The Book Corner - Review

The Leadership Code by Dave Ulrich, Norm Smallwood, and Kate Sweetman

The Leadership Code by Dave Ulrich, Norm Smallwood, and Kate Sweetman

The Leadership Code: Five Rules to Lead By

By Dave Ulrich, Norm Smallwood, and Kate Sweetman
HBS Press, 2009

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5 stars: Stop what you're doing and read this book!Is there a The Da Vinci Code for leaders? Ulrich, Smallwood, and Sweetman of The RBL Group purport to have found one. The authors write: “This leadership code, like any other code, provides both structure and guidance, and helps you know not only what to do to be a better individual leader, but also how to build better leadership capability.” Since there are already countless books on leaders and leadership, the authors turned to “recognized experts in the field who had . . . already spent years sifting through the evidence and developing their own theories.” I was honored to be included in their acknowledgements, so my review may be somewhat biased. (But if they appreciate my work on leadership skills and development, they are clearly brilliant people, right?)

From their literature review and interviews, the authors concluded that 60 to 70 percent of leadership effectiveness is contained in the “leadership code.” Their analysis and synthesis result in a framework that they believe is accurate, logical, and useful. While many academics may turn up their noses at the lack of elegance in the authors’ research design, the book is likely to pass a more important test perceived value and relevance to leaders on the firing line.

The “leadership code” breaks down into five deceptively simple rules:

  1. Shape the Future
  2. Make Things Happen
  3. Engage Today’s Talent
  4. Build the Next Generation
  5. Invest in Yourself

The authors have included both self-assessment and 360-degree feedback exercises to help readers assess how well they exemplify the “leadership code.” In addition, they may visit to view Ulrich’s short video lesson on analyzing the results of the self-assessment.

The book is well-written, engaging, and pragmatic. Cracking the “leadership code” might help you take your leadership skills to a higher level and you don’t have to worry about crazed monks trying to stop you from sharing your insights.

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