Bootstrap Leadership: 50 Ways to Break out, Take Charge, and Move up

Human Resource Management International Digest

ISSN: 0967-0734

Article publication date: 18 October 2011



Arneson, S. (2011), "Bootstrap Leadership: 50 Ways to Break out, Take Charge, and Move up", Human Resource Management International Digest, Vol. 19 No. 7.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Bootstrap Leadership: 50 Ways to Break out, Take Charge, and Move up

Article Type: Suggested readings From: Human Resource Management International Digest, Volume 19, Issue 7

Steve Arneson, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2010, ISBN: 9781605093451

In Bootstrap Leadership, Steve Arneson presents a practical guide to leadership self-development. The book is replete with ideas and exercises, which are designed to enhance current leadership skills or build new ones. His inspirational book includes weekly ideas (50 in total) to encourage the reader to experiment with new techniques in order to become a more effective leader. Noteworthy is the fact that Bootstrap Leadership encourages readers to develop their own personalized learning plan and take ownership of their own leadership development.

The introductory chapter offers a self-assessment questionnaire designed to identify specific development areas. The assessment contains questions that focus on how the reader is exemplifying leadership skills, areas for skill development and broadening one’s perspective, expanding one’s comfort zone and externalizing leadership.

In Part 1, readers are encouraged to document their own leadership by mapping critical experiences and lessons from their past experiences. By completing a leadership “journey”, as the author entitles it, the reader can identify needed skills for future growth.

Readers are encouraged to focus on evaluating their working relationships, and there is an exercise to assess the quality of one’s work relationships. The importance of initiating 360-degree feedback to serve as a baseline of one’s leadership style is underscored.

The author asks the reader to identify someone who can monitor progress on the identified development areas and provide genuine feedback. In addition, the reader is encouraged to identify mentors who serve to guide in the acquisition or development of new skills. The author makes a clear distinction between mentoring and coaching, in that a mentor, unlike a coach, gives specific recommendations.

Readers are asked to imagine they are chief executive officers and to select four or five members to serve on their personal board of directors. These members will help in planning, executing and assessing readers’ leadership development.

Identifying and leveraging areas of strength are examined. The reader is guided to go back to former colleagues and direct reports and solicit their input. This exercise is intended to help to create a balanced view of one’s own leadership style and identify which areas have matured over time.

The focus then shifts to an internal, rather than external, assessment. Readers are asked to make a list of all their “hardest-held positions” and explore alternative perspectives.

Readers are then encouraged to develop the vision, mission and strategy for their current work group and involve both the team in this exercise, along with senior leaders for their assistance.

Part 2 focuses on learning and adding new skills and competencies to one’s leadership “tool-kit”. Readers are asked to identify their own definition of leadership and document their own development plan. In addition, one specific leadership behavior is identified yearly in order to focus exclusively on developing expertise in this area.

The importance of learning how to delegate and coach others is discussed. Readers are asked to commit to reading at least three business books a year, write a personal journal, learn theories and models of effective leadership, integrate stories into speeches or presentations and develop a “this is me” document to share with their team, supervisor and colleagues.

In Part 3, the author takes readers on a fun journey broadening their development. The author argues that learning about other cultures, visiting front-line departments in the organization, creating and maintaining a vibrant business network, joining an online leadership network, getting to know the people in the company, engaging with external vendors and consultants, learning more about the key competitors, attending conferences and presenting the lessons to the company, visiting innovative firms and even pursuing a hobby outside work all help to expand one’s perspective and development.

Part 4 focuses on stepping outside one’s comfort zone. Readers are asked to try some new leadership behaviors. Ideas include practising humility and admitting mistakes, joining a professional network, setting up an internal speaker’s bureau and focusing on developing one’s public-speaking skills, learning to decipher corporate financial statements, developing one’s presentation skills, improving physical health and energy levels, defining career goals and reviewing one’s own strategies twice a year.

In Part 5, readers are asked to shift their focus to others, by showcasing the talents of others and putting team members in a position to succeed. The author suggests helping one’s boss to find solutions and spending time with one’s extended team, not just direct reports. The benefits of giving to others, by teaching a course in the company or leading a task force, are outlined. Becoming a better listener is suggested as important for effective leadership.

Readers are asked to write a letter to their successor, in order to revitalize their own leadership agenda. By identifying, in the letter, what needs to be changed or approached differently and what bold but realistic leadership moves can be implemented, readers are able to elevate their current leadership role.

Steve Arneson’s approach to leadership development is not only practical and result orientated, but also uplifting. It leaves readers with a sense of control over their own success. It relies on a series of exercises, which are not only focused but very manageable.

There is a positive mood throughout the book, which focuses on a practical road-map for leadership development. The author presents his ideas in digestible increments, thereby enabling effective implementation.

Bootstrap Leadership is an excellent book, written in plain language and motivating in its approach. I felt renewed from the energizing and take-charge tone of the book and look forward to implementing many of the ideas presented.

Reviewed by Pearl Steinbuch, Mount Ida College, Newton, Massachusetts, USA.

A longer version of this review was originally published in Leadership & Organization Development Journal, Vol. 32 No. 3, 2011.

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