Bookcase: Leading at the Edge

• By Dennis NT Perkins
• RRP $26.00

To understand what constitutes effective leadership, leaders should first understand themselves. That’s good advice which to some extent runs as common thread through the three leadership books reviewed here.
The first, Leading at the Edge, was first published in 2000. This second edition telling and expansion of the compelling leadership story of Ernest Shackleton’s miraculous escape from the frozen Antarctic seas, is timeless.
The harrowing story of 28 men surviving 634 days of numbing cold and treacherous seas is an epic in leadership literature. That it was accomplished was, to an extraordinarily high degree, due to Shackleton’s own obsessive optimism and self-confidence.
Optimistic leadership can be dangerous. In this case it was critical to survival.
A military man turned academic, Perkins wrote Leading at the Edge to show how leadership lessons “from the edge of survival” apply equally to organisations confronting contemporary challenges such as competition, economic uncertainty and the need to constantly innovate, grow and change.
The first 10 chapters illustrate how each of 10 survival strategies identified by Perkins were used in life-and-death situations, particularly those experienced by Shackleton’s team. In part two, the author shares his perspective on the art of leading and compares Shackleton’s leadership capabilities with those of other well-known polar explorers. The book ends with toolkit. Expertly researched, practical and chillingly informative. 7 out of 10

• By Angel Cabrera & Gregory Unruh
• Harvard
Business Press
• RRP $48.99

Leaders that understand themselves should also understand the world in which they operate. Effective leaders now need to be global thinkers according to Being Global authors Angel Cabrera and Gregory Unruh.
The problem for aspiring leaders, argue the two academics, is that undergraduate institutions, employers, business schools and executive education programmes, particularly in wealthy Western countries, tack global issues on as an afterthought to their teachings. Leaders simply aren’t properly prepared to operate in today’s global marketplace or social and cultural environments.
In fact, old global practices aren’t just insufficient for today’s world they are, the authors claim, “actively causing harm” and leading many businesses down the wrong path. The world needs leaders who can craft solutions and bring people and resources together across national, cultural and organisational lines.
Cabrera and Unruh think leadership development needs to give greater weight to the global context of leadership.
They believe companies and academic institutions take the position that leading global firm is not much different from leading local or regional one. That, for example, the challenges of securing resources, building and motivating teams, creating and applying new business models, understanding and serving markets, raising and managing capital and so on, is the same the world over. “Everything becomes more complex when executed in cross-national, cross-cultural context,” they claim.
And here is that thought about the value of introspective leadership again. The intent of Being Global is to invite potential leaders “to pause and look within themselves”. The authors are “interested less … in what you want to do than in what you want to be and how you can become truly global leader”, they add.
The book looks at specific global leaders, at the global mindset, global entrepreneurship and citizenship and wraps on what it means to be global and how to start the journey. Interesting, logical and thoughtful, if bit US-centric. Also 7 out of 10.

• By David Casullo
• McGraw Hill
• RRP $36.00

Finally, favourite American leadership theme. Leading the High Energy Culture is also self-focused but rather more predictable about what that means and brings. It extols the virtues of hyper-active leadership and bemoans the “energy crisis” that today’s leaders and managers face and, as consequence, of their failure to “engage and inspire their people”.
David Casullo’s book is about taping the latent energy that lies untapped in every workforce. Readers are offered the opportunity to establish “an authentic leadership presence based on powerful personal truths”. The secrets of this work, like many before it and others likely to follow, reside in how leaders communicate their vision in ways that create sense of purpose throughout the organisation “and beyond”.
When it comes to leadership literature this one’s bit predictable, self-focused or not. 4 out of 10.

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