Book Review: Choosing Leadership – A Workbook by Linda Ginzel


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Leaders don’t lead by lecturing, but by acting – Choosing Leadership is a book written by Linda Ginzel – a clinical professor at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business – that does not ask you to read it – it asks you to participate in it. If you want to sit still while some self-appointed guru explains how you can become a leader, then this is not the right book for you. But if you want to go on a journey with a wise and inspiring guide, a scientist and teacher who has been the personal navigator for thousands of succesful leaders worldwide over a quarter of a century, then this is the right book to go through.
My ten takeaways out of this book are:
  1. Leadership is a choice. On what basis do you make choices? This book is in large part about answering that question as part of working on your own self. We all tend to operate on behaviors that become habits. When we use the word leadership, people get caught up in with what they think it should mean and often get it mixed up with management. When you are managing, you are in the present. You may be managing a budget, meeting expectations, checking inventory, or making sure you’ve got diapers in the house. Whatever it is you are doing that’s for the present is management, and it’s very important. But most of the time, you are managing.
  2. Every once in the while, you make a choice to create a different future. This is Linda’s definition of leadership: behavioral choices that we make in order to create a better future. Be aware: managing is no less important than leading. Instead of thinking about people who are “leaders”, think of the choices these people made to lead. Do your best to stop using the nouns “leader” and “manager” – instead, try using the verbs “to lead” and “to manage.”
  3. Leadership is broad because it is multidisciplinary. Courage is a skill, and skills benefit from practice so changing your behavior is a skill. C = f(p^n), where C is courage and p^n is exponential amounts of practice.
  4. You can have the clearest of the visions, the best of intentions, and even authority, but that doesn’t mean people are going to listen to you. Leadership is as much about building relationships with others and recognizing their qualities and strengths as much as it is about being agile in the face of continuous challenges to eventually show people how to fly on their own.
  5. Every individual needs to know when to manage and when to lead. There are two ways to think about choosing leadership: with a capital L or with a lowercase l. Capital L represents a big, transformational change, such as starting a new venture, while lowercase l represents the smaller choices you make every day to create a better future. The distinction between L and l is often lost in many seminars, books, articles, and discussions about leadership. There is also a third behavior besides leading and managing, and it is following. And effective following is vital.
  6. A lot of people think that they need more knowledge in order to become wiser. But knowledge is like butter in the hot sun. What’s important is not how much you read but how much you understand in your own terms. This is the difference between knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge is abstract, raw data is messy, and information is mostly unstructured. We have to figure out how to collect, organize, and process it. Ultimately, we have to create a structure; a way of organizing knowledge.
  7. As long as you are alive, you will have the opportunity to choose leadership. You continue to have access to soft stuff, and to learn from it. Every talk, movie, or conversation presents an opportunity to grow. Embrace this challenge and this outlook. The world is your classroom, and you can be your own teacher.
  8. Start with the end in mind – one of the most direct ways to think about this is to write your own obituary. By starting with the end of your life in mind, you can think about how you want to live your life moving-forward.
  9. Leadership role models – much of what you learn through observation is from experiences of people you know, whether from home, work, or your community. But you also learn by observing people you don’t know personally, but only by reputation.
  10. Questions are more important than answers – often we expect someone who is leading to know the answers to our questions (and maybe even to know the answer to every question.) Odds are they don’t have those answers, of course. And neither do you. That can be frustrating because people, in general, don’t like uncertainty and ambiguity – they want answers. When choosing leadership, you have to think about how much everyone affected by your vision of the future can tolerate uncertainty and ambiguity. “How can I help?” – when someone comes to you with a great idea, that is the best question you can ask.

Linda opens the book with John F. Kennedy’s quote, “leadership and learning are indispensable to each other“. While Kennedy never had the opportunity to deliver these words – they were written as part of the speech he planned to give on the day of his assassination – Linda states that “we have the opportunity to live them by making learning indispensable to leadership in our lives.”

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