Book Review Great Leaders Have No Rules

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I bought Great Leaders Have No Rules: Contrarian Leadership Principles to Transform Your Team and Business by Kevin Kruse because I loved his columns in Forbes. I loved the insights and practical recommendations. I also bought the book because I thought it would differ from many other leadership books.

The title promises to help you lead “your team.” Too many leadership books offer advice for a CEO or someone who can change policy and structure. Most of the leaders whom I write for aren’t like that. They’re right there in the middle of the mess trying to make it work every day.

Kevin Kruse promised to write a book that would help those leaders. He did. I expected great things from this book. I got them. You will, too.

Here’s what Kevin says you should expect from Great Leaders Have No Rules.

“This book has one purpose: to teach you how to be both the boss everyone wants to work for and the high achiever every CEO wants to hire—all without drama, stress, or endless hours in the office.”

The Content

Kruse divided the book into an introduction, a conclusion, and 10 chapters. Each chapter stands alone. You don’t need to read them in order to get value. I suggest you read the third chapter (Have No Rules) first. Then read the others in whatever order you choose.

Close Your Open-Door Policy. There’s good stuff here about how an open-door policy is often a cheap substitute for the hard work of communicating and building trust. Kevin doesn’t only tell you what not to do, he offers suggestions for alternatives.

Turn Off Your Smart Phone. You’re starting to hear this advice more and more, but you’ll enjoy what you read here.

Have No Rules. This chapter opens with the insight that no one creates a stupid rule on purpose. Then there’s a discussion of why too many rules are a bad thing. This would have been a better book if this chapter were the first chapter, but that’s a quibble. You can get the same affect if you read this chapter first.

Be Likeable, Not Liked. Don’t let the title of this chapter fool you. Kevin’s advice is to overcome the need to be liked. It’s the need to be liked that’s the problem, not simply being liked. There’s also good advice about how needing to be liked turns you into a jerk.

Lead with Love. There’s that “L” word, applied to a business situation. Unlike the Greeks, we only have one word for love, and it must cover all the possible applications. The word may make you cringe, but great leaders and great teams have a powerful force of love at work. If you’d rather call it something else, that’s fine. Read this chapter.

Crowd Your Calendar. There’s good advice about how to think about time and scheduling to get your most important stuff done. Kevin reprises advice from his book 15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management.

Play Favorites. This chapter is about something I discovered in my research on top-performing supervisors. Treating everyone the same is unfair. The idea is to treat everyone fairly based on their performance and the context. That means treating them differently.

Reveal Everything. Kruse is right. Transparency drives decision quality, speed, and engagement. My experience, though, is that trust is not a simple thing. What you can and should reveal and expect others to reveal will vary based on the situation and who those others are. This chapter had one real gem for me, though. Here it is. “One way to lose trust is to actually lie and get caught, but a more common way is to only give good news.”

Show Weakness. This is another chapter that’s about ways to build trust. There’s also a good discussion of using stories.

Leadership Is Not A Choice. It’s true, as one of my Marine commanders said, that, “There is no leadership without leadership by example.” When you’re a leader, you set the example. The only choice you have is what kind of example you set. I thought this chapter was somewhat poorly written. It’s the only chapter in the book like that. The basic point is solid, the presentation could use some work.

More Good Things About the Book

The chapter structure is first-rate. Every chapter includes a section about “How would you apply this if ,,, ?” for different kinds of leadership positions. You’re sure to get good ideas.

Kevin Kruse also summarizes each chapter with a section called “Takeaways.” It’s easy to flip through the book and review key points. You can up flashcards on your Kindle.

This isn’t Kevin’s first rodeo and his experience shows. There are many examples of how he learned an important lesson, how he got it wrong before he got it right. That’s engaging and powerful. There’s also good research support for the points he makes. He follows the advice that I give to my clients. Every point should be supported with research and illustrated with an example.

In A Nutshell

If you’re responsible for the performance of a group, Great Leaders Have No Rules should be on your must-read list. It’s filled with solid insights, good examples, and solid advice.

If you’re a student of leadership, read Great Leaders Have No Rules for the ways it will inspire you to think differently about many common situations.

You can check out some of my highlights and notes from this book on my GoodReads page.


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