Being the Boss: The 3 Imperatives for Becoming a Great Leader
By Linda A. Hill and Kent Lineback
Harvard Business Press, 2011
Many books on management act as if they have the best answer for everyone. Instead, to its credit, Being the Boss offers a coherent set of questions that make it possible for each manager to thoughtfully tailor his or her own answers.
Linda Hill has been listening to, teaching, and studying practicing managers and how they got to where they were for more than 30 years. This book is built on her solid experience, responses to both editions of an earlier book, Becoming a Manager, and the reflective management experience of her co-author Kent Lineback. It backs up its questions with supportive explanations, stimulating observations, and an integrating case study.
The act of being the boss is actually practicing management and leadership. In many jobs, it is possible to excel independently. Management is different. In addition to dealing with complex and difficult situations that are continuously changing, its very essence is setting and achieving goals with other people. Their capabilities, capacities, desires, and needs all must be considered. The leader must create a functionally cohesive team and ensure its development.
Effective management also means building networks to take advantage of opportunities for support from others. A manager needs to develop a broad but selective range of reciprocal working relationships that are both essential to creating a strategic plan and instrumental in meeting more immediate operational goals. A third network is one for personal development that can help with feedback, negotiating difficult relationships, and navigating organizational politics. However, in building networks, things are not always easy. In addition to pursuing collaboration, it can become necessary to compete with some of the same network members.
The authors assert that management can best be thought of as a process rather than a posture. Each individual must continuously work on it to make progress. The process has a certain sink or swim quality that means that a successful manager must decide over and over again when, where, why, and how to jump in the pool. The experience he brings to the jump, combined with a framework thoughtfully spelled out in this book, make it possible for him to progressively meet the challenges of his unique journey through development. The framework recognizes that this journey should be guided by three imperatives, i.e. constructively: manage yourself, manage your network, and manage your team.
I find this approach both encouraging and realistic. It acknowledges that taking action is not just simplistic, but full of paradoxes that must be resolved. For example, having to develop individuals into a cohesive team, yet simultaneously evaluating their performance; or, not only executing today, but managing a larger organizational context and innovating for the future.
In my years of working with and coaching managers, I have never seen a truly successful manager who succeeded solely through learning by the numbers. Each follows his own path. She typically moves from being uncomfortable as a boss to becoming confident as a manager. This book can well serve both beginning and experienced managers as a guide for their own continued development. It is engaging to read, asks the right questions, and incorporates a compendium of the best research on leadership.