By Joel Jones
In the 12 years of this monthly column on leadership, this month's title may be the strangest. To explain: Regular readers of this column know that both in life and leadership I enjoy the events, occasions and objects which may at first seem simply circumstantial, but on closer inspection may reveal significant connections and consequences, sometimes only casual, often causal.
Two weeks ago, during the week of my 75th birthday, three books ended up side-by-side on my desk one discussed briefly last month, Robyn Benincasa's "How Winning Works: Eight Essential Leadership Lessons from the Toughest Teams on Earth," and two others, Paul Buyer's "Working Toward Excellence: 8 Values for Achieving Uncommon Success in Work and Life" and Phil Rosenzweig's "The Halo Effect ... and the Eight Other Business Delusions That Deceive Managers."
Wham, bam, there was no way to escape the weight of the number "8," especially since that week, at 7.5 decades, I was occasionally setting plans for making
The 8, of course, flipped on its side, resembles the infinity symbol and, as we have discussed several times, the number of books on leadership and management seems to have become infinite, and by necessity somewhat repetitive.
All three of these, though, are worthy of reading. Beincasa's "How Winning Works," based on her experiences as a world champion adventure racer, truly is unique in the burgeoning body of leadership literature.
Buyer's "Working Toward Excellence," predicated primarily upon his academic career in percussion and music administration, stands as more traditional (with multiple references to many of the leadership classics). And if you read Rosenzweig's "The Halo Effect" first, that will nicely prevent you from buying at least eight of the contemporary best-sellers on leadership and business success, given his incisive and devastating critique of the supposed research upon which the authors base their fallacious proclamations and predictions.
I thought it would be intriguing to correlate or compare Rosenzweig's eight delusions (actually nine, note the word "other" in his book's title) with the eight lessons advocated by Benincasa and the eight values promulgated by Buyer.
As was stated in last month's column, Benincasa structures her book acronymically around the word "teamwork" Total Commitment, Empathy and Awareness, Adversity Management, Mutual Respect, We Thinking, Ownership of the Project, Relinquishment of Ego, and Kinetic Leadership.
Her "lessons" based primarily on her team adventure racing experiences through deserts, swamps, jungles and over mountains (superb metaphors, of course, for leadership) stand up well against the test of Rosenzweig's delusions.
Paul Buyer's eight "values" (Hunger, Effort, Process, Quality, Consistency, Leadership, Time, Perseverance) are predicated on his personal experiences in music and academia, as well as on the literature on leadership.
They are more directly contested by the "delusions," but, in the end, do stand fairly firm. Though Buyer does focus more on the significance of successful leadership, he does emphasize teamwork in a way that would resonate well with Benincasa. Buyer asserts: "In fact, excellence is rarely an individual accomplishment, but rather a team accomplishment and joint venture. In most cases, working toward excellence will require a group of people working together to accomplish a common goal."
Benincasa would applaud that, and, in fact she and I might be tempted to say "in all cases."
And now we come to Rosenzweig and his eight (actually nine) "delusions" about individual or organizational success. To be blunt, he would be skeptical about saying "in most cases" or especially "in all cases." He is convincingly skeptical about attributing organizational or individual success to any singular or simple factor.
One has to be taken aback by the brilliance and skill with which he decries, destroys and decimates many of those best-sellers which proffer explanations of or predictors for success in the business world. "The Halo Effect" deserves a column unto itself (and I will do that soon).
For the moment let's look at the eight delusions (all of which are conditioned by the ninth "the halo effect"). Rosenzweig proffers the delusions of Correlation and Causality, Single Explanations, Connecting the Winning Dots, Rigorous Research, Lasting Success, Absolute Performance, the Wrong End of the Stick and Organizational Physics.
The weight of these eight delusions should move anyone interested in leadership and organizational success (or failure) to enter into and engage Rosenzweig's thinking and especially to reflect on the ninth, but first and foremost delusion, "the halo effect."
Simply defined, (and I apologize, for this barely scratches the surface), just because someone looks and talks like a leader, and happens to be at the right place at the right time, does not constitute in a causal way, leadership success.
To quote Rosenzweig, "The Halo Effect is a way for the mind to create and maintain a coherent and consistent picture, to reduce cognitive dissonance."
And some of my loyal readers just said, "O.K., Joel, this is not Psychology or Philosophy 220." Correct. So let us go back to Benincasa's swamps, jungles, deserts, and mountains perfect metaphors for the challenges we face in our seemingly chaotic world of hypertext and tempestuous transitions.
To survive and succeed that is, to lead in this world, one must replace self-aggrandizement and solipsism with self-sacrifice and synergy. One must lead by performance, not by position, by perseverance, not by posturing, and by moving beyond competition for the sake of ego-enhancement to collaboration for the sake of everyone on your team.
In summary, then, both Benincasa and Buyer would have us move beyond Rosenzweig's delusions, joining him in realizing that "... there's no magic formula, no way to crack the code, no genie in the bottle holding the secrets to success." And I am certain that Benincasa and Buyer (as do I) share Rosenzweig's concern that we have too few leaders "who are wise by which I mean discerning, reflective. and able to judge what's correct and what's wrong."
He wants us all to take on the weight of the eight, move through our too common and too comforting delusions, and both become and endorse leaders who are "more discerning, more appropriately skeptical, and less vulnerable to simplistic formulas and quick-fix remedies."
So, read, reflect, respond act thoughtfully, and lead on.
Dr. Joel Jones is president emeritus of Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colo. He can be reached at email@example.com.