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GREAT IDEAS: Scaling Leadership by Robert Anderson and William Adams {Interview}

Lessons from the book, and our interview with Robert Anderson

Scaling Leadership is a fascinating study looking at the written comments of the global database of 150,000 leaders who participated in a leadership assessment tool (Leadership Circle Profile).

Co-author Robert Anderson said the deep dive revealed that less effective leaders have plenty of strengths; they just cancel them out with their liabilities.

Creative leadership way outperforms reactive leadership.

Running your strengths through a reactive structure has downside consequences. Being good with people is a strength, but if you’re defined by that, if that is what makes you valuable and powerful, you will give up too much power in the service of being liked and accepted.   

Driving for results may be a strength but also a liability. Reactive leaders who have always defined themselves by getting results will take over the meeting, not listen, and micromanage.

Reactive leaders have 6.5 times the liabilities of creative (top) leaders. Top liabilities include inappropriate interaction style, not listening well, micromanaging, being impulsive and impatient. 
If you compare the top 10 liabilities with the top 10 strengths of reactive leaders, they’re almost 1:1. So they’re literally taking their strengths, and cancelling them out with their liabilities.

Creative leaders have almost nil liabilities. If they have them, they are overworked, and workaholic. The strengths to liabilities ratio is about 4.5 to1.  Reactive leaders’ strengths to liabilities ratio is 0.9 to 1.

Six out of the top 10 most commented upon strengths for creative leaders are to do with people:  good interpersonal capabilities, positive attitude, personable/approachable, listens well, develops people, empowers people.

Strengths for high reactive leaders are much more technical but they are non-differentiating strengths, such as creative brilliance. When you run your leadership through your own brilliance, you’re not getting a multiple on that.

Make yourself a project. The starting place for scaling leadership is to learn out loud. Those who pull off significant transformation efforts do so transparently, honestly, vulnerably. They say “Help me, here’s what I’m working on.”
Leaders bring the weather. The way a leader shows up and deploys his or her self in any situation in large part will determine what happens in that moment.

If you deploy yourself reactivity, you are more authored by others than by yourself. So expectations of people around you and in your past are driving you in ways you cannot see.

Reactive leaders depend on outside validation for their sense of self. They try to make progress but they do so in a play-not-to lose way, which has limitations.

Creative leaders focus on what they stand for, their deeper sense of purpose. It’s visionary, strategic, self-authoring.

Both reactive and creative leaders score high on passion and drive. But reactive leaders are more ambitious in service of self, versus passion for the organisation and the accomplishment of others.

Genius level people at the top of organisations can make significant contribution because of their brilliance, but it doesn’t scale. They’re the impediment to scale because they’re running complexity through their personal brilliance.

The best leaders develop the capacity and capability through the whole organisation.

Warning signs that you might be a reactive leader: falling short on growth objectives, revenue caps at the same level for years, engagement and culture scores are low, feeling overworked, high levels of caution and quietness in meetings.

Bob’s GREAT EIGHT, eight getting to know you questions we ask all our authors.

Recommended book: Scale: The Universal Laws of Life and Death in Organisms, Cities and Companies by Geoffrey West.

 If you could co-author a book with anyone, who would that be, and what’s the title?  Jude Currivan, author of The Cosmic Hologram. Our book: The Physics of Leadership.  

Best piece of advice you could share: Love more than you fear. Do what you care about, come what may. If I’ve done anything well it’s build a life right at the centre of my passion.

What’s been your lowest moment, and how did you recover? I went through a mid-life crisis, and that was hard, but a metamorphosis. Also, my arrogance came to a head with my business partner and co author Bill Adams. I was blaming him for arrogance, but it was me who was arrogant.   

How do you relax? I love to read. A great Sunday afternoon would be some great music and a good book.

What's a fun fact about you that's not widely known? My brother and I travelled around the world in 1981.  We were in Hong Kong and went for a day-visit by ferry to a nearby island.  Unfortunately, that afternoon we missed the last ferry back to Hong Kong (on an island with no hotels and no restaurants).  Without being able to speak the language, we jumped on a fishing boat for our return.  We did not end up in Hong Kong.  We ended up, illegally in communist China at night.  Luckily, we were able to jump onto another fishing boat for Hong Kong before being detected.  We made it back for a late dinner appointment no worse for  wear.

What the secret of success? When you’re on purpose all the doors open.

What’s your prediction for 2025? We have to get way down the road on Climate Change, that must involve a collective shift of will. That’s fundamentally a leadership challenge.

There is an opportunity for your executive team to experience one of the world's most  successful and admired creative leaders up close, when Indra Nooyi, Amazon board member and former CEO and Chair of PepsiCo, speaks at our red carpet dinner event in both Melbourne and Sydney in June 2019. Highly recommended for CEOs, Managing Directors, Non-Executive Directors and executive leaders. Limited seating. For information and to secure tickets click here. 

Members receive discounts to events hosted by The Growth Faculty. To become a member and get access to our popular online business book club, with interviews with international business authors and highlights from past speaker events, click here.