In a number of the self-improvement blogs I follow, one book title kept appearing over and over... The 360 Degree Leader: Developing Your Influence from Anywhere in the Organization by John C. Maxwell. Curiosity got the best of me, and I decided to see what the talk was all about. Bottom line is that I found it to be one of the most practical books on leadership I've ever had the pleasure to read. And you don't have to be a CEO to apply the truths...
Section 1 - The Myths of Leading from the Middle of an Organization: #1 - The Position Myth - "I can't lead if I am not at the top."; #2 - The Destination Myth - "When I get to the top, then I'll learn to lead."; #3 - The Influence Myth - "If I were on top, then people would follow me."; #4 - The Inexperience Myth - "When I get to the top, I'll be in control."; #5 - The Freedom Myth - "When I get to the top, I'll no longer be limited."; #6 - The Potential Myth - "I can't reach my potential if I'm not the top leader."; #7 - The All-or-Nothing Myth - "If I can't get to the top, then I won't try to lead."
Section 2 - The Challenges 360-Degree Leaders Face: #1 - The Tension Challenge - The Pressure of Being Caught in the Middle; #2 - The Frustration Challenge - Following an Ineffective Leader; #3 - The Multi-Hat Challenge - One Head... Many Hats; #4 - The Ego Challenge - You're Often Hidden in the Middle; #5 - The Fulfillment Challenge - Leaders Like the Front More Than the Middle; #6 - The Vision Challenge - Championing the Vision Is More Difficult When You Didn't Create It; #7 - The Influence Challenge - Leading Others Beyond Your Position Is Not Easy
Section 3 - The Principles 360-Degree Leaders Practice to Lead Up: #1 - Lead Yourself Exceptionally Well; #2 - Lighten Your Leader's Load; #3 - Be Willing to Do What Others Won't; #4 - Do More Than Manage - Lead!; #5 - Invest in Relational Chemistry; #6 - Be Prepared Every Time You Take Your Leader's Time; #7 - Know When to Push and When to Back Off; #8 - Become a Go-To Player; #9 - Be Better Tomorrow Than You Are Today
Section 4 - The Principles 360-Degree Leaders Practice to Lead Across: #1 - Understand, Practice, and Complete the Leadership Loop; #2 - Put Completing Fellow Leaders Ahead of Competing with Them; #3 - Be a Friend; #4 - Avoid Office Politics; #5 - Expand Your Circle of Acquaintances; #6 - Let the Best Idea Win; #7 - Don't Pretend You're Perfect
Section 5 - The Principles 360-Degree Leaders Practice to Lead Down: #1 - Walk Slowly Through the Halls; See Everyone As a "10"; #3 - Develop Each Team Member as a Person; #4 - Place People in Their Strength Zones; #5 - Model the Behavior You Desire; #6 - Transfer the Vision; #7 - Reward for Results
Section 6 - The Value of 360-Degree Leaders: #1 - A Leadership Team Is More Effective Than Just One Leader; #2 - Leaders Are Needed at Every Level of the Organization; #3 - Leading Successfully at One Level Is a Qualifier for Leading at the Next Level; #4 - Good Leaders in the Middle Make Better Leaders at the Top; #5 - 360-Degree Leaders Possess Qualities Every Organization Needs
Special - Create an Environment That Unleashes 360-Degree Leaders; Notes; About the Author
As you can see above, the book is packed with a lot of information, but it's all very practical and applicable. The premise of 360-Degree leadership is that you don't become a leader when you're promoted into a position with the title. You become a leader when people start to follow you. It doesn't matter where you are in the organization, as you'll always be leading in an upward direction (to your superiors), an outward direction (to your peers), and a downward direction (to those who report to you). By using this book to understand the true meaning of leadership, you can start to hone your skills in your current environment, thereby building the bridges and relationships you'll need going forward.
I really like how this book is laid out. Section 1 destroys the common mindsets that middle managers often have towards being an official "leader" (higher than they are now). Upper management have different challenges, and there's no magic decree that makes them expert leaders when they are promoted. Section 2 takes a deeper look into the special challenges of being "in the middle" of an organization. Many things are expected from both directions (and from your peers), and it feels like you don't have the authority to lead as you'd like. But rather than just leave you floundering there, Maxwell covers how 360-Degree leadership is manifested in all directions... how to lead your boss and upper management by learning to lead yourself, how to interact with your peers to build a stronger overall team, and how to lead those who officially look to you for direction. The last direction can be hard, as you may have the title but not the respect and trust of your subordinates. If you strive to become the leader that Maxwell describes, you'll find that people willingly align themselves with you and your leadership "selling" is far easier...
In my working career, I've found that 360-Degree leaders (or whatever you want to call them) are by far the most effective leaders a company can have. People love working for them, things get done, and they're the ones that seem to handle everything with a level of grace and ease not often seen these days. I strongly recommend this book to just about anyone in an organization, as we should all be "leaders" in our own areas, even if you don't have a title that reflects that.