What Leadership Books Don’t Say

If you venture into your local bookstore, you will find shelf upon shelf containing books written by those claiming to turn you into the next Stephen Covey, Nelson Mandela, Jack Welch, Bill Gates, or Steve Jobs.  Titles possessing declarations of excellence and behavioural change fill one’s view and it is very difficult to decide which 300 page disciplinam scriptum to purchase. 

What makes matters worse is the fact that so many of these authors don’t really know what leadership actually is – each claim to have the definition, and each differs from the other.  And as one peruses the content of these academic writings, we find management (not leadership) model after management model being shared, compounding our ever growing confusion regarding what a leader is and does.

With so many people saying so many different things, how can any who are perhaps laymen in the field or new to leadership ever begin to truly understand what it is and be assisted by these so called experts as we engage our personal leadership journeys?

A major concern:  if one cannot define what leadership is, one cannot multiply, or in other words develop, leadership in one’s self or in potential leaders of the future.

Please don’t misunderstand, I salute these men and women for the time and energy they have spent on noteworthy contributions made towards assisting those of us striving to improve ourselves.  I am very grateful to them for just how much of their effort and how many of their words have inspired me and others to higher levels of thought and action. 

However, there is something missing.  And this something is what I would like us to explore today.

Missing Item #1

One of the very first things any student of psychology learns is that behaviour displayed by an individual is the outward manifestation of something occurring within them.  What stimulates this may come in various forms or from varying sources, but the behaviour comes as a result of conscious or unconscious reactions to this stimulus.

This being understood, we suddenly see the fly in the ointment – the myriad of books that line our shelves, whether in our homes or in the bookstores, all appear to address behaviour.  They seem to say to us “If you want to be successful, substitute this behaviour with that behaviour”.  Sadly, this approach is rather ineffective.   Evidence of this is found in the mere fact that so many books are being written on the same subjects on an ongoing basis.

“True principles, understood, changes attitudes and behavior.  The study of principles will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior”. Boyd K. Packer

Or said differently by another:  “I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves.”

To address the behaviour, we must treat the cause of the behaviour.

Imagine you are on a merry-go-round.  And this merry-go-round is getting faster and faster.  Where is the safest place to be while still on it?  Where will the centrifugal forces least affect you?  Yes, in the middle or centre of the merry-go-round.  Those who are on the periphery or outside of this spinning merry-go-round eventually find themselves under such strain and pressure that they ultimately fall off.  Those who move to its centre find themselves largely unaffected. 

If we compare this merry-go-round to leadership in an ever changing and dynamic world, where the outside of the merry-go-round is comparable to behaviour displayed, we find those who constantly dabble in behaviour studies falling off because they never move to the core of the behaviours that make others successful or not.

True adoption and inculcation of behaviours can only happen if these behaviours “fit” what is happening at the core.

We here at Leadership Platform call this L.Psych™ or Leadership Psychology – addressing core issues with core principles for sustainable change and leadership development.

We need to address the “Why?” behind the behaviour, not just the behaviour itself.

Missing Item #2

When you pick up a book written by other people that addresses what a leader does to make them a success, and you attempt to adopt the suggested actions as your own, except many of the things he or she does conflicts with who you fundamentally are, what happens? 

If who we are does not match or fit what we are attempting to do, we will eventually give up and move on. 

A simple example of this principle might be if an honest person finds himself in an environment or job where he or she is pressured to lie to customers on an ongoing basis.  This honest person will eventually be so unhappy that they will either need to leave that environment and find some place that suits who they are, or they must change who they are.

So too it is with suggestions these books make.  Again, please don’t misunderstand me, these books do in fact help us to find what works but it is a process of trial and error that can take years, or even a lifetime…and a heck of a lot of reading and mistake making.

What we do must match who we are or one or the other must and will change.   

But it goes deeper than that still:  “Most people are other people.  Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.”  Oscar Wilde, De Profundis, 1905

To truly influence one must be authentic, and true authenticity comes as a result of alignment of who we are with what we say and do.  Leadership authenticity requires one to be able to understand who they really are, and how this impacts and correlates with what they say and do as leaders.  We refer to the process of discovering this as uncovering your LE’s – your Life and Leadership Essences.

It is only once these fundamentals are understood, in place, or have been addressed, that one can then begin to build authentic leadership.

Too many people forget about creating a solid foundation first, and so they are in a constant state of readdressing and rebuilding.

Missing Item #3

But what is leadership?  How do we define it?  What is the underlying, underpinning golden thread that can be found in every author’s definition?  What is the universal truth about leadership?

We have shared our definition time and again in this column, but every time I am able to share it with someone, I further appreciate its simplicity and depth. 

Whether you are a recently promoted manager of three people or a long time CEO of thousands, a rugby or cricket captain, or a principal of a school, your primary function is to move whomever/whatever you find within your sphere of influence.

Our definition, and fundamental to any organisational or individual leadership journey we are brought in to augment, is that leaders are in the business of movement.  It is that simple. 

If you keep that constantly in your mind, and consciously engage how to do so, you suddenly take a very big step upwards to becoming a very good, potentially extraordinary leader.

A final word on big books and quick fixes:  “Leadership cannot be learnt in a classroom or in a lecture, it can only be learnt by living certain values and principles, and living these values and principles does not come without a cost.”


This article was featured in the

The Workplace

Do you recognize some areas in yourself or your team that need improvement? Email Adriaan on adriaan@leadershipplatform.com for more on creating “Leadership Fit” leaders that generate successful movement (performance) inside your organisation.





Louis has been fanatically endeavoring to uncover universal leadership principles and models for longer than most of us have been alive. He is an author, leadership expert, father, grandfather, and the Co-Founder of Leadership Platform.

Call: +27 (0)12 653 3022
Email: info@leadershipplatform.com

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Leadership Platform is a specialist leadership development consultancy, focusing on creating measurable impact to the bottom line through the enhancement of leadership understanding and engagement.


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