When Max De Pree was CEO of the legendary furniture maker Herman Miller (@HermanMiller) [link], he wrote a book to help others develop as leaders. Since Leadership Is An Art was published in 1989, it has sold more than 800,000 copies. And it’s still available — and selling [link]. That kind of longevity in the field of management thinking is rare.

Even today on Twitter, one can find De Pree quoted liberally. For example, just a few days ago, Jon Rothstein (‏@JonRothstein), a college basketball broadcaster, was moved to tweet this De Pree thought: “We cannot become what we need to be by remaining what we are.” At the time of my last check, Jon’s post was retweeted 19 times.

Seeing that, I recently pulled my worn copy of that seminal book off the shelf. Such an act is akin to calling on an old friend whom you have not seen for (can it be?) decades! Flipping through the book, the highlighted lines, the bookmarked pages, I was struck to see that De Pree had included a chapter I had totally forgotten. There it was, on page 113: “What’s Next?” And here is how he opens the chapter:

At times in business, the congruence of principles and practice — or their incongruence — comes sharply into focus. Reviewing performance is a time like that, a time to ask what we are trying to do, evaluate how we are doing, and then ask “What’s next?”

Someone who would appreciate De Pree’s sentiment is Roderick Millar (@RoddyMillar), the editorial director of the formidable Developing Leaders Quarterly. Millar’s publication comes from IEDP (@IEDP_Knowledge), an international organisation dedicated to “Monitoring World Class Executive Development” [link].

In the current issue, you will find my own thoughts on developing leaders. Titled “In Search of the ‘Next’ Leader: Nextsensing to Frame a Future State for the Firm”, you can read it online via IEDP’s world-class e-journal [link].

Learn and Lead

Perhaps this excerpt will give you incentive to read the entire article:

Stated most simply, the number one problem I see today in the business world is the inability of most managers to answer the question “What’s next?” That is, whether taken as an innovation challenge, a corporate sustainability desire, a strategic planning requirement or a basic survival need, too many leaders seem either myopic or visionless. They lack the deliberateness that comes from the confidence gained by clear thinking.

I close the IEDP article by sharing that our Nextsensing Project will be concentrating on this theme for all of 2016, with our next e-book (coming soon) and other productions now being prepared to outline the skill set that should be at the top of everyone’s leadership development agenda for the foreseeable future. As I say in the article, all the work on nextsensing so far has taught us three important lessons:

  • You cannot lead alone.
  • You cannot lead with a limited perspective.
  • You cannot lead backwards.

By the way, De Pree’s work is far from over. You might enjoy exploring the information on the “Max De Pree Centre for Leadership” (@depree_center) website [link]. In 1989, De Pree stated: “Choosing leaders is the most vital and important matter corporations and institutions face. What characteristics of a good leader will you add?”

Be looking for our own detailed answer to that question in the very near future.