Leadership Rules by Jo Owen

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Leadership Rules by Jo Owen

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Category: Business and Finance
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Lesley Mason
Reviewed by Lesley Mason
Summary: If you're looking for brand new insights, Leadership Rules isn't really going to cut it for you. If you just want an easy read that puts what we all already know into a sharp focus, this is your man.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 251 Date: November 2011
Publisher: Capstone
ISBN: 978-0857082381

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Owen's latest addition to the management self-help canon is subtitled 50 Timeless Lessons for Leaders. Fifty lessons in under 250 pages? You have to know that the genuine newness of the insights might be on the disappointing side of fabulous. That's not to completely write off Leadership Rules. I enjoyed reading it. Given its structure of short sharp snipes which might be aimed at the dip-in-and-out brigade, I can also say that it reads well as a sit-down-and-consider book.

I had a motive, it has to be admitted. I'm in the throes of both my final year professional exams and my firm's second tier leadership course. I need to know this stuff. That doesn't mean I'm a sucker for punishment. Some of my lower-mark exam passes might well be on the basis of a tendency to say something along the lines of I know this is what the syllabus says, but actually, in practice, our experience states, it's rubbish! I read critically. And critically, Owen's approach has something going for it.

The structure will work well for those who, unlike me, just want to get a quick fix on the bus or on the … well… wherever else you might read these things!

I particularly liked the starting point, which was: what has the recent leadership literature taught us. Perhaps I particularly liked the semi-condemnation of Good to Great which we're only just picking up on. A tad late, perhaps? In fairness, although Owen points out how many of the so-called great organisations haven't stayed the distance, he has nothing to say about those that have – so let's be fair, not all of Jim Collins' assessments can be just slung aside.

Owen's own personal viewpoint is that Collins and his ilk are very much North American focussed. Not just Anglo-Saxon (he intimates that it doesn't even translate particularly well to northern Europe) but specifically north American. He goes further and says that the research in most of the literature of recent years (and let's not castigate Collins for a whole genre!) is that it is very much of its time. This could be seen as a strength and also as a weakness. Owen chooses to treat it as a weakness and looks for traits in leaders that transcend time and context. To do so, he heads off into the wilds of the modern planet and, by analogy, into the past of civilisation.

He looks at the leadership skills of Mongolian tribesmen, elders in the African bush, and so on. It's a reasonable thing to do. These are people who genuinely do need to lead; and they need to do so without the benefit of blinding-with-science spreadsheets and powerpoints and delegating the dirt by subcommittee. There are lessons to be learned. But it is also a naïve approach. Context (as he says himself) is everything. A tribal leader will usually get his way, always, by virtue of being the tribal leader. Irrespective. A modern CEO can only try that for so long. Those of us trying to lead from below just don't have that option.

Distilling what Owen has to say, the fifty lessons come down to:

• Leadership is a team game – you can't have leaders without followers, pick your team well.
• Consider your obituary – how do you want to be remembered? Do that stuff now.
• Accept that you're not perfect – figure out what you're good at, do that, lead in that area.
• Remember you're visible – be a role model.
• Figure out what your values are and live them, visibly (and pretend when you can't quite measure up).
• Accept responsibility – the buck stops here.
• Earn respect, forget about being liked.
• Be positive and decisive – even when thought unreasonable.
• Be passionate about it, or don't bother.
• Luck has nothing to do with anything.
• Technical skills are only there to give you credence, beware how you use them.
• Fear is not a motivator, nor is compliance.
• Integrity is not the same as ethical: people can make up their own minds on your ethics – just be true to yourself.
• Find what matters and focus – yourself and everyone else.
• Don't expect life (or business) to be fair – it isn't – remember you're paid to exploit that: read Sun Tsu on the art of war.
• Accept that change is inevitable and whether it is the economy, the technology or the globalisation change is really about people – manage it accordingly.
• Accept the limits on resources: cut what doesn't matter, but sell it well – make more-for-less a challenge not a constraint and reward those who meet it.
• Leaders can be created, they don't have to be born fully-formed.

If that adds up to somewhat less than fifty, maybe it explains the degree of repetition you'll find in the book.

The bottom line is that actually Owen has nothing very new to say. What he does is to break it down into manageable chunks and throw in a few amusing anecdotes to sweeten the pill.

So, should you buy it?

If you've never read a leadership chapter in your life and for some reason you now need to do so, then I'd say yes. It's a great introduction to most of the ideas you'll ever need to get to grips with. It's a fun read, with some sensible thought behind it.

If you're already out there and doing it, this isn't going to change your style over-night.

For insight and content it probably doesn't warrant more than three to three-and-a-half stars... but for sheer readability, I'm happy to give it four.

In the unlikely event that you wonder where Owen is coming from, it might also be worth catching up with Tim Hindle's guide to what other people think: Guide to Management Ideas and Gurus by Tim Hindle

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Buy Leadership Rules by Jo Owen at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Leadership Rules by Jo Owen at Amazon.com.


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