The key to success in any discipline is to figure out the few things that must be done really well and to get those basics right. But so many leaders fail on the fundamentals—and don’t even realize it.
The real implication of leadership has been buried deep over the years: leadership isn’t about the position but about who you are and the responsibility you can undertake. Leadership consultants Dave Ulrich, Norm Smallwood, and Kate Sweetman’s The Leadership Code: Five Rules to Lead By (2009) argues that everything you ever need to know about leadership comes down to five straightforward rules.
If you understand these rules and put them into practice, you can’t fail to spur others and enrich teams, organizations, or communities.
Rule 1: Be A Strategist. Deliberate leaders answer the question “Where are we going?” and mull over multiple time frames. They institute a great enough sense of urgency and remove impediments to the new vision. They anticipate the future and work with others to determine how to advance from the present to the desired future. Shape the future.
Rule 2: Be an Executor. The “executor” aspect of leadership focuses on the question, “How will we make sure we get to where we are going?” Effective leaders understand how to make change happen, assign accountability, assess plans, coordinate efforts, and share information that should be incorporated into strategies. Make things happen.
Rule 3: Be a Talent Manager. Leaders who engage talent now answer the question, “Who goes with us on our business journey?” They select the right people for the right job and ensure that people have the right tools and autonomy to succeed. Leaders foster an inviting organization, create a high level of performance and passion, and continuously monitor problems that need to be fixed. Engage today’s talent.
Rule 4: Be a Human Capital Developer. Leaders who are talent developers answer the question, “Who stays and sustains the organization for the next generation?” Leaders take the time to become aware of how future trends could affect their organizations. They position their teams to win by bearing in mind the longer-term competencies required for future strategic success. Build the next generation.
Rule 5: Be Proficient. Leadership demands are more daunting than ever, and the pressure to perform is relentless. Create regular timeouts to review where you invest your time and energy to ensure that you remain capable of self-managing your personal strengths and weaknesses and generating new behaviors to deal with new challenges. Invest in yourself.
As with most “rules-for-success” books, the authors tout their assessment of “hundreds of studies, frameworks, and tools.” But their work is no more than a distillation of notable leadership thinkers’ experiences. Nonetheless, the rules sound right. The five rules are simple, but they aren’t easy. They are sensible and practicable. They’re what you can focus your effort on for maximum return.
Recommendation: Quick read The Leadership Code. It makes a great early book choice for new leaders. It provides a grounded approach to the fundamentals.
Never underestimate the power of key leadership principles that can be well executed. Complement The Leadership Code with Peter Drucker’s The Practice of Management (1954; my summary) and Julie Zhuo’s The Making of a Manager (2019; my summary.)