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Book review: No Bullsh*t Leadership

Why The World Needs More Everyday Leaders And Why That Leader Is You

When Sir Clive Woodward says that the book you’re about to review includes 'A brilliant set of leadership tools that will help you succeed whatever your goal', you have a sneaky feeling that it will probably be worth reading.

So, you may not be too surprised to hear that I found Chris Hirst’s 'No Bullsh*t Leadership' enjoyable and informative. If the number of quotes you squirrel away for future use, or the number of pages with their corners turned down are indications of how good you have found a book, you would quickly see that I found Hirst’s book full of useful tips, quotes and frameworks.

His premise is that 'leadership is not a theoretical, academic subject', and his tone, style and advice is in keeping with the title of the book. His emphasis is on 'getting stuff done', arguing that while strategy is important nothing will change, and as a leader you won’t be leading your team anywhere unless you make a decision and make things happen.

He sums it up in what he calls “Leadership Impact (including a bit of maths)” – and yes, he does include the words in brackets.

'Leadership Impact = (objectives + strategy + team + values + motivation) x (action)'.

The point of the equation is that however high one number is (the sum of objectives, etc.), if multiplied by 0 the answer is always going to be 0!

Scoring highly for non-bullshit was his reference to the Eisenhower Matrix (a reminder of the idea for me)…

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…and an introduction to another American politician’s leadership principle; Colin Powell’s 40/70 rule:

'Don’t take action if you have only enough information to give you a less than 40 per cent chance of being right, bit if you have waited until you’re more than 70 per cent certain then you have waited too long'.

But perhaps the most interesting idea he introduced me to was in regard to leading change and the journey to your destination, and how your first actions might not be directed at that specific point. Hirst notes that change is usually portrayed as a linear process, with a start, middle and end, but rarely is the path that smooth.

He also points out that often the starting point – business as usual – is well established and likens it to a stake driven into the ground.

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He introduces us to his cone theory and says that the first job is to free yourself from the stake – 'everybody around you is standing, arms folded, waiting to see what you can do, wondering if you will fail like previous new leaders have'.

The analogy works in that you - the new leader - need to make things happen, first in one direction then maybe another, and even a third until you and your team can break free of the stake. He says, 'what matters (at this point) isn’t some lofty goal', it is getting free. The final goal is probably still a long way off and what you need now are energy and belief.

The book also includes sections on culture, being followed, energy and resilience and leading yourself, each with a useful even less bullsh*t” chapter summary section.

It ends with a selection of further reading but as Sir Clive says in his introduction, this is 'an honest account of the difficulties, failures and tough choices that are necessarily part of being a leader' and so seems a good place to start your leadership reading.


By Giles Lury, Executive Chairman at The Value Engineers

You can purchase Chris Hirst's ‘No Bullsh*t Leadership: Why The World Needs More Everyday Leaders And Why That Leader Is You’ on Amazon here.

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