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.

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