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Leadership Books that Challenge the Status Quo

What makes leadership such a popular business book category? Business books are a resource that people follow in order to achieve success, with the goal of taking their career or their business to the next level. Leadership books, on the other hand, are almost the opposite, in that their goal is to inspire people to stop following and start leading. An intrinsic quality of those books is that they challenge the status quo, teaching us that we should not be afraid to act and think differently from the rest. Three books epitomize this notion: “The Rebel Entrepreneur: Rewriting the Business Rulebook” by Jonathon Moules; “Fear Your Strengths: What You are Best at Could Be Your Biggest Problem” by Robert E. Kaplan and Robert B. Kaiser; and “So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love,” by Cal Newport.

Leadership Books that Challenge the Status Quo

Don’t Be a Stereotype. Be a “Rebel Entrepreneur”

Jonathon Moules, author of “The Rebel Entrepreneur,” and a writer for the Financial Times of London, studied successful business owners who didn’t play by the existing rules, but instead forged their own path. He concluded that contrary to the stereotype of the start-up entrepreneur, rebel entrepreneurs are interested in neither funding their business with angel or VC capital nor trying out a brand new, untested business idea, even if they have the potential to be disruptive. Rebel entrepreneurs simply create new businesses that evolved out of already proven models. The author also identified the following traits that set the rebel entrepreneur apart:

5 Common Traits of the Rebel Entrepreneur

  • They change course easily and are agile when they need to be.
  • They don’t fear failure; instead, they embrace and learn from mistakes.
  • They avoid competing on price, instead preferring to compete with quality.
  • They don’t try to be everything to everyone by “casting a net far and wide;” they go where their potential customers are already buying.
  • They hire the best employees and don’t micromanage.

“Fear Your Strengths”

Robert E. Kaplan and Robert B. Kaiser’s research shows that overplaying strengths is in fact a common leadership problem. Consider the talented, brilliant, articulate boss whose strong presence intimidates and overwhelms everyone in the room–so no one ever offers alternative ideas. With no objective sounding board, such a boss can endanger an organization by exercising his or her unfiltered, unfettered plans.

To avoid this pitfall, “Fear Your Strengths” authors Kaplan and Kaiser offer three suggestions for executives who want to become better leaders:

  • “Accept yourself.” The leader you are is the person you are.
  • “Test yourself.” True change takes time and hard work. Facing the challenge of personal transformation means resetting your thinking and behavior.
  • “Offset yourself.” Don’t expect or demand perfection.

“So Good They Can’t Ignore You”

Another book that turns conventional wisdom on its head is, “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” by Cal Newport. The title is a quote from a Charlie Rose interview with comedian Steve Martin. When Charlie Rose asked Steve Martin for the secret to his success, Martin said, “Nobody wants to hear this, but be so good they can’t ignore you.”

Newport’s entire premise is what a mistake it is for people to build a business or a career based solely on one’s passion. Newport says that it takes years to hone one’s craft and also describes the importance of ruling things out along the way toward this mastery. Three of his conclusions fly in the face of the old adage, follow your bliss:

  • Career passions are rare.
  • Passion takes time.
  • Passion is a side effect of mastery.

Another book that turns conventional wisdom on its head is “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” by Cal Newport. The title is a quote from a Charlie Rose interview with comedian Steve Martin. When Charlie Rose asked Steve Martin for the secret to his success, Martin said, “Nobody wants to hear this, but be so good they can’t ignore you.”

Newport’s entire premise is what a mistake it is for people to build a business or a career based solely on one’s passion. Newport says that it takes years to hone one’s craft and also describes the importance of ruling things out along the way toward this mastery. Three of his conclusions fly in the face of the old adage, follow your bliss:

  • Career passions are rare.
  • Passion takes time.
  • Passion is a side effect of mastery.

Just how against the status quo is “So Good They Can’t Ignore You?” Newport, an assistant professor of computer science at Georgetown University, couldn’t resist measuring the contrarian nature of his theory without plotting big data on a graph. “The decades since the publication of Bolles’s book (“What Color is Your Parachute?“) can be understood as a period of increasing dedication to the passion hypothesis.”

Looking at the Google nGram Viewer‘s trend curve for the phrase ‘follow your passion,’ “…you see a spike in usage right at 1970 (the year when Bolles’s book, followed by a relatively steady high usage until 1990, at which point the graph curve swings upward. By 2000, the phrase ‘follow your passion’ was showing up in print three times more often than in the seventies and eighties.”

The decades since the publication of Bolles book What Color is Your Parachute?

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