The Leadership Book I Most Often Reach for First Isn’t Drucker’s
At this time of year, we are being inundated with top ten lists. Many lists in the business world press are lists of “must read” books that have been published in the past year. And, yes, there are great ones out there. (A future “must read” book list post, to include in your Trailblazer’s Survival Kit, is in the works.)
So, I asked myself as I began this post, “What one book do I most often reach for because it’s chock full of concepts vital to leaders aspiring to be trailblazers?” And my reply was immediate, “Outdoor Leadership by John Graham.”
Why do I often choose to first reference Graham’s book over Drucker’s, Collins’ and others? Why do I choose to reach for a book written in 1997 and published by Mountaineer Books? A book not by a leadership academic or corporate thought leader, but by a renowned mountaineer, former journalist and foreign service officer, and now international peacebuilder?
I choose it because it’s rich content is relevant and accessible to aspiring trailblazers no matter their organization or level. Also, John’s stories and lessons transcend outdoor situations. They resonate in executive suites, board rooms and even at home. They resonate wherever value-based leadership is mission critical. The situations that he describes, likely given his globe-trotting history, also transcend cultures. And, what I find most powerful are the leadership issues and definitions that he shares. Both are great fodder for rich dialogue. Lastly, the concepts he shares are easy to grasp and to apply at work — in the outdoors — or anywhere leadership issues arise.
Today, I will still reach for this book because John helps trailblazers understand that leadership — especially when you are asking people to follow you into uncharted territory — is an art. Yes, leaders need technical competency, the ability to plan and organize, and effective communication skills…And effective leaders — today’s trailblazers — need something more. As they ask their team members to risk the perceived “safety net” of the tried and true, they need to engage and connect with their team and build trust. They need to truly understand and genuinely honor what makes each team member tick. Once they do, they need to instill and stand behind a set of shared values for the journey ahead.
I believe John is spot on in the way he defines good leadership in this book:
"Good leaders sometimes tell people what to do, but leadership is not just giving directions—it’s liberating people to do what’s needed in the best possible way. Good leaders don’t depend on their position to give them authority; they depend on earning trust. They don’t mandate good performance from those they lead; they inspire it.
From all of this, here’s my definition: Leadership is the capacity to move others toward shared goals with you, with a focus and competency they would not achieve on their own.” - John Graham
To me, that says it all about how today’s trailblazers need to lead to successfully navigate tomorrow’s challenging terrain. And that’s why this book continues to stay close at hand.