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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
On leadership style: mobsters and motivators
John HumphreysJohn Humphreys is Assistant Professor of Management in the College of Business at Eastern New Mexico University. Prior to joining academia, Dr Humphreys held a leadership position in a multi-billion dollar financial services company. He also consults to corporations on organizational leadership, culture, and change.
Leadership Sopranos Style: How to Become a More Effective BossDeborrah HimselPublished by Dearborn Trade Publishing
Leading Out Loud: Inspiring Change Through Authentic CommunicationTerry PearcePublished by Jossey-Bass
Leadership Sopranos Style: How to Become a More Effective Boss is definitely not your typical book on leadership. Not being a fan of "pop culture", I admit I was prepared to not like Deborrah Himsel's offering. Although Ms. Himsel's background and position as vice president of organizational effectiveness for Avon Products certainly qualifies her to join the ranks of other leadership development gurus, I was not prepared to accept the notion that Tony Soprano, a fictional, profane mobster, could teach others about effective leadership. I was wrong.
For those who haven't been caught up in The Sopranos mania, it is the first-ever television series based on the life of a contemporary Mafioso. Leadership Sopranos Style, however, is not about the television show. It's about real managers developing good leader behaviors.
Surprisingly, Tony Soprano provides an effective vehicle for demonstrating many current leadership constructs (e.g. transformational leadership, charisma, empathy, emotional intelligence, self-awareness, communication, decision-making, etc.). While he is an imaginary character, he forces the reader to examine leader behavior from a broader perspective and with an open mind. Even flawed human beings outside the business community have a lot to teach us about leading and motivating followers. Although clearly not the mythical hero leader that often dominates the modern perception of leadership, Tony does exhibit certain characteristics and behaviors that will resonate with many practicing managers.
In fact, looking at leadership removed from the normal business context may be helpful for many readers. Having used traditional case analysis in leader development seminars myself, I have often encountered managers who could not get past the specific numbers or organization to see the broader concepts. By eliminating the distraction of an explicit business environment, the author creates a lens whereby the reader can focus on the leadership ideas being presented without being paralyzed by extraneous detail.
And let's get real, while the abundant supply of leadership models has certainly enhanced our knowledge, it is also evident that many practitioners find these fragmented theories confusing when they try to apply them to organizational settings. In contrast, Leadership Sopranos Style is intentionally written in a straightforward and entertaining style that will appeal to those managers whose eyes glaze over when they start reading articles and books that are heavy on theory and light on application. The author presents a great deal of compelling material that supervisors at most every level will find both enjoyable and accessible.
Ms. Himsel is obviously well versed in leadership theory. Every principle presented is grounded in the theoretical underpinnings of such leadership icons as Bernie Bass, Noel Tichy, and Dave Ulrich. Even those who consider themselves leadership scholars will find the book relevant as the author employs the character of Tony Soprano to communicate theoretical concepts in an open and pragmatic manner.
The chapters are seamlessly integrated to cover strategic planning and execution, organizational structure, leader charisma and command presence, employee coaching, successful communication, and productive feedback. Without question, the chapter on coaching is worth the price of the book alone, as are the "Tonyisms" and "Tony's Ahas" that provide both comic relief and nuggets of truth.
Of particular benefit are the many tips and case scenarios presented with suggestions as to how Tony would deal with them. While some management theorists might find Tony's solutions a bit simplistic, kudos to the author for providing both diagnosis and treatment in such a direct manner. Too many books only describe problems without effectively offering any applicable guidance to the reader. Ms. Himsel does an exceptional job of making the connections between Tony Soprano's situational behavior and how that behavior could be applied to real-world organizational issues.
Although I applaud the author's nontraditional approach, there are some issues of which the reader need be aware. First, if you're not a regular viewer of the show, you may want to skip the section on the key members in Tony's organization. It's not necessary to have a firm grasp of the names and descriptions of all of the players in order to follow the stories or exercises, but regular viewers will likely enjoy the author's interpretation of each individual's role in the organization and what their titles and job descriptions might be in a more traditional company.
Another concern is the language. If you're offended by profanity, the verbiage used by the characters is very crude. Since the author is introducing leadership issues based upon the words of Tony Soprano, his language is quoted and some readers might be put off by the boorish discourse.
Readers who can look past the language, however, will discover a fun, yet practical guide for leadership development. My suggestion is to read the book for enjoyment but with a pen and a notepad in hand and a mirror in mind. Although the text is easily digested, readers will want to continually compare their typical leader behaviors and management ideas with those exhibited by Tony. The author also provides quizzes and exercises that provide opportunities for further discovery and self-reflection.
While Leadership Sopranos Style offers many useful suggestions and techniques, the book is deliberately broad. As Ms. Himsel suggests that a great deal of the power Tony exudes comes from his self-awareness and genuine communication style, some readers might wish for more in this area so I'm also going to encourage readers to consider another book as well. The notion that truly effective leaders create structures for developing communication based upon a genuine understanding of both self and others is the premise of Terry Pearce's latest publication, Leading Out Loud: Inspiring Change Through Authentic Communication. Mr. Pearce is a widely known communication expert and the founder and president of Leadership Communication, a coaching and consulting firm. In fact, BusinessWeek recently proclaimed him the "eminence grise" of executive coaches. In addition, he is a lecturer at the Haas Business School at the University of California, Berkeley and has served as a visiting lecturer at the London School of Business.
Leading Out Loud: Inspiring Change Through Authentic Communication is a new and revised edition of Mr. Pearce's 1995 book, Leading Out Loud. Where Leadership Sopranos Style whets the appetite by describing Tony Soprano's influence through enhanced self-awareness and authenticity, this book delves deeply into the subject of leader emotional intelligence and how it can be the basis for personal communication that will inspire follower commitment and action.
The author conveys this in a very practical manner. The book offers numerous examples from both the private and public sectors on how to effectively deliver information, and more importantly, one's values. In addition, the models presented deal with leader/follower communications in various business settings (e.g. speeches, meetings, electronic avenues, informal conversation, etc.), which make the book appropriate reading for leaders, or potential leaders, in any environment and at any level. This book is not just for senior executives. Anyone who wants to better understand how true leaders develop the capacity to influence others and effect change will find it helpful.
Leading Out Loud: Inspiring Change Through Authentic Communication is divided into two sections. The theme dominating the first part is the concept of emotional intelligence and I was pleased to note that the author very clearly cited the work of Daniel Goleman as an influence on his perceptions. Pearce very methodically lays out his belief that true leaders must be self-aware – that is, they understand their personal values and drivers and what it is they wish to accomplish. He pays particular attention to the impact of emotions in all human relations and suggests that the ability to connect those feelings with the feelings of followers might be the preeminent leadership skill.
In chapter 1, the focus is on the current leadership landscape – one filled with cynical followers and characterized by ever-increasing complexity and frequent transformation. Much of what we consider traditional leader behavior was developed during a different era and leading today requires a broader set of communication skills than were needed in the past. Providing information is still important but leaders that inspire must also learn to convey why particular actions are necessary and demonstrate an understanding of how those actions will affect those who are implementing them. This chapter does a good job of providing the foundation and an overview of the entire book.
Chapters 2 and 3 are repeats from the 1995 book and discuss learning what matters and developing the courage to lead. If you've read the earlier edition you might want to just skim these chapters. Although the information presented could be valuable, it really doesn't take all 19 pages to communicate the idea that we are defined by our life experiences and that we must discover who we are and have the guts to stand for what we believe. Having said that, the brief section on disciplining your voice by writing (chapter 3) is a must read for first-timers.
The fourth chapter is new as the author offers an additional principle not included in the earlier text – the decision to lead. Mr. Pearce correctly surmises that simply developing an understanding of oneself and finding one's voice does not necessarily produce leader behavior. By definition, leadership involves others and authentic leaders must make the decision to connect and build relationships with followers.
Although the transition from deciding to lead to the construct of emotional intelligence is a bit jagged at this point, the author does a good job of expressing the ideas associated with emotional intelligence in a practical way. As with the rest of the book, the illustrations of the various principles are superior and should prove within the grasp of those managers who may be unfamiliar with the emotional intelligence literature.
Pearce believes adamantly that developing emotionally intelligent communication is a necessity if leaders want to be perceived as authentic by their followers. How to develop and introduce this capability is the theme of the second section. He begins by discussing leadership communication itself; beginning with the various ways human beings connect with each other. The explanation of how leaders can use metaphors, stories, and personal experiences as the basis for inspiration is fascinating.
The real substance of the book, though, is found in chapters 6 through 10, where the author provides a rather inclusive template for building a complete communication structure. Within these chapters, Mr. Pearce describes techniques that leaders can employ to build trust and confidence, create a shared context and vision with followers, and move them from communication to action. Moreover, each chapter gives a list of questions for self-reflection that allows the reader to connect to the material in their current circumstances.
Read this book for the information provided and implement the suggested communication framework. Pay particular attention to the last chapter, as the author provides an excellent guide for applying the leadership communication principles presented earlier. Although it won't be as entertaining as Leadership Sopranos Style, Leading Out Loud will assist the reader in achieving a "Tony-like" authentic voice. With both of these as your communication handbooks, you will enhance your ability to motivate and inspire others.