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Do you think your life will get better in the future?
Geoff Smart had some doubts. He saw what you see—how broken government has become. He worried about his career, his family’s future, and our everyday quality of life.
Then one day, Geoff received an unexpected message that ...
Do you think your life will get better in the future?
Geoff Smart had some doubts. He saw what you see—how broken government has become. He worried about his career, his family’s future, and our everyday quality of life.
Then one day, Geoff received an unexpected message that changed how he saw the problem.
Geoff was asked to help. His journey took him behind the scenes to work with other private sector leaders who had made the leap into government. What he discovered will surprise you.
Leadocracy will tell you
• Why great leaders avoid government
• How the “3 As of Leadership” can help us identify, hire, and become better leaders
• How we can avoid nonleader candidates like the Turtle, Bureaucrat, Screamer, and Idealist
• How the adrenaline rush of “flow” can offer leaders from the private sector the adventure of a lifetime
Thomas Paine’s Common Sense painted a vision that inspired a generation and changed the course of human history. The movement of our time is leadocracy—government by society’s greatest leaders. Leaders like you.
Laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened ... institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. —Thomas Jefferson
On a cold day in December of 2010, I received the following email from a client:
As you might be aware, I am on the governor-elect's transition team. Various lawyers and professionals are donating hundreds of hours. Would your firm be prepared to interview two to three of the top candidates for various cabinet positions? We would need this done in the next couple of weeks, as they are making the announcements by year-end. Roxane White, chief of staff, would like to call you.
Thanks in advance. The People of Colorado appreciate your support.
My initial reaction was, "No way!"
Various thoughts crossed my mind. Help the government? Government is hopeless and broken. What's the point? We're on a path to inevitable doom. Eventually, if it gets bad enough, I'll have to move my family to Australia or somewhere.
Any help I offer to the new governor would be pointless. All of his leadership hiring decisions will be politically motivated anyway.
The next couple of weeks? It's December 13! I was planning on coasting into the New Year and eating myself into a pleasant holiday stupor, maybe doing some shopping with the family. Bad timing. Too bad, so sad.
I'm going to say no.
That's what I thought. I started writing back with my regrets. "I'm sorry, but—"
My fingers froze on the keyboard.
A thought had popped into my head. Blair is somebody for whom I have the utmost respect. He radiates success—kind, polite, and never too busy to forget to put a tri-fold pocket square in his blazer. He's smart, has delivered impressive results as a global business leader, has a great family, and so on. If he is helping, maybe the situation isn't hopeless, I thought. Besides, Time magazine had called the new governor, John Hickenlooper, one of the "Five Best Big-City Mayors" in his previous job as mayor of Denver, and he had been a business leader and entrepreneur before that. I realized that I wouldn't mind meeting him. In fact, it was a rare opportunity to meet a fellow businessperson who had gone into public service. I was curious what it was like. And I was interested in meeting our new governor, to see what he was all about. I had voted for him, after all.
I deleted the words I had written, and wrote this instead:
I voted for Hickenlooper, and am happy to use my firm's expertise to help him pick a great cabinet. His success as our governor will be largely determined by the quality of the team he selects. Privileged to serve.
The work I was about to do for the governor ended up being the most exciting, meaningful, and fun work I did all year. And I can point to it as the moment that put me on the path to a very different mind-set about government and how to improve it.
A Journey Begins
Four days after I sent the reply, I found myself at a small round conference table with John Hickenlooper, the newly elected governor of my home state of Colorado, and his chief of staff, Roxane White. Our task was to discuss whom to hire for key cabinet roles. The governor was to take office in three weeks.
In person, Governor Hickenlooper looked like the brew pub owner that he once was—energetic, friendly, and genuine. A mop of semi-combed hair flopped around cheerfully as he spoke. But I noticed an intensity of purpose behind his eyes, which let me know that we had important business to attend to today. And Roxane White—I was not sure what to expect from this former not-for-profit CEO and social-services director. Was she going to be a bleeding heart? I had heard that she was tough as nails. Was she going to be that in a good way, or a pain to work with? What I found was a woman who matched the governor on energy, but managed to steer hers, and his, into lanes of highly productive decision making. Instantly, I could see why they made a great pair in their previous jobs as mayor of Denver and mayoral chief of staff.
Would this be a formal and stilted conversation? I had wondered how this governor would respond to my business-oriented approach to leadership selection. I was expecting this to be a waste of his time and mine. Any moment, I would hear the words or see the actions that would confirm my assumption that all government was dysfunctional beyond any hope of repair. But I was in for a surprise.
While the mood was serious, it was also refreshingly upbeat and practical. Governor Hickenlooper was engaged and clearly determined to make the best possible leadership decisions for key roles in his cabinet. The discussion about candidates was focused, fact-based, and lively. We focused on one key role at a time. What was the mission for the role? Key outcomes to achieve? Competencies that matter in that role? What about the slate of candidates? What are their backgrounds? To what extent do we have data to suggest how strong or weak they are on our scorecard checklist areas? What remaining questions need to be addressed before the in-depth interview?
The chief of staff had a refreshing can-do attitude in the face of this daunting challenge. Once we covered a topic thoroughly, we shifted seamlessly to the next topic of importance. These people are as sharp as any of my CEO or private-equity clients. This is going really well. Oh my gosh, I admitted to myself, I am actually having fun.
The governor's leadership competence began to chip away at my negative assumptions. First, he was clearly more interested in hiring the best leader than in playing politics. He didn't make any references to political party during these discussions. Not once. Let me repeat that: We spent hours discussing key hires for cabinet roles. Not one time did the governor say the word Republican or Democrat. That was mind-blowing to me; I assumed that every elected leader cared mostly about the politics surrounding appointment decisions.
Second, he had his eye on results. What were we trying to achieve in human services, by when? How much would that cost? It was a very straightforward discussion of outcomes and strategies, not too different from thousands of conversations I have had with leaders in the private sector. Then he really surprised me and started talking about customers.
When I heard the governor refer to citizens as "customers," I almost fell out of my swivel chair. Our citizens are our customers. We are here because they put us here. How do we take their tax revenue and invest it as wisely as possible? How do we manage those investments of time and money as intelligently as possible to deliver the best results?
I was shocked. And the second thing that I felt was a sense of relief. Maybe the situation in government is not hopeless, I thought.
All was going well, but then something happened.
Flipping through some of the résumés for one cabinet position, I began to feel disheartened. The job we were discussing was a big one. It required managing a multibillion-dollar business unit, or department, in the government. Thousands of employees. Weak performance outcomes. It was a big leadership responsibility to turn this organization around. "There are a few impressive candidates in the stack, but too few," I said. "Where's the A list?" I asked with my palms open, hoping not to insult anybody. I then added, with a smile on my face to bring some levity to my question, "Do you have some secret drawer somewhere where you keep all the great résumés? You know, people who have actually managed a $3 billion P&L before, and have led thousands of employees successfully?"
The governor and his chief of staff cried out, almost in unison, "We can't get enough of the kind of leaders you are talking about. They won't come!"
The governor continued, "I would love nothing better than to hire the very best leaders we have in our state. But they have a perception that government is unsavory, so they won't come."
Before I could stop myself, I blurted out, "Isn't government unsavory?" My face got red as I realized how insulting it sounded.
The governor was not fazed by my question. "It doesn't have to be," Governor Hickenlooper replied with a small smile.
"In our administration, we're going to be all about talent and results. We are going to make government the 3 Es— more elegant, effective, and efficient. So it will be a lot less unsavory for my key leaders here than in an administration that was all about politics. In the right situation, a cabinet job like this can actually be incredibly rewarding and meaningful for a leader."
So all government roles are not unsavory. OK. Hmm. Maybe more leaders would go into government if we let them know that this is true. But right now, we clearly have an absence of great leaders.
That's why government is so messed up, I thought.
I asked, "So what if you could get all the great leaders you want? Let's say I backed a school bus up to your door right there, and it was filled with the state's greatest leaders, eager to accept positions in your administration?"
The governor quickly replied, "Well, you would have a government that performed much, much better. There is no question about that. The change would be profound."
That is when it really clicked. Yes, government is broken; everyone knows that. Our attempts to fix it have been focused on chasing what solutions—new laws, regulations, fiddling with policies, arguing about ideology. But what if the fundamental problem were not a what problem? What if the fundamental problem were a who problem?
What if the fundamental problem was simply that we did not have enough great leaders in government? Then it would make sense for us to stop chasing the what, and solve the who, I thought. That point is in the last sentence of Who, the book I coauthored. It was echoing in my head as I sat there.
Stop chasing the what. Solve the who.
I looked at the governor and his chief of staff and, choosing my words carefully as I counted out six fingers, I said, "Hiring. More. Great. Leaders. Into. Government. There is a six-word solution to the problem of how to reform government. I shrugged my shoulders to invite honest feedback. "Right?"
Five seconds of silence.
Then the governor replied, "Yes."
That December day, in that room with the governor, something told me that this solution did not apply just to our state but also could apply to all governments everywhere. Getting more great leaders into government could improve the quality of life of people around the world. OK, that might be a fundamental solution. But how to make that happen? "Someone should develop a program to get those leaders in office," I said. "You could just go get them. You could demystify government for them. You could train them. Then they do a stint. You could begin at the state level. And if it worked, the idea could spread to other states, and then to the federal and local levels, and then to other countries."
"Like Teach for America," Chief of Staff White added.
"They could do a stint for a couple of years," said the governor, "and if they want to stay in it, they could; or they could then roll off back into the private sector. It's not like they would have to spend the rest of their career in government."
Silence. Exchange of looks. We were playing a game of "who's going to step up?" The governor's expression—eyes wide open, eyebrows arched—told me what he was thinking: OK, Mr. Bright Idea Guy, I'm serving as governor. I'm already doing my part. What are you going to do to help the cause?
I knew he would need someone to get such a program up and running. Someone who was a believer in the power of great leadership. Someone who could help to bridge great leaders from the private sector into the public sector. Oh my gosh, that would take a lot of time if you do it right, I thought. I can't believe what I'm about to offer. Here, I have been skeptical about government for forty years. And now, after one enjoyable meeting with an enlightened governor, I'm going to offer to start some government reform initiative?
I didn't even wait for him to vocalize the need.
"I'll do it," I said. (Gulp.) And "it" turned into two things: (1) the book you hold in your hands, and (2) The Leaders Initiative, which is described in chapter 7.
Why Leaders Are the Solution
I'm passionate about great leaders. I have seen many times how great leaders can turn around or improve organizations. And when you have the wrong leader or leaders, no amount of policy change or strategizing makes a darn bit of difference. Governor Hickenlooper seemed like he really "got it." So did his chief of staff.
However, while I was walking back to my car after that meeting, I felt a wave of doubt sweep over me. You know that feeling when you've just committed to do something big and scary, and you're starting to wonder if it was such a great idea after all? Just because I have a passion for leadership doesn't mean that it's the solution to society's problems, I thought. You've heard the saying by the psychologist Abraham Maslow, "If the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail." Maybe I'm a leadership junkie, so the only solution to fixing government I see is leadership. And maybe all of the leadership success stories I've witnessed in the business world aren't relevant to the world of government. Maybe it's not a good solution. Maybe I'm not the guy.
In Jim Collins's landmark book Good to Great (2001), he urges leaders to focus on "First Who ... Then What." My book Who outlines a step-by-step approach to achieving the goal of successful hiring with 90 percent accuracy. But I wondered whether this fundamental solution for business applied to government.
And yet, a friend had once come to me with a very similar idea. Mark Gallogly serves on President Obama's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness and was a senior managing director with the investment firm Blackstone Group before he cofounded Centerbridge Partners. Years ago, he recommended that I read Ben Franklin's autobiography and emulate Franklin's practice of getting talented people from commerce together to discuss issues of the day from a civic perspective and engage in problem solving. Mark is incredibly smart. As I recalled his counsel, I felt encouraged that I was on the right track.
And when I considered what I'd seen leaders accomplish when the who got solved before trying to tackle the what, I felt even more confident.
I have witnessed many versions of the following story. The members of the board of directors of a company are sitting around a large, shiny, wooden boardroom table. The conversation is going down the wrong path. They are taking a what approach to trying to diagnose and to fix a troubled company. The company has been struggling for several years. The CEO is asked to step out for the last half-hour so the board could talk candidly about the dire situation. The discussion among board members goes something like this: One board member says, "We clearly have a financial problem—margins are falling and our revenue is not meeting forecast either. I have some ideas about what we can do financially to right the ship." Another says, "No, we have a product problem—we are getting beaten on quality and we aren't positioning our core products right. We need to execute a whole product overhaul." And another says, "It's actually a sales problem—we just don't have the right sales process in place." I raise my hand and say, "You are wisely pointing out many what problems that this company is facing. But the job of the board is to make one great who decision—to hire the right CEO. Based on our analysis, you have a CEO problem. My recommendation is to focus your energy on hiring the right CEO, and then let that person fix all of these other problems you have identified." The board eventually takes advice. And it works. The new CEO hires more great people. He or she articulates clear goals to the organization, puts in place a plan to improve products and processes, executes with urgency and accountability, and the financial performance improves. I have seen this pattern many times. If you fix the who problem, the what problems get better. What would stop great leaders from improving government in the same way?
I had to find out whether the principle applied in government. Because I was a newbie to government, I needed input from people with more experience. What if I could identify and interview great leaders in government to find out what their context was really like?
I was able to track down and talk to some amazing leaders. These conversations took me on an incredible journey of discovery. I'll share that journey throughout the book, but my discussions with these great leaders ultimately boiled down to three big insights: Great leaders tackle challenges head on. Great leaders are talent magnets. And great leaders deliver great results for stakeholders, sometimes against long odds. Given our current problems and level of dysfunction, we need great leaders in government now more than ever.
Excerpted from LEADOCRACY by GEOFF SMART Copyright © 2012 by Geoff Smart. Excerpted by permission of Greenleaf Book Group Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Introduction: Solving Our #1 Problem 1
Chapter 1 Who, Not What 17
Chapter 2 The 3 As of Leadership 35
Chapter 3 Our Most Valuable Untapped Resource 55
Chapter 4 Why Great Leaders Avoid Government 74
Chapter 5 What's in It for You 94
Chapter 6 Vote Smart 109
Chapter 7 The Leaders Initiative 130
Chapter 8 Living in a Leadocracy 147
Acknowledgements of Awesomeness 161
About the Author 165
Posted September 21, 2012
The government sucks. Bad. During my journalism days, I was a political junkie. My life revolved around politics. Now that I am no longer writing political pieces, I have taken huge steps back. I read CNN every night before bed and that's it. I keep my head clear of it.
But, even though I am not as immersed in it as I was before, I can see (as I am sure most everyone else can) that the government is severely broken and in dire need of repair. Author Geoff Smart presents a way to fix it in the nonfiction LEADOCRACY. He stresses it's not the "what" that is wrong, but the "who."
Now, this is not about political parties. This is not a Republican saying the Democrats need to be booted and vice versa. And thank goodness! There is only so much more of the political party bickering that I can take. This is an honest, neutral assessment of the problem and a possible solution to it.
First and foremost -- getting good leaders. And not the leaders that major in political science. Smart is talking about leaders in business. The ones that have built and maintained a successful business. Makes sense to me. After all, the government is essentially a business.
I love the way this book is presented and written. It is very straightforward and simple. Smart gets to the point and he uses examples and facts to back up his points. You do not need a political science degree to understand it. You do need to have some interest in politics, though. Otherwise, this book is really not for you.
Actually, the book might be written too simply. It might be the idea that is presented more than the way it is written that has captured my attention. If more people would read this book and take these points to heart, I think actual change would occur. I'm not just talking about voting power. I'm talking about the people who are excellent leaders who recognize that they can be part of the solution. Until those people become interested in public service, the voting public will have to contend with not-so-great leaders as their political candidates.
All in all, 4 out of 5 stars.
Posted September 19, 2012
I try to keep politics aside from my book reviews, well, at least on my blog. Not necessarily politics in general, but party affiliation, and who I plan to vote for, etc.
I was surprised to receive a book that actually just made perfect sense, and didn't swing to either side whatsoever. I wish more people could think like this and could read between the lines. It irks me so much, what is going on in this country and I can't believe the news each day, and I certainly can't believe what in the world is going on.
I quite frankly am sick of voting for the lesser of 2 evils, and would love nothing more then to have regular Americans, running for office. But, of course, who wants to do that??
I appreciated the writing in this book, mainly the fact that it wasn't swayed, and it sure wasn't a rant of any kind, it was actually rather positive. (Which is hard to be these days) But, the author gives some hope. Especially with his morals and his well laid out ideas, plans, and information. It really isn't that hard to figure out, although so many seem to have lost a few brain cells over the years, I sit here some days with my mouth hanging open trying to figure out, why??? How?? HUH??
It is easier then some think, and I only hope this book makes it in the hands of many hopefuls like the author, and myself. I would love to see more citizens running for office, I don't care how small the positions, as long as it is something! We all want to complain, and carry on, but yet nobody wants to actually get up and do something about the mess. Many of us have the brains and the ideas, and the experience, so what is holding everybody back?
If only Government, and society would read this book, and see how simple this fix really is, and actually how we can use this to our advantage, this country and many others, could be a better place!
I have to say, I am personally involved in politics, I am a mom, and a bartender, but I am pretty current, a daily listener, watcher, reader, researcher, and I have read many books about politics and how a Government should and can and never will, govern. Most of those books end up being partial to one side, and that really turns me off. Why can't we all just be happy and civil and brainstorm together?? If you agree with these thoughts, Leadocracy, is the prime choice for you!
** I received a copy of this book in return for my honest review **
Posted July 14, 2012
Geoff Smart correctly identifies the problem we face as a country, I believe: not enough great leaders in the public sector, particularly at the highest levels. Whether you agree with him that the private sector is a good training ground for leaders (just the best ones) or not, I don't think that most people would disagree that we need better people stepping up and that we as voters need to do a better job of not being swayed by one-issue candidates, by fear mongers, by people who can give a good speech but can't lead their way out of a bag. And he offers some great tools to help us do so.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 4, 2012
I Also Recommend:
This book is boring and a waste! Read Magnetizing: a different world way better.
0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.