I consider myself an accidental leader. I started my first business, a marketing agency, at the age of 21. I didn’t mean to. What started as a couple of freelance projects in between jobs grew and grew and before I knew it, I was managing a team of people and having meetings with my accountant and other things that felt way too grown up for that stage in my life.
I knew that although things were going well, I’d have to upskill pretty quickly if I was going to avoid a crash and burn.
I was probably an okay manager, but I certainly wasn’t a leader. And although I studied a lot of books at the time to get up to speed on being a leader, nothing I read came close to the calibre or depth of Leadability by Rowdy McLean.
Described as ‘a dynamic guide to climbing your leadership mountain’, Leadability challenges traditional leadership paradigms and presents a powerful plan for taking your leadership skills to the next level.
Drawing on his extensive experience as a mountaineer and explorer (just your every day adventures like climbing Kilimanjaro, spending time with the Maasai warriors in the Serengeti and kayaking in Antarctica), Rowdy takes the reader on a journey of discovery beyond single dimensional leadership approaches. He mirrors his experience of climbing the world’s highest freestanding mountain, Mount Kilimanjaro, with the levels of leadership proficiency. The metaphor provides a powerful visual and an inspiring blueprint for setting clear leadership improvement intentions and navigating a path to the summit. It also makes it a fun and fascinating read, peppered with his account of conquering arguably one of the most challenging human quests, physically and mentally.
That said, Leadability is much more than a motivational tale of a mountain climb and checklist for improving your leadership skills. Rowdy challenges you to self-examine, go deep and identify not only your own authentic leadership style but connect with why you want to be a great leader. Self-assessment exercises feature throughout and it’s a book that you apply as you go. In fact, by the time you’ve finished reading Leadability, you’ll have advanced on your climb towards being a great leader and enjoying a better view, no matter where on the mountain you started.
This book in 200 Words
In outlining the different climbs and transitions on the way to the summit (or Leadability Peak as he calls it), he reminds us that there is no use in taking a helicopter to the top. Each climb gives us the tools, insights and perspective to approach the next climb. In other words, leadership is an action sport, not something that you can study. To reach Leadability Peak, you need to develop respect (not demand it and understand your reason or motivation for wanting to be a leader (mindset is more valuable than skillset).
Refreshingly, Rowdy throws away the rulebook on how leaders should think, behave and act and encourages you to discover your own style and authenticity and in doing so, invite feedback (‘when you cross the bridge of inviting and accepting feedback, you will rise to a whole new level.’). He frames the difference between inspiring and motivating and encourages you to think about leadership not in terms of building loyal followers, but in fostering and developing a team of other leaders.
With his skillful storytelling, Rowdy deconstructs the aspects of great leadership: being a great communicator, maintaining a compelling vision, clear focus and having beliefs and actions that are congruent. But more than that he argues that mindset is the most important fuel for the advancement of your leadership skills.
Three Things to Action from this Book
1. As a leader, ask for feedback on your performance.
Where most leaders go wrong, according to Rowdy, is that they rarely ask for feedback on their progress from the people they expect to follow them.
‘How can you expect to become a better leader, to grow, learn and develop, if no one tells you where you’re going wrong?’
Rowdy outlines a simple two-step feedback technique that can be applied in formal feedback processes or a group leader ‘hotseat’ scenario:
- what they think the leader is doing well
- where they think the leader can improve
He also advises against the ‘sandwich’ method of feedback (bookending negative feedback with positive). He recommends being straight, clear and genuine with feedback rather than sugar coating it.
2. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable
Most leaders suffer from ‘vulnerability reluctance’; they fear that being vulnerable shows weakness. In contrast, Rowdy explains that we’re all born vulnerable.
‘You can never know everything. So embrace that vulnerability and learn to use it as an asset.’
Specifically, ‘I don’t know’ is a very powerful admission. Every great discovery through history began with these three words, which express not a lack of knowledge but a desire to seek understanding.
Vulnerability in leadership is not a weakness. It’s perhaps one of our truest measures of courage.
3. Begin with the end in mind
As Rowdy reminds us, being a leader is a great privilege and honor.
‘As a leader, you’re given an opportunity to lead, to shape other people’s lives, to shape the progress of a company, to contribute to society in a way that not many people get to experience.’
The Leadability methodology incorporates a strong emphasis on legacy and encourages you to consider what you want to leave behind, how you want to be remembered and what you want to contribute.
In considering your legacy, there are four areas to explore:
- Significance: what is the significance of what you intend to create?
- Relationships: how will you make others feel in years to come?
- Aspirations: your legacy is written by how your followers respond to your vision.
- Courage: your leadership legacy will be shaped by the risks and dangers you faced and stood up to despite your fears.
Leadability challenged everything I thought I knew about leadership, in a good way. It provides a refreshing model for leadership in changing times.
In an era where authenticity and leadership integrity appear to be missing at even the highest levels of business and politics, what the world needs now, more than love sweet love is great leaders. Being better leaders with our teams and families feels like the perfect antidote to an uncertain world. Thankfully Rowdy’s book and Leadability model is building that legacy for the future, leader by leader (even accidental ones).
Get your copy of Leadability: The Art of Building Respect, Confidence, Integrity and Trust to Create a Lasting Leadership Legacy here