Brian Tracy proposes a series of dimensions that define the best leaders. Ahead of such a definition, he sets the tone by describing the context in which today’s leaders operate. The challenging times business and economics experience today is unprecedented.

He posits that there are more changes in one’s business, year after year ahead, than before. More competition will emerge than ever before, but, opportunities will also be more and immense, than ever before! Companies that have the ability to navigate in such a complex context, and to steer through in such an environment, leaders need a commitment to ‘win’ and to conquer against all odds; only those will survive and the rest will be brushed aside.

Successful leaders accept certain key responsibilities; setting and achieving business goals across functions and performance, innovation in products and services and marketing the same, problem solving and decision making, setting priorities and focusing on key tasks, remain a role model for others and setting standards, persuade, inspire and motivate others to follow and finally, perform and show results.

The Chinese character for ‘crisis’ is the same character used for ‘opportunity’; illustrating that each crisis contains an opportunity; successful leaders are able to visualize such opportunities in times of crisis.

Leaders need to have vision

Tracy emphasises that leadership is the single most important factor in the success or failure of a company. He illustrates as to what successful leaders are made up of. The most important single quality of leadership, Tracy says, is for leaders to have a vision, see into the future and have the ability to anticipate what might occur. Courage, he says, is considered foremost of the virtues, for upon it, all others depend; in essence courage means willing to take risks in the achievement of goals with no assurance of success and the grit to ‘hang in there’, be it good or bad times.

Integrity and honesty are crucial attributes for good leaders; it encompasses truthfulness, trustworthiness, to keep promises and all of these together extending and manifesting as superior quality of work. Tracy writes that the characteristic of ‘humility’ cannot be overemphasised. Humility is about recognising that one could be wrong, and that one may not have all the answers. It is also about realising that one is not all knowing and at the same having the self-confidence and self-awareness to recognise the value of others without feeling threatened. It is also about their striving to learn continuously.

Focusing personal and corporate energies and resources in the most important areas is a crucial attribute for successful leaders. This is easier said than done; unless the leader is able to work well with others, and get people to change and do what the leader wants them to do, plans will remain plans, and will never get executed!

It is vital for leaders to know and understand themselves; who they are? What their strengths and weaknesses are? And what they want? The greater the clarity one has on these, and clearly assessing the situation he or she face, the more effective the leader is expected to be. These attributes help leaders to make decisions, allocating resources against the right opportunities!

Tracy equates corporate leadership to military strategists and identifies a number of principles of military strategy that when properly applied leads to victory. These include establishing a clear objective, being offensive and aggressively switching over to attack in the battlefield; one cannot win by playing it safe. These translate, in a business context, to seizing opportunities, continually innovating and marketing in new and better ways and eventually generate revenues, profits and cash-flows in a steady, predictable and consistent manner in the face of determined competitors who also want the same thing!

The principles of mass (concentrating the forces around enemy’s weakness), manoeuvre (attacking the enemy where he is most vulnerable), and intelligence (securing information concerning the actions and movements of the enemy) in the military context translates to building superior capabilities, speed in decision making, innovation and flexibility where leaders continually attempt new things and in newer ways thereby not getting stuck in their comfort zone. Deep insights gained on the markets, customers and competitors are invaluable in business for decision making.

Hiring and retaining the best

Another crucial attribute of great leaders is their ability to hire and retain the best people; writing a tight job description and matching the required competencies, hiring slowly without haste with an effective interviewing process, with multiple interviews across locations would be crucial. Great leaders respect their employees and continually focus on people, so that people focus on the business! A continuous evaluation and appraisal, resolving conflict and providing feedback go a long way in engaging the employees.

Tracy argues that putting together winning teams is all about creating ‘shared goals’, ‘shared values’ and the leader leading right from the front. He discusses a series of problem solving techniques that are rooted on breaking the individual biases, which include mindstorming, also known as the ‘twenty ideas method’. Zero-based thinking and creativity in small steps; communication with power; persuasion; emotional intelligence and listening are extremely effective practices which great leaders use.

Finally, Tracy asks leaders to introspect, simplify and balance their lives in order for them to be more effective; understanding ones’ own purpose, what one stands for, reinventing oneself regularly, planning in advance, setting priorities, utmost focus in whatever one does, more so to focus on higher value-added tasks, seamless delegation, reducing paper work, nurturing relationships and physical wellbeing are vital dimensions of great leaders. Overall, the book is an excellent glossary of vital attributes that great leaders are made up of, what they stand for and what they practise!

The reviewer is Distinguished Professor, Adjunct, (Strategy and Accounting), Great Lakes Institute of Management, Chennai

Check out the book on Amazon

Title: How the Best Leaders Lead 

Author: Brian Tracy 

Publisher: Amacom 

Price: ₹420

Pages: 256