Book Review — The Leadership Gap

Lolly Daskal has written a remarkable and useful book for anyone working to a develop a positive leadership mindset and a practical leadership skillset.

It’s called The Leadership Gap, and as the title implies it is positioned as a business book. Daskal has lots of experience coaching and consulting with leaders of global organizations, so aiming her book at the business market makes sense.

But positioning it as a business book does it — and many potential readers — a disservice. There are countless people who don’t regard themselves as ‘business leaders’, but who can benefit from Daskal’s insights. While reading the book, I found myself thinking over and over that its lessons apply, not only to aspiring business leaders, but to teachers, consultants, coaches, community workers, police, clergy, parents — in fact, to anyone who at some time finds themselves in a position of influence, or care, or support, or guidance to others.

The Leadership Gap offers an straightforward, practical framework to help people identify their leadership (and relationship) strengths and weakness. More importantly, it shows how to work with and leverage those weakness — in Daskal’s terms, the Gaps — into sources of additional, and unexpected, strength.

In just nine no-nonsense chapters, Daskal describes what she calls the seven leadership Archetypes: the Rebel, driven to name and correct what’s wrong, the Explorer, seeking deeper meanings in self, in others, and in the work to be done, the Truth Teller, driven to speak out in service to others, the Hero, acting while others stand by, the Inventor, constantly looking to innovate, the Navigator, the trusted leader who steers people toward achievement, and the Knight, protector and champion of others.

Daskal provides plenty of real-life examples of leaders who embody these Archetypes, and readers will undoubtedly see themselves in their stories.

But the real strength of the book is its presentation not of the Archetypes, but of the Gaps — or what psychologist Carl Jung might have called the shadow of each Archetype. These are the often deeply hidden, but powerful, fears that undermine effective leadership, effective performance, and even effective being.

For the Rebel, that shadow is the Imposter, fueled by self-doubt. For the Explorer, the Exploiter, who manipulates to exert control. For the Truth Teller, it’s the Deceiver who withholds information. For the Hero, the Bystander who sees but does not act. For the Inventor, the Destroyer who chooses cheap and quick over quality. For the Navigator, the Fixer, imposing his solutions on others. And for the Knight, the Mercenary who serves only himself.

Daskal not only identifies these shadows, but offers practical advice about how to leverage the Gaps within us all and transform them into strengths.

The Leadership Gap is a well-written, entertaining, and above all useful book. It may even become a classic. Leaders, prospective leaders, and people from all walks of life who influence others, educate others, support others, or strive to make life better for others will benefit from Daskal’s work.

Reviewed by Tim Hurson

Hitting your (Sales) Target

You go into your meeting and you think, “I’ve got to make that sale.” That’s like sighting in on the bullseye and forgetting about gravity. You have a good chance of ending up in the dirt, 30 meters short of your goal.

arrow-targetEveryone who’s ever been in a selling situation wants to make the sale, close the deal, rack up those bonus points. But sometimes, in our effort to close the deal—to score—we may be aiming at the wrong thing.

Imagine you’re an archer aiming for a target 150 meters downfield. You draw your bow with all your strength, aim dead center at the bullseye, and let ’er fly. About two-thirds of the way down the range, your arrow lands neatly in the grass. As true as your aim seemed to be, gravity pulled your arrow down. You didn’t even reach the target, let alone score a bullseye.

It’s like that in sales too — if you’re only focusing on the sale itself.

But what if you focus higher — on the relationship. Then, like an archer aiming above the target, the track of your arrow forms a perfect arc and thwangs into the bullseye. In fact, the only way to consistently hit the bullseye is to aim above it.

It’s the same with sales. You go into your meeting and you think, “I’ve got to make that sale. That’s what I’m here to do, and that’s what I’m going to do.” That’s like sighting in on the bullseye and forgetting about gravity. You have a good chance of ending up in the dirt, 30 meters short of your goal.

If, instead of focusing all your energy on closing, you focus it on developing a relationship by being truly useful to your potential client, your arrow is more likely to arc smoothly into the bullseye.

Will you score a bullseye every time? Of course not. But your winning shots will be higher — much higher. And here’s the fun part: By aiming at the relationship instead of the sale, you’ll have a much better chance not only of closing this deal, but the one after that and the one after that and the one after that.

So if you want to hit the bullseye, aim above it.

Debrief Your Process

Now WhatThe US Army trains its best fighting brigades by pitting them in war games against an elite unit called OPFOR. The brigades-in-training get every advantage: better intelligence, better technology, more manpower. Yet, OPFOR almost always wins. Why? Because OPFOR systematically employs a powerful learning tool: the After Action Review — or AAR.

It’s the same with sales. The best way to get better at your craft is to conduct consistent and thorough debriefs of your action.

There are two kinds of debrief: the process debrief—taking a look at what you did that worked and what could be improved — the how of your meeting. Then there’s the content debrief—analyzing what you learned about your client’s strategies and challenges — the what of your meeting.

Both debriefs are critical to your success. Because the content debrief helps you plan your next steps for winning business, there’s a good chance it will produce near-term benefits. On the other hand, the process debrief will make you a better salesperson. It may produce some results in the near term, but its real benefit lies in the longer term, as you become more aware, more confident, and more skillful.

Because the content debrief can produce immediate results, you’ll be tempted to start there. But beware. Once you start pursuing business possibilities, you’ll quickly put aside your process debrief, even though it may be more useful in the long term — helping you become better at your craft. Sadly, the process debrief is a classic example of a high-value, low-urgency task — otherwise known as “stuff we don’t do.”

As tempting as it may be to get down to business, do yourself a favor and debrief your process first.

The most basic way to do a process debrief is to ask yourself three simple questions after your experience: What? So What? Now What?

In answering What? recall the details of your meeting, as objectively as possible. Describe what happened—what you said and did, what your client said and did.

In answering So What? look for the effect of what you said and did. What did it mean to you? What did it mean to your client?

Finally, in answering Now What? identify what you might do differently next time. What lessons can you take away from the effect your words and actions had?

The What? So What? Now What? discipline is a simple, but powerful way to do an AAR. One of its great values is that it can help you derive the right lessons from your experiences.

Here’s a simple example.

Salesman Bob had an opportunity he thought was perfect for a prospect. He was selling ad space for a TV show on sustainability. The theme was in line with his prospect’s mission, and Bob could offer a discount.

He called and left a message. It wasn’t returned.

Within 48 hours, Bob called 35 times, leaving 15 voice mails.

Finally, by chance, he got through. His prospect was so annoyed she told him never to call again.

The next day, Bob did phone again, apologized, and asked for one minute of her time. He laid out the premise and the price. She loved it and bought on the spot.

Bob filed this story under “perseverance.” He’s told it hundreds of times over drinks: persistence = sales. But is that really the story’s lesson? Let’s debrief it using a quick version of What? So What? Now What?

What? Bob called 35 times, leaving 15 callback messages. When he finally got through, his client told him never to call again. He called back anyhow and in one minute outlined the offer and price. The client was impressed and bought.

So What? Because Bob had the gumption to call again and the skill to outline his proposal in one minute, he got the sale. So far so good. But Bob’s actions also irritated his client. He gave himself the label, “pest.”

Now What? If 15 messages resulted in no callbacks, and a one-minute script resulted in a sale, was it really persistence that won the sale? What if, after one or two unanswered messages, Bob had left a short, substantive voice mail, giving his client a reason to call back, perhaps: “The advertising opportunity is for a show about climate change. As I understand it, your mission is linked to the climate issue.” He might even have mentioned the discount.

Seen through the lens of a disciplined process debrief, the real take-away from Bob’s story is not the value of persistence but the importance of compelling messages.

Try the What? So What? Now What? discipline. Debriefing your process with a systematic AAR can help you become a more productive salesperson each time you use it.

The Right Stuff

So the number one pre-requisite for stimulating innovation in an organization is people who know how to think creatively. There are specific skills required to do that. They’re not terribly difficult to learn, but it’s amazing how few of us have them naturally. Just telling someone to feel free to compose a musical score won’t produce the musical score, let alone a good one. First they have to understand the language of music.

54Almost everyone would agree that athletes can learn skills and train themselves to perform better, but we rarely give credence to the notion that people can learn skills and train themselves to THINK better. I often hear corporate folks say, “If only we had the right environment and the right leadership, if only we celebrated and rewarded our people appropriately, then we could be more innovative.” That might feel nice, but it’s simply not true.No one would assume that you could transform a bunch of untrained, out-of-shape folks into international basketball champions just by cheering them on and rewarding them for their efforts. You don’t win gold medals with good intentions. You win with skills and training and discipline.

Just as in basketball, innovative skills are not homogeneous. There are guards and forwards, centers and free throw specialists. Each of them is critical to the team’s success. And each of them needs to learn, develop, and practice their skills in order to be the best they can be.

So the number one pre-requisite for stimulating innovation in an organization is people who know how to think creatively. There are specific skills required to do that. They’re not terribly difficult to learn, but it’s amazing how few of us have them naturally. Just telling someone to feel free to compose a musical score won’t produce the musical score, let alone a good one. First they have to understand the language of music.

“There is a vast difference between training and education. Training teaches skills and competencies. Education teaches insight and understanding. If you don’t see the difference, think about the difference between sex education and sex training. Which would you send your kids to? Which would you go to yourself?” – MICHAEL HAMMER

Bury the Box

All of us are creative thinkers. Where we fall off the wagon, though, is that few of us are creative receivers. We don’t honor, celebrate, or often even remember the wonderful creative ideas we have. We have them — and then they’re gone — either because we’ve rejected them or forgotten them. Wouldn’t it be great if we could harness all that creative thinking! Wouldn’t it be great if we could bring the shower into the boardroom or the family room or the factory floor? That’s where we need creative ideas.

houdiniI give a lot of keynote speeches about creativity and innovation. Often, the people who introduce me ask for texts to read from. The last line of my prepared introduction is, “Tim thinks the phrase ‘out of the box thinking’ should be put back in the box and buried in a deep hole.” It almost always gets a laugh and sets a nice tone for my talk.

But it’s more than just a cute line. Like so many other clichés, “out of the box thinking” has been drained of any significant meaning by overuse and underthought. OBT and countless other meaning-drained phrases — like “paradigm shift”, “light at the end of the tunnel”, and “it is what it is” — seem to exude from people’s mouths when they don’t really have anything to say, but feel the need to say something.

My biggest gripe with OBT is that it makes it sound as though creative thinking is something we should go away somewhere and do as an exception. It makes about as much sense to say, “Let’s take a few minutes and think creatively” as it does to say, “Let’s take a few minutes and think ethically.” Creative thinking should be available to us on demand, not as an exception.

The real problem is we’ve seduced ourselves into believing that creative thinking is something special. It’s not. We’re all pretty good at it. If you doubt that, think about the last time you took a shower, or a long drive, or simply dozed off to sleep (though I hope not while driving!). You probably had dozens, perhaps hundreds, of creative ideas.

All of us are creative thinkers. Where we fall off the wagon, though, is that few of us are creative receivers. We don’t honor, celebrate, or often even remember the wonderful creative ideas we have. We have them — and then they’re gone — either because we’ve rejected them or forgotten them. Wouldn’t it be great if we could harness all that creative thinking! Wouldn’t it be great if we could bring the shower into the boardroom or the family room or the factory floor? That’s where we need creative ideas.

So how about we stop talking about thinking outside the box and start looking for ways to open the box and let our natural creative thinking in?

“A cliché or cliche is a phrase, expression, or idea that has been overused to the point of losing its intended force or novelty, especially when at some time it was considered distinctively forceful or novel… A cliché is also a term historically used in printing, for a printing plate cast from movable type… When letters were set one at a time it made sense to cast a phrase used over and again as one single slug of metal. That constantly repeated phrase was known as a cliché.” – WIKIPEDIA