The Will To Lead

Published in the early 90’s, The Will To Lead – running a business with a network of leaders is an influential book by the founder of McKinsey & Company, Marvin Bower. In this book he shares his own personal journey and motivations. Prior to publications of this book most leadership studies and publications were focused on leadership in politics and government. Now leadership qualities are an essential skill in business and also in everyday life. 

Peter Drucker, one of the greatest thinkers of the 20th century, also brought the distinction between “management” and “Leadership”. In his book, Bower mentions when an executive achieves outstanding results through the exercise of authority in a hierarchy of superiors and subordinates, it is not “leadership” but “managing”. 

He also agrees with the popular saying “Leadership can’t be taught, but can be learned”. With the popularity of Carol Dweck’s work on mindset, there is general consensus about learning new skills and behaviors. There is also an effort done at Harvard to develop theory and practice around teaching leadership and they have published – Handbook of Leadership to make leadership available to all. 

The qualities and attributes of Leading (from The Will To Lead by Marvin Bower) 

Trustworthiness 

Leaders operate on the foundation of trust. Trustworthiness is integrity in action. Leaders are truthful and honest be it a small thing or a big thing, they are always truthful. 

Fairness 

Leaders do not use their authority carelessly to get the work done. The team members can tolerate “toughness” but not “unfairness. The book quotes “fairness has one or more of the three meanings: equity, reciprocity, and impartiality.”

Unassuming behavior 

Bower mentions “arrogance, haughtiness, and egotism are poisonous to leadership”. Rather than trying to hypocritically humble it is easier to be unassuming in behaviour. He also mentions the importance of “Servant Leadership” qualities for executives. 

Leaders Listen

The book quotes ” Of all the skills of leadership, listening is one of the most valuable – and one of the least understood…”. Bower quotes various examples of leaders and the importance of listening. He also cautions about the cultural difference across the world. For example, the nodding head of Britons means “I understand you,” not “I agree with you.”

A Leader is Open-Minded

Bower shares his frustration of working with senior executives with a closed mind. As a consultant when he presented his findings the executives were not receptive. He mentions “What is the use of hiring a consultant if your mind is closed even to considering their findings and recommendations?”. 

Sensitivity to people and situations 

Leaders can succeed in persuading people than commanding by paying attention. Bower shares ” I had to stop taking them for granted and exercise insights, intuition, perception, empathy – or some combination of these .. “.  He also highlights how diversity helps in increasing the sensitivity among the teams. 

Initiative, Initiative, Initiative. 

The initiative is one of the most important attributes of every leader. It is also easy to learn: Just think a bit, use judgment, and act. 

Broad-minded

Leaders are torrent of varied views and inclined to condone minor departures from conventional behavior. They also have a sense of humor. 

Flexibility and Adaptability 

Flexibility and adaptability go hand in hand with open-minded listening. Leaders learn how to spot the need for change faster, initiate change, and adapt to it. 

The Capacity to Make Sound and Timely Decisions

For leaders higher in the hierarchy, the speed, as well as the quality of their decisions, will set an example for others. 

The capacity to Motivate

Bower highlights the importance of intrinsic motivation rather than extrinsic motivations like cash awards. He mentions ” people in a leadership company derive satisfaction from being involved in work which produces products or services that customers buy with increasing satisfaction. “

A Sense of Urgency 

Bower stresses the importance of a sense of urgency “When a sense of urgency has spread throughout a company, it can make a substantial difference in both effectiveness and efficiency…”.

In this book, Bower also highlights four fundamental responsibilities. 

1. Treating Constituents with Respect

2. Developing Constituents Self-Confidence and Self Esteem 

3. Developing Constituents

4. Making Constituents stakeholders

Overall the book The Will To Lead – Running a business with a Network of Leaders by Marvin Bower is an excellent book for all professionals to read, learn and develop. 

References

1. The Will to Lead: Running a Business With a Network of Leaders by Marvin Bower

2. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck

https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/40745.Mindset

3. On Becoming a Servant Leader: The Private Writings of Robert K. Greenleaf by Robert K. Greenleaf (Editor), Larry C. Spears https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/714614.On_Becoming_a_Servant_Leader

4. Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practiceby Nitin Nohria (Editor), Rakesh Khurana (Editor)

Acknowledgments

I would like to thank Jyoti Bhat, who was my Manager when I was working at Infosys (SET LABS from 2008-2010). She helped to get a copy of this book. Thank you. 

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