Leadership U | Gary Burnison

Summary of: Leadership U: Accelerating Through the Crisis Curve
By: Gary Burnison


Embark on a journey through the fascinating world of leadership and followership with Gary Burnison’s insightful book, ‘Leadership U: Accelerating Through the Crisis Curve’. This comprehensive summary delves into not just the scientific and artistic elements of leadership, but also the emotional and rational factors that hold it together. Key themes covered include the role of vision, power, influence, ethics, and various traits contributing to effective leadership. As you explore these captivating ideas, you’ll discover blends of leadership and management, as well as the influence of followers, culture, and situations on the leadership process.

What is Leadership?

Leadership is not defined by a title or position, as it involves the complex relationship between a leader, followers, and situation. With thousands of studies on the subject, leadership is viewed as both a science and an art. Emotional appeals can be positive or negative, as group frenzy can quickly become group mindlessness. Effective leaders exhibit confidence and perseverance, but also recognize the usefulness of others’ views and adapt to changing times. Leadership is intimately connected to “followership,” with the major difference being the level of dependence leaders like their followers to show.

The Many Myths of Leadership

Leadership is a complex concept that has been surrounded by myths. Good leadership is more than common sense, and it can be learned rather than only being innate. Leaders have varied personalities, cognitive abilities, skills, and values that set them apart from their followers. Effective leaders are those who can steer their followers towards accomplishing group goals. However, this is not an easy task as the relationship between leaders and followers is complex. Followers’ expectations, personality traits, maturity level, motivation, and competency level can significantly affect the leadership process. In addition, leadership styles change depending on the situations they are in. For instance, a crisis tends to be a prominent driver of charismatic leadership. Thus, different viable leadership styles should be adopted to lead in particular situations. Nixon pointed out qualities that make leaders great, such as conveying stately dignity, being a masterful speaker, and playing the part. Finally, it is essential to distinguish between the functions of leadership and management but develop them in the same individuals.

Walt Disney’s Genius Leadership

Walt Disney was a visionary leader with a long-range view, who wasn’t afraid to experiment with new ways of doing things to make sure his brand maintained his quality standards. He had an intuition for what would appeal to people and wasn’t afraid to take risks. Disney recognized talent and surrounded himself with creative people. Though he wasn’t a people person, his leadership wasn’t restricted to the influence exerted by someone in a particular position or role, as followers were also part of the leadership process. Disney’s complementary partnership with his brother Roy made the Disney Company a huge success. After Walt’s death, the company lacked a creative, visionary, risk-taking leader. Roy, who was the “manager,” didn’t have the qualities that Walt, the “leader,” possessed. As a result, the company produced “moderately successful but uninspired formula pieces for two decades” without Walt’s genius leadership.

The Power Dynamics of Leadership

The concept of leadership is complex, and the dynamics of power that inform it shape every aspect of this subject. According to an overview provided in this book, power is not just a function of the leader’s own characteristics, but also the followers’ behaviors and the situation in which they interact. Moreover, leaders can exert their power in both positive and negative ways, and followers can also influence the direction of leadership.

The idea that charismatic and transformational leadership hinge on a focus on the future is a key insight provided in the book. Leaders who can paint a compelling vision of what the future could be are more likely to garner support from their followers. Additionally, the book highlights the importance of motivation, satisfaction, and performance being aligned to achieve sustained success.

The book also delves into the importance of rewards and coercion in leadership. While rewarding someone for following a specific action may seem like an effective way to generate buy-in, this approach can backfire if the reward is not highly valued by the followers. Coercive power, on the other hand, can also be used effectively or ineffectively depending on how it is employed. Leaders who have too much bureaucracy around them may find that their power is diluted, hindering their ability to get things done.

Lastly, the book elucidates the notion that leadership and power change over time and in response to specific situations. Leaders may find themselves suddenly having greater or lesser power during times of crisis, for example. Moreover, the book explores how even something as simple as the way someone dresses can impact their perceived power and authority.

Overall, this book provides readers with a nuanced understanding of the complex and multifaceted dynamics of leadership, and the crucial role that power plays in shaping this concept.

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