Book Review: The Leader You Want to Be

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At the beginning of The Leader You Want to Be, Amy Jen Su introduces us to Leader A and Leader B. Leader A is super effective. Things are going well. The leader is happy and satisfied. Leader B is the opposite. The leader is stressed, tired, and not effective. The hook is that Leader A and Leader B are both the same person but at different times. If leadership is your job, you have been both Leader A and Leader B.

That distinction between Leader A and Leader B runs through The Leader You Want to Be. Obviously, you’d prefer to be Leader A. Obviously, also, you’re Leader B a bunch of the time. The book tells you how to get more Leader A time and how to come back from the land of Leader B when you find yourself there. If leadership is your job, you should read this book.

The Leader You Want to Be: Five Essential Principles for Bringing Out Your Best Self – Every Day by Amy Jen Su is a great leadership book. Good developmental editing would have made it even better.

The title promises “five principles.” But you will scan the table of contents in vain looking for “principles.”  There are, five “powers.” On page 8, the Amy tells us that she’s identified five essential principles and then describes them as “The power of …”

That’s one of several things that makes it harder to get value from this book than it needs to be. The quality of The Leader You Want to Be overwhelms them, but the structure and consistency issues will bother some readers. If you’re one of them, now you know.  Here are some things that make this book great.

The Leader A/Leader B idea is wonderful. If you’ve ever led a group, you know that you have good days and bad days and that, when it rains on you, your team tends to get wet. This concept makes it easy to go back and forth between things that work and things that don’t.

The content is excellent throughout. I don’t think you’ll read more than a few pages without highlighting something or thinking about how to apply it. Some parts of the book are both excellent and unique.

Chapter 4 has an excellent section on who to reach out to for advice. This is hardly ever covered in leadership books, but essential to a successful leadership career. The same chapter has an excellent sidebar on boundaries.

Chapter 5 has a lot of practical material on mindfulness. It covers some of the generic stuff but adds insight and depth.

Amy Jen Su has created a book with several things that add value for readers. There are excellent chapter summaries at the end of every chapter. There are exercises to help you apply the concepts in your own world. And there is an excellent selection of tools in the appendix to help you put this to work.

Amy Jen Su footnotes all her research. I love this. It’s easy to find more about research that ignites your curiosity. Far too few authors do this, and it is a big plus for me.

There were two ways that she used language that made me crazy. They may not bother you at all, but they bothered me a lot. The first was the phrase “highest and best use,” which she uses throughout the book. A term like “at your best” would have been fine and not as pretentious.

There was one thing that made me slam the book shut at least twice. Early in the book, she suggests that a good practice to develop is to become a spectator on your own actions. That’s common to a lot of things, including mindfulness and stoicism.

So far, no big deal. But then she turns spectator into a verb, “spectate.” Phrases such as “pause” or “step back” would have conveyed the same meaning without the need to turn a noun into a verb. I hate that. You may hate it, too. Or you may wonder why I even mention it.

I have one warning. Early in the book, Amy Jen Su suggests you can read this book starting from whatever interests you the most. Don’t do it. She defines concepts in the early chapters and then uses them with no explanation. By the time you reach chapter 5, there are all kinds of references to things from chapters 1-4. You won’t understand them if you haven’t read those chapters first.

Bottom Line

If you’re a leader, especially in mid-career, buy a copy of The Leader You Want to Be and read it. It will help you make sense of things and be a better leader, and perhaps, a better person.

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

Note: All Amazon links are affiliate links. If you follow the link and buy a book, I get a small commission.

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