The New Art of the Leader - A Book Review

The New Art of the Leader by;
William A. Cohen (Major General, USAFR, Ret).
Viva books Pvt. Ltd. First edition: 2003.Reprinted 2008.
Pages: 303; Price: Rs 395

Leadership is a winning combination of personal traits and the ability to think and act as a leader, a person who directs the activities of others for the good of all. While there are people who seem to be naturally endowed with more leadership abilities than others, I always like to believe that people can learn to become leaders by concentrating on improving particular leadership skills. A good leader is one who can take full advantage of the available resources and accomplish whatever given roles may be, molding his /her style and ability as per the demands of the situation. Some great leaders become so by being great followers and some are perceived great leaders because they have great followers.

When the need for good leaders for every country has become a cause of concern, the reason for the dearth or scarcity of leaders and which research proves is definitely not because of mother nature, has made the author look and explore into the factors as to how to be a leader. The new art of the leader , a management classic–widely praised by CEOs and people in military brings out military leadership as a winning model for effective leadership in business. William Cohen, a prolific author of business books has a wealth of leadership experience both as a military officer and a corporate executive. The book is around 300 pages with fifteen chapters. Every Chapter ends with a summary or highlights of the key points brought out through examples in the chapter. The methodology that the author has adopted is more of building on experiences with findings and derived learnings of few empirical works done, in between.

The book dosent talk about, theories to learn or master but shares leadership techniques that have proved effective over thousands of years. Lot of examples especially from the military keeps the reader engaged. The purpose of military examples is to relate to the worst case scenario that represents a severe and challenging situation with high degree of risk and uncertainty. The author starts with the power of leadership. Realizing, the amazing fact that people become successful only with the help of others, the author quotes through examples how to obtain this help through the practice of leadership.

An interesting point the author puts forward is why you don’t need to be a manager to be a leader. He presents his point with an example of a young engineer who becomes a director at the mere age of thirty by taking charge of a saving bond drive that no one was willing to take in his company and where he generated amazing motivation. As he rightly points out that you have to put the wood on the fire before the fire will give you heat Similarly in order to be promoted or hold a good managerial position one has to first demonstrate being a leader.

The book strongly puts forth the point that leaders are made, not born. Learning and developing what abilities you are born with is far more important than what abilities you are born with. It also shares the finding of the combat leader research project for business leadership covering more than 200 successful admiral and generals which translates into the eight universal laws of leadership or combat model which makes a lot of sense in the current scenario.

The author also discusses in the next few chapters the ways to attract followership. The good part is that is doesn’t simply gives some straightaway directions or tricks but talks from the perspective of followers or people and their expectations. It also reflects the understanding of Cohen of the general mindset or psychology of people. Each of the action steps that he comes out with in the end, like make others feel important, take time to see and be seen and others have been well related with the examples or experiences from the real world adding weight to them.

The author distinguishes between the two kinds of leading that is accidental influence and conscious leadership role. The four direct influence tactics along with the rationale as to when and how to use them have been explained. However reading the indirect influence tactics which have not been talked about much was really enjoyable. Especially where the author brings out how children end up using the indirect mode of influence without our being even aware of it. These techniques are however meant for and generally used in situations when one’s authority is limited and those whom one wants to lead, will resist direct influence. This sound interesting as majority of the researches make us consider leadership synonymous with authority which may not always be true.

Having a military background and therefore majority of the examples picked from the same doesn’t seem surprising. However it does arise a doubt as to how much of it will make sense to the ordinary masses. Offering the most obvious and innocuous of observations at times, Cohen leaves his reader with little that is memorable.

When the mind suddenly happen to sway, the attention is drawn back with the author’s idea of building an organization like a winning football team. However though the author talks about building on the characteristics of a winning athletic team like cohesion, team work and morale, it disappoints that the majority of the instances covered again relate to the military force, and not to the playground. A little more flavor from some experiences beyond the authors own background here could have perhaps added more taste.

Leaders as coach and guide have been written and brought out in many studies and research work. However the place where the book has a positive edge is how leaders can put on the shoes of a counselor to gather relevant information, to identify reasons for poor performance or to offer advice, have been discussed in detail. This definitely dosen’t mean, compromising on the disciplinary role of a leader or being a soft boss. As a leader it’s quite essential to have an understanding as to what people want from their jobs. Exploring into this fact the author tries to build on some of the motivational theories like Maslow and Herzberg, well relating it to the present context. The author also comes out with very effective and practical seven ways of handling and overcoming a crisis situation.

Warren Bennis and Burt manus the two researchers from the University of California found out that successful leaders tend to be viewed as charismatic. Here the author raises certain questions worth giving a thought that whether being charismatic enables one to be a successful leader or there are ways to become charismatic before one becomes successful. While Cohen talks about certain ways of developing ones charisma by imbibing and demonstrating certain qualities, the inspiring and motivating examples used here of Robert Schuller and Joe Crossman enthuses the reader to take action or do something as the book comes to an end.

An extremely well written book that explains every concept and every technique by a real life example from battle or the boardroom exploring into history as well going all the way back to Winston Churchill, Eisenhower, Grant, and Napoleon, teaches exactly how to apply military leadership to modern businesses using dramatic examples from both combat and civilian organizations. The examples are perfect for the subject matter the author is trying to address and gives you real life illustrations of the principles he is talking about in action, in a way one can relate to them.

© Naqvi Farah (2008). “The New Art of the leader”. South Asian Journal of Management (SAJM). Vol. 15 No.4

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