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Book Review: "Being the Boss - The 3 Imperatives for Becoming a Great Leader." Linda A. Hill & Kent Lineback, HBR Press 2011.

"Becoming a Manager is a Journey" - Page 6

Countless books and educational courses have been developed to address the art form of management and leadership within different cultures.  The latest addition to the Harvard Business Review Press' offering library - Being the Boss - provides a unique insight into the challenges facing today's leaders.  However, unlike many other management books that focus solely on conflict management and resolution, Being the Boss also discusses the modern issues facing managers, such as teams that cross over different cultures, the complexity and importance of organizational politics, and the importance of managing yourself along with managing others.  Being the Boss provides a refreshing look into the entire spectrum of management, and equips current and future leaders with the proper tools to increase their team's performance.

Linda Hill, a Wallace Brett Donham Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School, brings her extensive resume of educational and literary accomplishments to bear in Being the Boss; her influence can be seen in the overall organization and ease of discussion of the various ideas in the book itself.  Her teammate, Kent Lineback, writes from his own thirty years of experience as a manager to supplement the academic study of management principles with methods and practices that are actually used by good managers.  Both authors are able to effectively distill the complexity of modern management into an easy to understand reference guide that is useful for most levels of management.  The authors themselves admit that one of the shortcomings of this book is that it doesn't address "organizational design and competitive strategy," which makes this book more geared towards the lower and middle-level managers.

However, Being the Boss can prove to be useful to many aspiring managers, and need not limit its audience to only those already in management positions.  The authors outline three management imperatives that are critical for a leader's effectiveness.  These imperatives are:

1.  Manage Yourself
2.  Manage Your Network
3.  Manage Your Team

All members of an organization seeking to further their own careers would be well served to read the chapters devoted to the first two leadership imperatives as ways to immediately improve their own performance.  Management of oneself lays a solid foundation to build a career upon.  The question that begs to be asked is: "How can you expect to manage others without first managing yourself?"  The authors effectively answer this question by stating that management first starts by examining yourself and determining your own tendencies and comfort zones.  This imperative urges managers to examine their own interactions with others, and encourages development of a unique leadership style.  Most refreshingly, the authors do not attempt to push a generic "one-size-fits-all" mentality for leadership style, and actually concede that each manager should be themselves when dealing with their teams.

Secondly, the book provides commentary on an area too often neglected by other leadership books: organizational politics and dynamics.  The authors' second leadership imperative argues that any competent manager must know how to effectively negotiate and maneuver within the complex web of organizational politics in today's business environment.  The authors advocate developing a nurturing a network composed not only of strong relationships with your team members and members of the manager's immediate organization, but also developing ties to other individuals that reach farther across the larger organization.  These relationships must be mutually beneficial to be effective at furthering the objectives of the manager's team, and the authors discuss, in detail, how to develop and sustain the numerous relationships required in today's business climate.

The third leadership imperative is more useful for those in positions of authority, but can be useful for anyone striving to break into management.  The authors detail the different challenges that modern-day teams present to a manager, including different cultures' influence on team dynamics, how to effectively manage team members that are not all necessarily in the same location, and how to effectively handle and negotiate conflict amongst team members.  The chapter is largely geared at developing a group of individuals into a well-oiled, smoothly functioning team that performs at a level higher than the sum of the individual members' capabilities, and maintaining that elevated level of performance for the life of the team itself.

While not a specifically finance-oriented book, the imperatives and tools outlines in Being the Boss can be applied to leadership situations across all industries.  The book does not attempt to be the dogmatic solution to management dilemmas, but rather strives to give each manager the tools they need to succeed.  Where some techniques may be applicable to one industry but not another (e.g. profit metrics not being applicable for a non-profit organization), the authors acknowledge this fact, and suggest alternatives that may be used in their place.  The book also details the apparent paradoxes presented by being a manager (e.g. a manager must both develop and evaluate his or her team members), and suggests various methods that may be used to resolve them.

Being the Boss would make a great addition to any manager's library, and an excellent tool to be used in leadership development programs in any organization.  The book provides a uniquely modern perspective on the challenge of modern leadership, and successfully outlines that while this challenge may be daunting, being a successful leader is a constant journey, and requires constant evaluation and change.  The book argues that rather than be overwhelmed, a manager should be inspired and motivated by this constant journey, and have the self-confidence to make the necessary changes, evaluate the results, and develop his or her own leadership style in accordance with their own personality.

"We depend on the ability of organizations, groups of people of all sizes and purposes, to function productively, and management is the crucial difference." - Epilogue

Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.