The Beyonder, a genus first revealed by Marvel Comics in the early ‘80s, is reintroduced in this innovative book as the archetypal great leader. The Beyonder it describes is a paragon of all management and leadership virtues, one able to operate effectively in increasingly complex 21st century organizations.
Clearly true Beyonders are very rare – Mandela, King, Churchill, FDR come to mind but even these exemplars had their flaws – so your organization is unlikely to be richly staffed by Beyonders. However knowing what Beyonders look like and being able to recognize both their positive traits, and reverse negative traits, is invaluable.
The strength of this book is that it presents a convincing up-to-date framework for leadership excellence and a set of goals that leaders and leadership developers should strive for. Other writers have attempted to do this but few have offered such a well grounded analysis taking account as this book does of recent ‘brain’ science and based on a raft of multifaceted case studies, the authors’ deep experience, and specific new research carried out in association with Dutch financial services company TriFinance.
In their first chapter authors Herman Van Den Broeck and David Ventner, both professors at the Vlerick Leuven Gent Management School, highlight the importance of deep-seated vision by quoting Antoine de Saint-Exupéry:
“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them different tasks and work, rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”
This quotation rather sums up the significance of this book, in that it provides a challenging vision for any aspiring leader or well run organization. Though, quoting Warren Bennis “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality”, the book also sign-posts clear and practical ways to achieve the vision.
The authors identify seven key Beyonder characteristics. One of these ‘The Dance of Your Shadow’ exemplifies the philosophy enshrined in the book. It is about how a Beyonder can go beyond the individual reflex of the leader and commit him/herself to the real needs of the organization and even society at large. When Bob Diamond imposed his ‘No Jerks’ rule at Barclays Bank he no doubt expelled bankers who had achieved strong bottom-line growth and big bonuses, but who had also cast a dark shadow over their organization. He now needs to find Beyonders.
Other characteristics of the Beyonder encompass elements such as: cognitive style, performance, personality, risk and creativity, empathy, power, positive bias, emotion and discipline, and leadership legacy. Conversely the book also identifies barriers to Beyondership that can lead to derailed leadership – hubris, arrogance, groupthink, negative energy, etc.
In today’s global economy, volatile markets, disruptive technologies, Y generation attitudes, social media dynamics and a myriad of other drivers are making the leader’s challenge increasingly daunting. Aspiring leaders cannot expect to become 100% Beyonders, but the Beyonder model offers a valuable focus for them and for any organization facing the challenges of the 21st century, and, as the authors hope, wanting to be not the ‘best in the world’ but the ‘best for the world’.
Beyonders: Transcending Average Leadership, Herman Van Den Broeck and David Ventner, Published by Lannoo Campus, Leuven, 2012, ISBN 978-9-209-9865-8
This book review was first published in Developing Leaders, Issue 6