Book Review: The Mind of a Leader

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I wanted to like The Mind of a Leader: How to Lead Yourself, Your People, And Your Organization for Extraordinary Results to be a good book. The Amazon reviews were all four and five stars. I liked the basic premise of the book: you need to lead yourself before you can lead others. I read articles by authors and they were pretty good.

The book, alas, was not pretty good. It was not good. It was awful. Here’s why I didn’t finish this awful book.

The authors stated their claims without supporting them. In the introduction, they say they worked with several colleagues and several companies “utilizing the practices of mindfulness.” They claim “The outcomes have been thoroughly researched and proven to deliver remarkable results.”

That’s great, but what was the research? What were the remarkable results? Work with clients is not research, it’s work with clients. If that work produces remarkable results those results can be the starting point for research.

Then the authors say they asked themselves what leaders need beyond mindfulness, and they surveyed and assessed over 30,000 leaders from thousands of companies and over 100 countries. They interviewed some leaders. And then they say this.

“Based on this research, we have conclusively found that three mental qualities stand out as being foundational.”

That’s a good statement of what they concluded, but it’s not a description of what they did and how they reached their conclusion. It’s sloppy and self-promotional.

The authors use common leadership terms in unconventional ways. They say internal drivers of intrinsic motivation are “meaningful engagement, connectedness, and feeling valued.” That ignores the work of Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, who have been researching intrinsic motivation since the 1970s. According to their research, and other research supporting their Self-Determination Theory, key drivers of intrinsic motivation are autonomy, relatedness, and competence.

There’s no reason the authors of The Mind of a Leader have to agree with that. They can come up with something different. If you’re writing a business book where what you say conflicts with other, well-established, research you owe it your reader, to tell me how you differ and how you reached your conclusion.

Another example is their use of the term “flow.” According to the authors, “When you’re focused but on autopilot, your state of mind can be described as being in ‘flow.’”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the researcher who coined the term flow, defines flow as total absorption in what you’re doing. That’s very different from being on autopilot. Again, there’s no reason the authors can’t differ with Csikszentmihalyi. Just tell me why you differ.

In a Nutshell

Again and again, I got angry with the authors. Finally, I quit reading. If facts, research, and clear explanations of reasoning are important to you, skip this book

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

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What People Are Saying

Wally Bock   |   03 Apr 2020   |   Reply

From Michael Connolly

I actually finished this awful book because a colleague and I had committed to designing a workshop based on it. The authors – clearly a committee – often attempt to offer anecdotes. The first sentence of the anecdote praises the CEO and includes a long phrase about the company’s strategic position in its industry. These CEOs all happen to be clients. Then a sentence about the what the CEO has learned about mindfulness, compassion, or selflessness – usually a banal quotation. And then an “explanation” of what that banal phrase means. No details about a moment of high energy or doubt, no conflict, no doubt, no ACTION. Just platitudes. Consequently, you can’t remember a single anecdote or illustration. In contrast, Janice Marturano’s Finding the Space to Lead presents vivid descriptions of situations faced by the author, colleagues and clients – with lessons learned. And no patting herself on the back or fluffing her colleagues.

Furthermore, Marturano actually DID research that showed how mindfulness practices were adopted and what the impact was on management behavior.

During and after reading the book I read the dozen and a half blurbs by CEOs and other business writers praising the book. I am convinced that NONE of these people read the book carefully and that many of them handed the book over to a young protege to scan and then write up a favorable quote. Finally, in spite of several dozen references to “research” there is no description of the research process, nor any presentation of data. I hypothesize that the two named authors present well to clients and have built close relationships with CEOs and have been good coaches. But they can’t write their way out of a paper bag.