The Inspiring Leader

In 2002, Joe Folkman and Jack Zenger wrote one of the most comprehensive books ever written on the art of leadership. Their bestselling work The Extraordinary Leader, revealed the 16 key competencies that separate the top 10 percent of leaders from the rest of the pack. It’s a terrific book, one that every leader should have on their bookshelf. Now comes The Inspiring Leader (2009), in which they and coauthor Scott Edinger discovered, through an extensive study conducted over four years, that leaders who possess the ability to inspire and motivate outperform all others.

What sets Folkman and Zenger apart from other leadership authors is their approach to looking at the subject through an empirical lens. Just as Jim Collins studies companies to find out why certain firms succeed, these guys study leadership to determine what really matters. In their latest work, the authors found that the impact of inspiring and motivating others is consistent across different kinds of organizations and within different cultures. The Inspiring Leader discusses the behaviors exhibited by the most successful leaders and includes advice on how to implement them. Drawing from statistically significant findings, the book shows you how to establish a clear vision and direction, use the power of emotions, create stretch goals for your team, foster innovation and risk taking, and encourage teamwork and collaboration. While not a surprising finding, per se, what’s impressive is how they build their case with real data.

In addition to The Inspiring Leader, Folkman & Zenger recently published a study of their analysis of the 10 Fatal Flaws that Derail Leaders (Harvard Business Review, June, 2009). In two studies involving more than 450 Fortune 500 executives and 11,000 leaders respectively, they identified a list of the 10 most common leadership behaviors that cause leaders to fail. Essentially, every bad leader had at least one of these tendencies, and many had several. The list, in no particular order:

  • Lacking energy and enthusiasm
  • Accepting their own mediocre performance
  • Lacking clear vision and direction
  • Having poor judgment
  • Not being willing to collaborate
  • Not walking the talk
  • Resisting new ideas
  • Not learning from their mistakes
  • Lacking interpersonal skills
  • Failing to develop others 

I can’t say I’m surprised by anything on this list, can you?  Sound like any of the bad bosses you’ve had?  Anyway, these guys are the real deal.  If you ever come across something written by Folkman and Zenger, buy it, and be sure to read it.  It will give you grounded evidence of what it takes to be a great leader.  Folkman and Zenger bring a lot of credibility to the study of leadership, and for that, my hat is off to them.  They certainly inspire me to bring a few facts to the table when talking about leadership!