I was sent a complimentary copy of The Imperfect Leader (A story about discovering the not-so-secret secrets of transformational leadership) by Davis Taylor because I've been reading and reviewing a number of other business novels, though most of those are directly related to Theory of Constraints. As you might guess from the title, this one focuses on leadership. I found a few interesting things in the book, though the storytelling style was much more expository than a journey of discovery that I find in the TOC books. Of course, the book has its own website, www.theimperfectleader.com.
The Imperfect Leader describes Values Based Leadership (VBL), which I found very familiar. The story form tries to fill in the gaps beyond a straight description, and the story form makes for very fast reading. The format for this book is a fairly simple student-teacher arrangement, where the student is struggling with his own sense of self when he runs into a stranger who happens to be a guru in the very area that the student struggles with. As I mentioned above, the development of the material from this meeting is rather straightforward. But that didn't keep me from seeing some interesting elements throughout.
The basic concept behind Values Based Leadership is that the most effective leaders operate from a core set of values and set a vision of a preferred future. Essentially, the VBL framework describes why inspirational leaders take their organizations to that preferred future and achieve measurable success along the way. I also liked the strong connection between values and behaviors described throughout the book and the quote, "The behavior of a leader is governed by who a leader is on the inside." If you are curious about VBL, there is plenty of websites and videos online. There is even The Journal of Values Based Leadership. Along with being reminded of my current practice around Theory of Constraints, I thought I heard a number of connections to the writing of Leandro Herrero in the discussion of leadership.
The values described in the book are Integrity, Humility, Compassion, Purpose Driven, Courage, Self-Discipline, Gratitude. While these may sound like the Boy Scout Law, the book talks about these as values that are found in different forms across many organizations. I think these values were the source of the Imperfect in the book's title: a leader needs to know her limits, admit when she's wrong, learn from those mistakes, and move on. "Perfect" leaders are the ones no one follows. The value in this list that got the most attention in the book is the idea of humility, as most people think of it as self-deprecation and prefer the apparent opposite, pride. But humility should be a proper knowledge of oneself, both qualities and liabilities.
One element I found interesting was the discussion of the current reality and preferred future as the leader's Vision for the organization. In my consulting, particularly around Theory of Constraints, these ideas are core elements of helping organizations move from today to new levels of operation. We use Current Reality Trees to help understand what is going on now, and Future Reality Trees to describe what the future should look like (and required interventions). I image the preferred future is a higher-level description than the typical Future Reality Tree.
Another TOC-related item was a discussion of the purpose of a company. Theory of Constraints consultants know the familiar statement that the goal of a company is to "Make money now and in the future." But digging into this statement a bit doesn't seem terribly satisfying - there must be something more to it than strictly money. Do people start businesses just to make money? Or is the money an outcome of a well-run business? Davis Taylor suggests, through his characters, that companies exist to fulfill human needs. This rings a bell for me. Companies and organizations - human endeavors all - are there to satisfy some need of the people who run them and work for them and own them. The money is either an outcome or a necessary element to achieving more of the higher goal.
A question that comes up in the course of the story is that if you have a vision but still aren't getting there, What about you is standing in your way? This rocks the character in the story, but it also connects to other ideas I have of personal self-awareness. If I am leading an effort that is stalling, and I blame the stall on some other factors, then I am giving those factors power over my vision. On a personal level, if it is your fault that I can't change my behaviors, than powerless to EVER make that change. That cannot be right.
[Photo: "Imperfect Beauty" by sgrace]