Am I too nice, or should I be more of an A-hole? This question comes up a lot in my coaching conversations about leadership. As a coach, my job is not to answer that question directly. I help clients explore the question and draw their own conclusions, whilst at the same time framing and developing their own leadership style. However, it turns out that a branch of mathematics called game theory does provide us with an answer about which leadership style might be more effective. According to author W. Mitchell Waldrop, in his book Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos, :
Nice guys* – or more precisely, nice forgiving, tough, and clear guys – finish first.
In her book Changing on the Job: Developing Leaders for a Complex World author and leadership coach, Jennifer Garvey Berger outlines the four-stage path to growth that an individual might take to develop a more complex form of mind, and three specific habits of mind that a leader should cultivate to allow them to more successfully navigate a world of increasing complexity and ambiguity.
Changing on the Job is written for people who really want to understand the shape and features of adult growth so they can either support their own growth and development or support the growth and development of others. Being a book about complexity, not simplicity, it pleasingly avoids the temptation to provide a prescription for achieving a self-transformed form of mind. Instead, it really gets under the hood of what it takes to be a true leader with developed forms and habits mind.
Ray Dalio’s book Principles is unlike any book you have ever likely read before. Beginning with a brief autobiography, he quickly moves on to identify his organically grown set of principles (fundamental truths that serve as the foundations for behaviour that gets you what you want) for building a successful life and business. As the founder of Bridgewater Associates, one of largest hedge funds in the world with approximately $160 billion of Assets Under Management, Dalio’s ideas are worth listening to. Although Bridgewater itself has been criticised by some for being cult-like (its culture built on the foundations of Radical Truth and Radical Transparency), that Dalio began the company in his two bedroom apartment in New York in 1975, makes him not just one of the world’s greatest investors but also one of the world’s greatest entrepreneurs and leadership visionaries.
You should read Dalio’s book to learn about his principles and consider your own – “because we all have our own goals and our own natures, each of us most choose our own principles to match them” – but this post will focus on the fascinating research that Dalio himself undertook into what he calls shapers.
In 2004, one of the greatest war machines of all time, the US military, was struggling to beat back Al Queda in Iraq (AQI). Whilst the allied forces had huge advantage in numbers, equipment and training, the commander of the Joint Special Operations Task Force, General Stanley McChrystal, realised that conventional military tactics and command structures were failing. Team of Teams: New Rules for Engagement in a Complex World gives McChrystal’s account of how he and his colleagues discarded a century of conventional wisdom and combined culture with strategy to create a faster, flatter and more flexible organisation that ultimately proved successful in defeating AQI.
But Team of Teams isn’t only a military book, it’s packed full of lessons about strategy for businesses as well. If you are a seasoned business executive struggling to come to terms with new ways of working, or a startup entrepreneur scaling a business, whilst at the same time grappling with how to keep a startup culture alive, then you should give it a read.
Paul Kalanithi, M.D., was a neurosurgeon and writer. He graduated from Stanford University in 2000 with a B.A. and M.A. in English Literature and a B.A. in Human Biology. He earned an M.Phil in History and Philosophy of Science and Medicine from the University of Cambridge before attending medical school. In 2007, Paul graduated cum laude from the Yale School of Medicine. He returned to Stanford for residency training in Neurological Surgery and a postdoctoral fellowship in neuroscience. In 2013 he was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer, though continued to work, completing his neurosurgery residency in 2014. He also authored the book When Breath Becomes Air, which detailed his journey through treatment and eventually his death in March 2015. He is survived by his wife Lucy and their daughter Cady.
Although I’d heard of this book before, I first stumbled across it in a charity shop about one month after I’d finished 5 months of chemotherapy for colorectal cancer. I cried my way through much of the book, but I had to read about Paul’s journey and his exploration of life and death. Continue reading
Robert Coram, author of Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War, describes John Boyd as “first, last and always a fighter pilot – a loud talking, cigar-smoking, bigger-than-life fighter pilot”. But also as more than that: “he was that rarest of creatures – a thinking fighter pilot.” Boyd is widely considered to be one of the world’s greatest military strategists, despite the fact that it’s unlikely you have ever heard of him. Over his career he bought the Air Force its Aerial Attack Study, invented Energy-Maneuverability (E-M) Theory and was the father of the F-15 and F-16 fighter jets. He brought strategic thinking to the armed forces more generally, and now to business: he created a decision making framework called the OODA loop, his Patterns of Conflict brief provided the strategic basis for the US military’s 100 hour victory in the first Gulf War and still underpins US Marine Corps fighting doctrine to this day.
John Boyd was an endearing eccentric and strategic genius who is brought wonderfully to life by author Robert Coram in his meticulously researched book. Coram demonstrates what one man, surrounded by a few devoted and loyal Acolytes, can do to change the world. Maneuverability, as it relates to military (and business) strategy, we learn is key. Continue reading
Phil ‘Shoe Dog’ Knight is the founder, former CEO and now Executive Chairman of Nike. In Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike he tells his story of taking the business from humble origins, through an IPO in 1980 and onto its current $30 billion market capitalisation. To put that in perspective, if you had invested $1,000 at IPO without reinvesting dividends, your investment would be worth $729,575 today, that’s a Compound Annual Growth Rate of just over 20.7% (according to Investopedia and based on December 2015 share price).
Knight tells the story of how, what is still widely regarded to be one of the most innovative companies in the world, started and grew out of the back of a van in the early 1970s. A Stanford graduate, avid reader of the Classics and books about military strategy, and a natural introvert, he captures a wonderful story about what he calls his Crazy Idea and the determination and grit it takes to become successful beyond what he’d ever imagined. He also includes some wonderful accounts of the hustle and sometimes downright dirty tactics that it can take to overcome the odds: “you are remembered for the rules you break” is his mantra throughout the book. I’ve captured the best of the rest of his entrepreneurial wisdom in the quotes from the book below.