Book Review: Leadership Agility

Just finished reading Leadership Agility: Five Levels of Mastery for Anticipating and Initiating Change by Bill Joiner and Stephen Josephs.

It’s a fairly well-written leadership development book offering a very compelling framework for assessing your leadership level and identifying the competencies you need to develop in order to evolve your leadership to the next stage.

Even though the authors acknowledge that there’s more to leadership than anticipating and initiative change and therefore keep the focus on “leadership agility”, given how much of a leader’s role is anticipating and initiating change, I view this as a book about leadership, period.

The first part of the book provides an overview of the framework and a good high level illustration of it, by replaying the same dinner conversation, each time with a person at a different stage of leadership agility.

The third part focuses on assessing your own leadership agility and charting a path for improving it.

The second part is the heart of the book, consisting of five chapters mirroring the five leadership agility stages in the framework: Expert, Achiever, Catalyst, Co-Creator and Synergist. Each stage is described through two perspectives (supported by case studies/real-world examples):

  1. An outside-in perspective: covering how a leader at each level anticipates and initiate change at three different scales:
    1. Pivotal conversations
    2. Leading teams
    3. Leading organizational change
  2. An inside-out perspective: covering how a leader’s five key competencies develop at each stage:
    1. Awareness & intent
    2. Context setting agility:
      1. Situational awareness
      2. Sense of purpose
    3. Stakeholder agility:
      1. Stakeholder understanding
      2. Power style
    4. Creative agility:
      1. Reflective judgement
      2. Connective awareness
    5. Self-leadership agility:
      1. Self-awareness
      2. Developmental motivation

The first perspective is summarized in the book  neatly in the book in the following table:



The second, however, is not summarized anywhere, which is one of the book’s greatest drawbacks. The good news is that I thought that creating one will be a good way for me to get more value out of the book. It’s a bit of an eye-chart, so I suggest printing it out if you want to give it a more thorough read:



PDF Version of Cheat Sheet

Book Review: Leadership Agility

10,000 Hours with Reid Hoffman

…is the title of a long-form essay by Ben Casnocha, Reid Hoffman’s Chief of Staff, and his co-author one a couple of books (one of which, I’ve already covered).

In which, Ben covers his Top 16 lessons learned from his time working with Reid. Here’s the cliff notes version:

  1. People are complicated and flawed. Root for their better angels.
  2. The best way to get a busy person’s attention: Help them.
  3. Keep it simple and move fast when conceiving strategies and making decisions.
  4. Every weakness has a corresponding strength.
  5. The values that actually shape a culture have both upside and downside.
  6. Understand someone’s “alpha” tendencies and how that drives them.
  7. Self-deception watch: even those who say they don’t need or want flattery, sometimes still need it.
  8. Be clear on your specific level of engagement on a project.
  9. Sketch three possible outcomes for a project: the likely upside, likely ‘regular’, and likely downside scenarios.
  10. A key to making good partnerships great: Identify and emphasize any misaligned incentives.
  11. Reason is the steering wheel. Emotion is the gas pedal.
  12. Trade up on trust even if it means you trade down on competency.
  13. Tell the truth. Don’t reflexively kiss ass to powerful people.
  14. Respect the shadow power.
  15. Make people genuine partners and they’ll work harder.
  16. Final: The people around you change you in myriad unconscious ways

They are a mixed bag, but 3, 5, 8, 13, 15 are well worth the read

10,000 Hours with Reid Hoffman

Learning from Failure

Ran into this wonderful article on learning from failure by HBS professor Amy Edmondson:

Strategies for Learning from Failure

For many of us, failure often has a negative association. Mostly because from a very early age, failure is so tightly coupled in our minds with fault – admitting failure also means taking the blame.

And yet, in the business world, success almost always requires some level of risk taking – a situation in which failure is an inherently plausible option.

How can we tell “good” failure from “bad” failure,  so we can encourage the former and discourage the latter?

Amy suggests a taxonomy of failures ranging from the blameworthy to the praiseworthy:

  1. Deviance – an individual chooses to violate a prescribed process or practice
  2. Inattention – an individual inadvertently deviates from specification
  3. Lack of ability – an individual doesn’t have the skills, conditions or training to execute a job
  4. Process inadequacy – a competent individual adheres to a prescribed but faulty or incomplete process
  5. Task challenge – an individual faces a task too difficult to be executed reliably every time
  6. Process complexity – a process composed of many elements breaks down when it encounters novel interactions
  7. Uncertainty – a lack of clarity about future events causes people to take seemingly reasonable actions that produces undesired results
  8. Hypothesis testing – an experiment conducted to prove that an idea or design will succeed fails
  9. Exploratory testing –  an experiment conducted to expand knowledge and investigate a possibility leads to an undesired result

More broadly, failure requires a different reaction in three major domains:

  1. Blameworthy: preventable failures in predictable operations  (#1-5)
  2. Neutral: unavoidable failures in complex systems (#6-7)
  3. Praiseworthy: intelligent failures at the frontier (#8-9)


Learning from Failure

The Three Types of Clarity

I saw an old version of this great piece of thought leadership by Justin Rosenstein a while a go, but for some reason did not add it to my blog backlog. It’s time to rectify that:

The Key Habits of Highly Effective Teams

In this long(er)-form version of an Asana blog post, Justin adds more color on how to establish the three types of clarity needed for creating a highly effective team:

  1. Clarity of Purpose – Having everybody on the same page about the “why?” – “if we’re wildly successful, how would the world be different?”
  2. Clarity of Plan – This is all about “how” of accomplishing this vision. From the strategic principles through measurable key results to the projects that aim to move the needle on each of them.
  3. Clarity of Responsibility – This is the one that often doesn’t get as much attention as it should and pertains to the “who” – “Clarity of responsibility ensures that one person holds ultimate responsibility for each piece of the plan”. Areas of Responsibility (AoR) which I’ve covered before, can be a very powerful enabler of this type of clarity.
The Three Types of Clarity