"If I Ruled the World" sang Mr Pickwick in the West End musical. Many of us have similar leadership fantasies thinking we could do better than the leaders around us; whether it be politicians, CEOs, team captains, or unit managers.
Jim Fisher picks up on this in his book. We all criticize poor leadership, but as Fisher surmises “… there are many who would step up and take leadership roles if they believed that they could do it… Many people live a life of regret because they don’t step up to lead when they see a better way.”
If we believe in people’s natural good intent this is a sorry loss.
There are two key reasons people don’t believe they can do it. One is to do with confidence. Able but uncertain people hold back while overly bullish less qualified people (some would say particularly men) push for leadership roles. The other reason is a belief that leadership is an intuitive thing some are born with – a theory that undermines any notion that leadership is something we can learn – so no point in most of us trying.
There is certainly no point in yet another leadership book unless we believe leadership can be learned and that talented people not driven merely by personal ambition and over confidence can step up to the undoubtedly difficult task of leading others.
After a long and successful business career, and a stint as Vice Dean and Chair in Entrepreneurship at the Rotman School of Management, Fisher came to see, rather than being innate, leadership was a skill that could be learned. The difficulty he found was how to teach it bearing in mind the many leadership theories that often seem to be in opposition to each other. In this book he describes how he resolved this and created an integrated model for leadership.
Fisher takes two starting points: First he relegates the many theories which focus on how leaders direct inspire, motivate, empower, engage or reach the heart, behind the critical thing we want of leaders which is to get results. Secondly he draws on the work of Nobel prize winning cognitive psychologists Kahnemann and Tversy, who explained how we deal with life through the fast part of our brain – ideal for reacting to people and situations as they arise – and the slow thinking part of our brain which is better at careful decision making.
The ‘thoughtful’ leader is conditioned to look out for the ‘leadership moments’ that often define a leader’s success; and has put in time (thinking slow) to develop a framework from which he or she can influence the spontaneous responses required (thinking fast) when those critical moments arise.
Fisher’s integrated leadership model, which provides a route to thoughtful leadership, is based on a three-part process: Managing (planning, organizing and control), Directing (providing vision, checking alignment and motivation), and Engaging (defining values, clarifying aims, ensuring involvement across the organization). This engaging book explains how these parts and individual elements within them interrelate and support one another.
Jim Fisher, the former Vice-Dean and Marcel Desautels Chair in Entrepreneurship of the Joseph L. Rotman School of Management, is now a Professor Emeritus of the University of Toronto. He continues to teach at the Rotman School.
The Thoughtful Leader: A Model for Integrative Leadership, by Jim Fisher. Published by the University of Toronto Press, 2016, ISBN 978-1-4426-4798-5