Bookcase: Leadership Beyond Good Intentions

•Leadership Beyond Good Intentions
•By Geoff Aigner

Leaders rarely deliver our expectations. The reason is simple. Our expectations are based on leadership fantasy. More often than not, the expectations we have of ourselves are equally disappointing, no matter how much we wish it were otherwise.
Leadership Beyond Good Intentions makes an intelligent and overdue fist of explaining why good intentions are simply never enough to change things – either to an organisation or the world in which we live. Change efforts invariably run into “obstacles and resistance”. This book explains why and offers some thoughts on how to tackle the problem.
The world undoubtedly needs to change. Individually, however, we are both the problem and the solution. We generally see the challenges of change as “lying outside ourselves”. We blame others for being obstructive when, in fact, the real challenges lie within us.
Geoff Aigner, among other things, teaches change and leadership in the MBA programme at the Australian Graduate School of Management. He describes what he calls the “fantasy” of leadership. We constantly fantasise that problems can be solved by others. We indulge the fantasy by looking to “leaders” to put things right. Politicians, of course, are the least likely problem solvers on earth.
The book is in three sections. In the first, Aigner identifies the elements he thinks are essential to the process of exercising leadership. There has, he says, “been surprisingly little written on how we are part of what’s going on (part of the mess) rather than being wholly objective, neutral and independent of things”.
Understanding self is next. His analysis goes beyond the usual offerings of self-awareness and personal inventory tools. The personal questions he identifies as consequence of making change throw up some unexpected observations. The questions could trip up even experienced change leaders.
Finally, he considers what it means to work with others, particularly those who don’t share our views.
Leadership is not what it seems to be. If it is ever going to deliver anything worthwhile, it will need some serious redefinition and re-thinking. “Leadership,” writes Aigner, “is flawed and limited word to describe what the world really needs. In the way leadership is talked about in daily life, it clearly has little real power, compassion or wisdom. At any rate, there is rarely enough of these things to facilitate useful change.”
Of all the many books on leadership I have read, this is one of the most honest and disarmingly insightful. This brief review does it little justice. I am about to read it again for the nuggets I missed but know are there.

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