to Support of Others’ Passion (58-59) o Balancing the First Three Attributes: Farsightedness, Passion, and Courage (84-85) o How to Be Generous (109-113) o The Foundational Attribute: Trust (139-140) o Finding a Wizard (158-160) o Questioning: How and Why Asking the Right Questions Improves both Listening and Learning (178-179) o Managing Your Self-talk (182-185)
I agree with Andersen about the importance of having the right “companions” (especially a “wizard”) to provide support and encouragement during one’s journey to become the kind of leader others then wish to follow. The lessons learned while proving worthy of these companions will prove invaluable later when proving worthy of a followership. Hence the importance of having the authenticity to which Oscar Wilde referred years ago when suggesting, “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.” To this point, Erika Andersen has much of value to say about being wise(in Chapter 6) and being trustworthy (in Chapter 8). Those who read and then (hopefully) re-read her latest book with appropriate care will be well-prepared to become “the kind of leader people long for – one who can partner with and guide them past all the modern trolls and monsters [they’ll] encounter, so that [they] can find [their] own twenty-first –century happy endings. On to the journey!”
When concluding this brief commentary, I quote my favorite passage from the Lao-Tzu in which Tao Te Ching articulates what I view as the essence of great leadership:
“Learn from the people Plan with the people Begin with what they have Build on what they know Of the best leaders When the task is accomplished The people will remark We have done it ourselves.”
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.