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Leadership Agility

By Bill Joiner and Stephen Josephs

Jossey-Bass, 322 pages, $35.99

Children have defined stages of development, psychologist Jean Piaget and others have shown in their studies.

Similarly, academic research has shown that the capacities of managers develop through various stages.

Bill Joiner and Stephen Josephs, consultants who have carried out some of those studies in leadership development, believe we can progress through five stages, depending on how agile we are in adjusting to the turbulent world in which we operate.

If you figure you're probably close to the top now, be prepared for a jolt, since it's unlikely you are. Most of us are at the lower stages, needing to develop ourselves more fully, becoming more sensitive to others and to the context we operate within.

Based on data collected from more than 600 managers, they defined a ladder of development.

Expert Level: Although this sounds like the top, given our societal fascination with experts, in fact it's the bottom. Experts are so named because they are strongly motivated to develop subject-matter expertise and because they assume that a leader's legitimate power comes from expertise and positional authority. They have a tactical orientation and analytical disposition, but are lacking in many other areas leaders need to be skilled in, from reading other people and situations to inspiring a higher purpose. About 45 per cent of managers fit in this category and, although it's the low point in the ladder, there are actually another 10 per cent of managers who aren't even on the ladder, in the pre-expert level.

Achiever Level: These managers are highly motivated to accomplish outcomes valued by their organization. They realize that a leader's power comes not only from authority and expertise but from motivating others by making it challenging and satisfying to contribute to the organization's goals. They can be highly effective in moderately complex environments where the pace of change requires the occasional shift in corporate strategy. They comprise about 35 per cent of managers.

Together, those two levels and the "pre-experts" form 90 per cent of today's managers, operating from what the authors label a "heroic" mindset. They assume sole responsibility for setting their organization's objectives, co-ordinating the activities of their subordinates, and managing performance. In many ways, that's how we define leadership in our organizations and even in politics, when we vote for our country's leaders. The praise for Stephen Harper's leadership, for example, would fall within those categories.

But the authors argue there can be -- and should be -- further evolution to post-heroic leadership.

Catalyst level: These leaders articulate an innovative, inspiring vision and bring together the right people to transform the vision into reality by empowering others. They are intent on creating a participative team, acting as facilitator, and seeking an open exchange of views on difficult issues. They seek engagement with the diverse stakeholders of the organization. Catalysts amount to 5 per cent of managers.

Co-creator level: These leaders understand that everything in business and the rest of life is interdependent. Because of their commitment to the common good, many of them have pioneered new forms of organization where corporate responsibility is integral to the bottom line. They have a high degree of emotional resilience and capacity for dialogue, developing collaborative relationships and creating win-win situations. About 4 per cent of managers fall into this group.

Synergist level: What distinguishes leaders at this level from the previous is their ability to enter fully into the moment-to-moment flow of their present experience, working with others in a more collaborative way because they are better attuned to the situation and the needs of the other people in what we are increasingly calling real time. As this capacity develops, in contentious and chaotic situations they can stand in the eye of a storm and, through what the authors call "synergistic intuitions," transform seemingly intractable conflicts into solutions that are beneficial for all parties. "We believe that the capacities and competencies developed by these men and women represent the cutting edge of leadership development for the 21st Century," the authors state. Unfortunately, just 1 per cent of leaders fall into this category.

As leaders climb higher into the post-heroic modes, they tend to become more sensitive to others, and can monitor their own feelings and those of others as they are interacting, rather than only afterwards. Often, that comes from their commitment to meditation. At the co-creator level, 40 per cent of the sample had a more-or-less daily meditation practice, with another 10 per cent meditating on a less regular basis. For some leaders, therapy has also been helpful to understand their impulses.

This is not an easy book to plow through, although the authors do their best with many profiles of exemplars for each stage. But the psychological concepts can be difficult to assimilate, and require careful study. Still, the book opens us to a new way of understanding leadership and how to improve.

In Addition: A better title for The Definitive Drucker (McGraw-Hill, 289 pages, $34.95) might have been "The Distilled Drucker," since Elizabeth Haas Edersheim doesn't seek to summarize Peter Drucker's many books and articles (which was done, perhaps definitively, by John E. Flaherty a few years ago in Peter Drucker: Shaping The Managerial Mind). Instead, she distils their essence, as well as his thoughts in many conversations she had with him in the last years of his life, after he sought her out to write a book on his ideas. It's an easy, effective way to get a handle on Mr. Drucker's main ideas or, to be more accurate, his main questions, since he generally offered advice by asking provocative questions. The book is structured around those many, excellent questions. She also does an excellent job of adding examples from her own consulting experience and interviews with people Mr. Drucker helped, leading to a thoughtful, practical book for any executive or entrepreneur to consider.

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