Appearing in In The Black, October 2016
By James Kouzes and Barry Posner
Wiley, $36, 235 pages, ISBN 9781119144281
In the study of leadership Kouzes and Posner are heavy hitters, and since their seminal book The Leadership Challenge they have continually expanded and refined their subject. In Learning Leadership they focus on how good leaders become great leaders and how great leaders become better.
Dipping into their massive base of research – thirty years worth – Kouzes and Posner find that the best leaders are those who admit that they still have things to learn. The big chair is not the end of the journey but another step in the process.
Kouzes and Posner distil their observations into five interdependent actions. Strong self-belief is the first step in developing leadership competencies. The best leaders consciously admit their weaknesses and set about addressing them. An aspiration to excel is another, with a clear image of the kind of leader they want to be and what legacy they want to leave for others.
Challenging oneself is critical. Leaders have to seek new experiences and test themselves. Tied to this is another trait, a willingness to engage support, whether it is family, peers, mentors, or coaches.
Perhaps the most important of the actions is continuous practice. Exemplary leaders set improvement goals, participate in designed learning experiences, and ask for feedback.
These are solid lessons, explained with clarity and illustrated with relevant examples. But readers should know that the book is not about leading others but managing oneself. Which is, really, the toughest job of all.
Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future
By Ashlee Vance
Ecco/HarperCollins, $29, 392 pages, ISBN 978-0062301239
One day, when we look back to see made a dent in the Universe, entrepreneur/inventor/technologist Elon Musk will probably be high on the list. This book is not the first biography of Musk but is the first with which he co-operated – sort of. Although Vance interviewed him extensively Musk comes across as a rather cold, remote figure. Brilliant, driven, and insightful, yes, but not particularly likeable. Vance examines Musk’s current projects in space exploration and super-efficient energy systems but also looks at his other work, including his involvement with PayPal. Musk is still in his early forties so his career has a long way to go, but this book does a solid, entertaining job at telling the story so far.
The Game of Inches
By Nigel Collin
Wiley, $26, 168 pages, ISBN 9780730328964
Success in business does not have to be based on a massive disruptive event, says Collin. More usually, it grows from a good idea which is slowly improved, with incremental changes that add up to competitive advantage. It’s the little things that matter.
He is in a good position to know. After finding entrepreneurial success himself, he decided to motorbike around Australia to find emerging companies that were doing well. This led to him connecting with Start Up Australia, which opened more doors. Based on interviews with the people he met and his own experience, The Game of Inches offers a range of practical guidance on getting started and moving forward.
Most of the entrepreneurs he came across started by finding a gap in the marketplace and filling it, and then taking the right actions to grow the business. A way to test and measure the product in the marketplace has to be developed, and some good advice on metrics and analysis never goes astray. Yes, you might fail, but if you do then understand why and learn the lesson.
Collin overlays these steps with a series of behaviours, including having the right mindset and being ready for continuous self-improvement. Accept that it might take years of work to become an overnight success.
This is a breezy, conversational book, with many interesting things to say. For would-be entrepreneurs and those who advise them, it is a good place to start.
Think Smart Run Hard
By Madonna King
Xoum, $30, 288 pages, ISBN 9781921134746
As one of Australia’s leading businesswomen Maxine Horne has learned some crucial lessons. This commissioned biography coincides with the 21st anniversary of the company she heads, Vita Group (formerly Fone Zone), which runs a hundred Telstra stores as well as a family of offshoots. Horne caught the mobile phone wave just as it was starting to build and was nimble enough to ride it although it was her focus on customer service that underpinned the success. She also has important things to say about team building and recruiting good people. Another crucial aspect is reliable metrics, especially when remuneration is linked to performance. There is not much critical analysis here but nevertheless Horne’s experiences show how theory links to practice.