A new book by a British-born, San Diego-based author examines leadership failures in a variety of arenas, including business, politics, the defense industry, nonprofits and education, and offers a blueprint for leaders in all walks of life to become more effective and successful.
Chris Lewis’ latest book is “The Leadership Lab – Understanding leadership in the 21st century.” The book came out in the U.K. and U.S. in 2019 and was published by Kogan Page Limited. He co-wrote the book with Pippa Malmgren, an economist and former adviser to President George W. Bush.
Lewis lives with his family in Fairbanks Highland Estates, and travels frequently to London. A former journalist, Lewis also founded a global marketing and public relations firm, which currently employs 750 people.
In the book’s introduction, the authors detail a long list of recent leadership failures, from the 2008 financial meltdown, to sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic church, the poisoning of customers by public water agencies, torture of prisoners by the military, and many others.
“These events sound unlikely, unbelievable, even impossible, but they all happened,” the authors wrote. “Outside the cataclysmic events of the world wars, it is difficult to remember a time when leadership has appeared more thoroughly and completely discredited.”
But they go on to say that, “(This book) is not anti-leadership. Quite the contrary. It is against bad leadership. It’s not interested in blame or retribution. It searches for the truth.”
In an interview, Lewis said the book is based on conversations held at various places around the world, between the authors and leaders from business, government and other sectors. The authors used the information gleaned from these sessions to analyze the causes of leadership failures and offer potential solutions.
Among their findings, Lewis said, is that in today’s boardrooms and executive suites, too much focus is put on the CEO, and not enough on the team surrounding the head of an organization. “Too much focus on Jesus and not enough on the disciples,” Lewis said.
While many of today’s leaders feel they must be the smartest person in the room, Lewis said, their job should be to make everyone around them as smart as possible.
“They have to think about everybody else and not themselves. Good leadership is unselfish and it focuses on the team,” Lewis said.
The authors also identified differences between masculine and feminine leadership traits. Research suggests that women are more collaborative and compassionate, and that their teams perform better, Lewis said.
Diversity at an organization’s upper echelon is another important factor, said Lewis. Having different perspectives helps an organization to spot trends and plan responses to changing conditions.
“If you have a greater diversity close to leadership, you’re less likely to make dumb mistakes, because you see things coming,” Lewis said.
The book is organized into eight sections, plus a summary chapter. Each section outlines a current trend, and also looks at the negative, flip side of each trend. For example, one positive deals with the explosion of information available on virtually any subject, and the flip side is inundation, or information overload.
Another chapter considers internationalism, and insularity, or the propensity of many places to retrench and look inward, leading to nationalistic policies in many parts of the world. As an example, Lewis pointed to the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989, which many assumed would result in more openness and easier transit across international borders. Instead, currently border controls are being tightened.
“The walls are going up absolutely everywhere,” he said.
Lewis said the focus should be more on the qualities possessed by true leaders, such as honesty, supportiveness, consistency and ability to inspire, rather than looking strictly at leaders’ individual accomplishments.
“Many leaders have a ‘to do’ list, but not every leader has a ‘to be’ list,” he said.
Other important characteristics of leaders, he said, are judgment, handling stress well and a sense of humor.
“A sense of humor is something we should take quite seriously,” he said.
“The Leadership Lab” is available online at Amazon.com, and in Barnes & Noble bookstores, Lewis said.