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Seven Disciplines of a Leader - Book Review

1 June 2016

Dr. Moria Levy

"Seven Disciplines of a Leader: How to Support Your People, Team, and Organization in Achieving Maximum Effectiveness" was authored by Jeff Wolf in 2015. Jeff Wolf, a seasoned management consultant with extensive experience in various organizations, articulates his managerial and consulting philosophy within this book. He elucidates the essential elements of leadership and guides how leaders should conduct themselves to steer their teams and organizations toward safety and success. The book furnishes numerous recommendations and guidelines, with the most prominent ones including:


The book delves into the following key topics:

1. Needs Assessment

2. Expertise and Personal Exemplification

3. Vision and Strategic Planning

4. Prioritization, Planning, and Execution

5. Social, Emotional, and Political Intelligence

6. Mutualism, Cooperation, and Service

7. Love and Passion for Work

8. Renewal and Sustainability

9. Additional Tips for Success


While the book may not introduce revolutionary concepts, it undeniably offers substantial information. At times, as one peruses its contents, one may experience a sense of being overwhelmed due to the abundance of material. Nevertheless, Jeff Wolf adeptly structures and presents all the critical points that leaders must consider when guiding a group of individuals toward success. This book comes highly recommended for individuals aspiring to become influential leaders.


Needs Assessment

Managers should not remain stagnant. Just as professional athletes train regularly to achieve victory, even when they possess innate talent, managers must consistently refine their leadership skills. A 2014 study published in the Gallup Business Journal revealed that 82% of organizations need to make correct leadership appointments.


Another study conducted in the same journal in 2013 among U.S. employees uncovered that only 30% feel strongly connected and engaged with their organizations. In these organizations, motivated employees are crucial to gaining a competitive edge, and effective leadership plays a pivotal role in motivating and guiding these employees toward the organization's success.


It is imperative to acknowledge that the role of managers is anything but trivial.


Expertise and Personal Exemplification

Expertise in a leader's personality traits (personal mastery) and setting a personal example for others are not coincidentally the foundational building blocks on the journey to becoming a successful leader. A leader should embody:

1. A Personal Vision – comprising clear goals they aspire to achieve.

2. Creative Tension – the ability to craft an innovative vision while consistently making progress toward it. Innovation is a valuable skill, and it's essential to recognize that it can be cultivated; it is not a divine gift bestowed upon select individuals.

3. Commitment to Truth.


Concerning expertise in personality traits, individuals may exhibit diverse characteristics, yet there are two traits that every leader should adopt:

1. Honesty – an indispensable quality.

2. Emotional Connection with Employees and Those in Their Sphere – It's not enough for a leader to possess moral virtues and set a personal example; they must also nurture emotional bonds with their employees and those in their vicinity.


Vision and Strategic Planning


True leaders engage others by articulating a clear, compelling, and inspiring vision. They convey this vision in a way that resonates with everyone and kindles motivation among employees to act upon it. This shared vision, goals, and values are crucial for organizational success, as they unite everyone in advancing it. Five principles contribute to the development of a shared vision:


1. Encouraging individuals to nurture their visions.

2. Continuously communicating the organizational vision while encouraging people to endorse and actively champion it.

3. Viewing vision-building as an ongoing process, not a one-time effort. Periodically refreshing and adjusting it ensures its content remains dynamic and relevant.

4. Incorporating external (extrinsic) and internal (intrinsic) aspects into the vision.

5. Aspiring to create a positive vision, grounded in positivity rather than solely defining what the organization seeks to avoid. It's about envisioning success rather than fixating on adversity.



When formulating a strategy, prioritize only the most critical elements to ensure effective allocation of resources for implementation. A sound system should encompass five key aspects:


1. Destination: Where are we headed?

2. Purpose: Why are we going there?

3. Approach: How will we reach our goal?

4. Roles: Clearly define the responsibilities of each team member.

5. Collaboration: Outline the path to fostering teamwork upon arrival.



To achieve success, thorough preparation is essential. This preparation spans the systemic level, involving policies, processes, technologies, and metrics that must be defined and adapted, and the individual level entails understanding the requirements, being motivated to participate, and effectively translating plans into practice.


Prioritization, Planning, and Execution


Prioritization is one of the most crucial skills in today's fast-paced environment, where we consistently encounter many essential tasks. In a survey querying managers about their prioritization methods, the following key parameters emerged:


·  Accelerating task execution

·  Streamlining the execution process

·  Reducing the cost of task execution

·  Engaging in more business-oriented activities

·  Undertaking activities that support adaptation to evolving industry requirements

·  Participating in performance measurement activities

·  Investing in Internet technology and services

·  Collaborating with partner stakeholders

·  Contributing to the reduction of system rigidity and bureaucracy

·  Engaging in activities that prevent business decline

·  Building trust through one's actions.


Planning and Execution

The author critiques the tendency of managers and leaders to prolong and complicate the planning process, which consequently harms execution. Effective planning and execution encompass six fundamental components:


1. Grasping the current situation

2. Establishing clear goals and objectives and prioritizing them

3. Defining the necessary steps to achieve prioritized objectives

4. Assigning roles for planning and execution

5. Budgeting expenses and creating expense management strategies

6. Defining methods for measuring progress and assessing goal attainment (endpoints).


Social, Emotional, and Political Intelligence

Without social, emotional, and political intelligence, it becomes challenging for a leader to guide individuals toward a significant vision. Let's delve into each aspect:


Social Intelligence

·  Prioritize listening over speaking, actively engaging in a two-way dialogue.

·  Avoid attempting to form close friendships with all employees

·  Exhibit self-discipline in your conduct, maintaining composure even when facing pressure, thus fostering an environment that reassures employees about your control over matters

·  Encourage employee feedback

·  Embrace flexibility.


Emotional Intelligence

The author references the emotional intelligence framework developed by Daniel Goleman, which comprises:

·  Self-awareness

·  Self-management and emotional regulation

·  Social and political awareness

·  Proficiency in managing interpersonal relationships and the ability to influence and inspire others.


These abilities translate into political intelligence in organizational contexts, especially in interactions with colleagues and superiors.


Mutualism, Cooperation, and Service

A leader's success is founded upon their ability to promote the mutualization of employees' attitudes toward the organization, foster cooperation, and deliver exemplary service to the community.



As suggested by Karim, the same individual quoted by Wolf, reciprocity can be achieved through the following actions:

1. Offering assistance to those in need, especially colleagues.

2. Recognizing employees' contributions to job success.

3. Welcoming suggestions for workplace improvements.

4. Acknowledging and rewarding both individual and group achievements of employees.

5. Sharing networking relationships.

6. Developing cost-effective or no-cost services for customers.

7. Expressing gratitude to those who assist.

8. Offering enhanced work incentives.



Likewise, Wolf cites Christakis, the author of "Connected," to define cooperation through six fundamental principles:

1. Active participation.

2. Engaging in collaborative decision-making with consent.

3. Embracing transparency and open discussions.

4. Encouraging independent thinking.

5. Committing to achieving shared goals.

6. Focusing on attaining the expected outcomes.


Community Service

Companies striving for progress encourage their leaders to engage in leading nonprofit community initiatives, which offer several advantages, including:

·  Enhancing the organization's reputation.

·  Strengthening working relationships with the local community and the broader region.

·  Contributing to a noble cause through volunteering.

·  Cultivating successful managers who excel in both business performance and community engagement.


Love and Passion for Work

For managers and leaders to excel in their roles, they must possess a genuine love for their work and an unwavering passion to pursue it daily. In contemporary expertise, passion is acknowledged as a significant study area within the human sciences. It is characterized by behaviors that manifest it, including:


1. An unrelenting desire to fully immerse in one's chosen career.

2. Experiencing profound satisfaction and a sense of purpose at work.

3. Achieving a state of "flow" during task execution (as described by Csikszentmihalyi).

4. Deep engagement with the work.

5. Enjoying meaningful relationships with colleagues, managers, and customers.

6. Heightened self-confidence and empowerment.

7. An innate emotional connection to the job.


Industry leaders also share strategies to nurture and enhance their passion within the work environment, such as:


1. Prioritizing self-care on physical, mental, emotional, and moral levels.

2. Identifying sources of energy and revitalization in other aspects of life.

3. Cultivating optimism.

4. Proactively confronting and managing fears.

5. Exploring opportunities to expand or diversify into areas of personal interest.

6. Seeking guidance from a mentor.

7. Recognizing that a leader is an integral part of a larger group and that not everything revolves solely around them.


Renewal and Sustainability

The world is constantly evolving, and organizations are no exception; they undergo continuous change. Every leader must remain primed and open to impending changes in this dynamic landscape.


A leader should uphold an unwavering commitment to improvement and innovation. As expressed by Wolf, this dedication is the only way to ensure long-term survival.


Additional Tips for Success

The following is a compilation of additional tips for achieving success, presented both as standalone chapters and integrated suggestions within broader topics:


1. Embrace Failure: Don't fear failure; it's an inevitable part of the journey to success. Learn from your failures because no great leader has succeeded without encountering setbacks.


2. Believe in Yourself and Your Vision: Maintain unwavering faith in yourself, your organization, the services and products you provide, and your customers.


3. Cultivate a Positive Attitude: Your attitude significantly influences your success. Those who maintain motivation and ambition tend to perform better.


4. Exercise Self-Discipline: Practice personal self-discipline (honesty, integrity, motivation, etc.) and professional self-discipline (vision, goals, work processes, systems, etc.). Dedicate time to foster discipline in both aspects of your life.


5. Step Out of Your Comfort Zone: Progress often lies outside your comfort zone. Embrace the learning zone, where knowledge and skills extend beyond your current capabilities.


6. Reflect and Analyze: Allocate time for reflection and self-analysis to evaluate past experiences and draw valuable insights for the future.


7. Practice, Practice, Practice: Regularly rehearse speeches, ideas, and processes you aim to promote. Consistent practice leads to improvement.


8. Select the Right Team Members: Only hire individuals well-suited for the job. Your employees are the organization's most valuable asset. Set high standards and maintain them without compromise. Look for people with a positive attitude and a collaborative mindset. Ensure diversity in your workforce, representing different generations (X, Y, and others). Don't hesitate to part ways with those who don't fit the team.


9. Invest in Employee Development: Continuously support your employees' learning and encourage regular, even daily, learning while they work. Trust them and grant them decision-making autonomy. Inspire and empower them with positivity, not just authority. Foster their growth as future leaders.


10. Value and Appreciate Your Employees: Show appreciation for your employees, as it fosters loyalty and encourages exceptional performance.


11. Utilize Coaching: Employ coaching to enhance employee efficiency, teamwork, and problem-solving. Coaching can modify existing behaviors and develop new skills. Effective coaching involves asking questions, leading to understanding, properly defining roles, and offering positive reinforcement. Make use of coaching and consider training your employees or assigning them coaches.


12. Motivate Your Team: Dedicate thought and effort to creating motivation and inspiration. If some team members are consistently dissatisfied, consider whether retaining them is in the best interest of the organization and its overall morale.


13. Foster Effective Communication: Communicate transparently across all organizational levels and directions. Sharing information through various channels reduces fears of the unknown and strengthens relationships. Listen to employees attentively, including what they say and their body language. Improve your body language, expressing empathy, confidence, strength, attentiveness, joy, honesty, optimism, and even disappointment when expectations are not met.


14. Invest in Team Building and Collaboration: Build strong teams by nurturing a team culture that defines expectations and governance while also encouraging knowledge sharing, initiative, openness, and honesty.


15. Lead Change: Lead changes effectively by allocating resources, maintaining consistency, communicating requirements, highlighting successes, practicing patience, and acknowledging people's feelings. Don't dwell on past mistakes, but rather embrace them as part of the journey, understanding that change is a collective effort.


16. Prioritize Customer Focus: Customers are the lifeblood of any organization. Prioritize customer satisfaction and respond effectively to their needs. Keep customers in mind when setting goals, and encourage your employees to provide exceptional service. Cultivate personal connections with your customers.


17. Balance Work and Personal Life: Lastly, remember to strike a balance between your work and personal life. Allocate time for other activities and ensure you find enjoyment in your life beyond work.


To those who may doubt their ability to succeed, the author's advice is clear: Learn what needs to be done, have faith in your ability to apply that knowledge, muster the courage to persevere, and success will follow.



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