Only Leadership Book to Read [George Zimmer’s Opinion]

In a recent webinar for the Enlightened Business Summit, George Zimmer founder and CEO of the Men’s Wearhouse, was asked to recommend just one leadership book. He only skipped a beat and offered, Leadership is an Art by Max DePree.  He added, “It’s short. Readable in two hours. And contains what a leader needs to know.” That sounds like a solid recommendation!

It was first published in 1987 but still stands as one of the classics of leadership lore. This is a book of ideas dealing with the “why” of organizational life.

DePree reminisces, “At the time of the writing I did not realize how crucial a mentoring relationship could be to one’s development as a leader. Today I’m convinced of it.” What a great admonition to everyone who seeks the path to authentic leadership: be a mentor!

While several themes are presented in the book, DePree highlights three that have garnered the most feedback in the last twenty years:

  1. Integrity. “Lack of integrity is nourished by the inability of some leaders to understand the function of self-restraint in a civilized society.”
  2. Building and Nurturing Relationships. “The only way we stand a chance of reaching our potential is first to gain competence in our relationships.”
  3. Community. “Authentic leaders see it as part of their calling to guide a group or organization in designing the kind of community they intend to become.”

The key leaders who have influenced me deeply believe in the role of community. It’s not a means to an end when they speak of it. They are passionate; believing that it is crucial to personal health and collective success. Robert Quinn speaks of “productive communities” and when people become a part of one they tend to become more “inner directed and other focused.”  (Change the World)

Being part of a community – much less a productive one – is not for the faint of heart. It takes hard work, determination, and a commitment to weather the seas of being in relationship with people. There are seasons when the seas are relatively calm and seasons of turbulent storms. But if we dig deep and choose to navigate them together, the payoff is huge, both personally and professionally.

Imagine what happens in authentic community!

  • We are given the opportunity to become part of something that has potential far beyond our single contribution.
  • We can grow as a person; stretched and challenged to achieve.
  • We get the blessing of human interaction where we can respect, honor, and be grateful for people who contribute positively to our independent lives.
  • We can experience the challenges of conflict and practice the art of forgiveness.
  • We can set meaningful goals; grieving the losses and celebrating the successes.

Another leader put it this way. In community we can:

  • Serve and be served.
  • Know and be known.
  • Understand and be understood.
  • Love and be loved.

At first blush you might not think George Zimmer would have much time for a this type of conscious leadership. Yet he readily admitted, “I am a servant leader. It was ingrained in me by my parents.”

What if…we continued to grow in our competence to build relationships and foster a healthy community?

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This entry was posted in Community, Mentoring, Relationships, Servant Leadership. Bookmark the permalink.

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