Road rules of great leaders

The authors find some order in the universe of leadership, says Somnath Dasgupta.

The Leadership Code: Five Rules to Lead By
By Dave Ulrich, Norm Smallwood, Kate Sweetman
Publisher: Harvard Business Press
Pages: 190
Price: Rs 900

Leaders and leaderships, of corporations or countries, have come into much disrepute since the 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers sparked a global financial crisis. Many leaders turned out to be avaricious people responsible for bringing down their companies, and they were followed by heartless leaders who eliminated thousands of jobs. Leaders of countries fared no better as they had to make tough cuts in government spending.

When The Leadership Code: Five Rules to Lead By, by Dave Ulrich, Norm Smallwood and Kate Sweetman, hit the stands in the West in 2009 it had a technical flaw. It turned out that the authors had finished writing the book just before Lehman collapsed and the leadership crisis snowballed.

Kate Sweetman, one of the authors, who was in India recently, says the five rules survived the acid test. As for the leaders in a hurry to make money, she says: "I think that what they were doing was kind of retracting in trying to make things work in the short term."

"We don't pretend to have come up with a new theory of leadership or something like that. What we were really trying to do was to get some order in the universe of leadership," Sweetman says. The subject is a "well-ploughed" field, but there is a lot of confusion around it.

Typically, in a very large company with many divisions, the leaders of the different businesses could be all teaching different stuff, she says. "That's because they sort of fall in love with emotional intelligence, or they fall in love with authentic leadership, or strategy stuff…. none of it is wrong," she says. But how does it really help you compete? Does this code apply across cultures, for women and men?

"Leadership does not have a gender, and it does not have a nationality. It does not have ethnicity. It is a person standing up and saying 'I want to do things differently'," she says. It is just that no decision is made without an emotional component, and women have a larger emotional component, which is why differences are seen in the work place. But if you allow emotion into your thinking, you actually take better decisions, Sweetman says.

According to the authors, great leaders can be widely different in their styles and the way they do things. But, drawing on their collective research experience and interviews with all the thought leaders in their field, they concluded that all great leaders go by five rules.

Rule 1: Shape the future. Leaders should have the vision to build a future for their organisation.

Rule 2: Make things happen. Just the vision is useless: Leaders must also be able to execute today's plans . Rule 3: Engage today's talent. Good leaders are good at communicating with their people and aligning the individual to the organisation.

Rule 4: Build the next generation. A good leader has to help people map their careers, find talent that can be developed for tomorrow's job, and encourage relationships.

Rule 5: Invest in yourself. A leader must "know himself", be able to tolerate stress, think clearly and rise above the details.

There is no ranking of the rules: they are in four quadrants with Rule 5 at the centre.