Leadership Library Review — Scaling Leadership: Building Organizational Capability and Capacity to Create Outcomes that Matter Most

March 2019

Scaling Leadership: Building Organizational Capability and Capacity to Create Outcomes that Matter Most

by Robert J. Anderson and William A. Adams (Wiley, 2019)

What are the big take-aways?

Anderson (creator of the Leadership Circle Profile™ or LCP) and Adams argue that transformational organizational growth – the ability to be agile, thrive and continually reinvent – in any industry these days requires transforming ourselves by scaling our leadership.  “Leadership,” they write, “is scaling the capacity and capability of others and the organization to create outcomes that matter most” (p. 23).  The authors posit that a majority of leaders are in over their heads, limited by a developmental mismatch between the leaders’ individual capacities for complexity and the complexity of their job roles.  In an increasingly disruptive, chaotic and VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) world, Anderson and Adams declare “[i]t is a business imperative today that we transcend our current level of leadership” (p. 8; authors’ emphasis).  But how?

Why do I like it?

I like that the book so forcefully and yet compassionately takes on the ambitious task of describing exactly how Anderson and Adams recommend we transcend our current level of leadership.  (In addition to the the persuasive data, there is a meaty chapter devoted to “Practices that Transform Leadership.”)  Also, I share the authors’ overall approach to comprehending the self-development required for effective leadership as a spiritual journey – a “spiritual boot camp,” or “crucible.”  Based on their research into their extensive database of senior leaders providing 360-degree written feedback to other senior leaders, Anderson and Adams uncover six necessary “conditions” for scaling leadership.  They are: Creative Leadership (versus Reactive, in the LCP); Deep Relationship; Radically Human (a type of learning-oriented vulnerability represented in the Leadership Circle Profile by the competencies of Self-Awareness and Authenticity); Systems Awareness; Purposeful Achievement; and Generative Tension.

I imagine that most of the authors’ information regarding the six conditions – at least to those of us who study leadership – is unsurprising.  What intrigued me was what surprised them!  Anderson and Adams expected more of a focus on Achieving Results (an LCP competency), but when they looked at the written data, the results were “skewed toward relationship, suggesting that effective leadership is about leading people.  When you combine these people strengths with the other High-Creative endorsed strengths of passion, vision, authenticity, and a calm approachable presence, you have a recipe for creating the conditions for scaling leadership” (p. 45; authors’ emphases).

In what situations would this be useful?

For anyone who has read Mastering Leadership and/or engaged in the LCP 360 process, Scaling Leadership takes the model to a provocative, inspiring, higher level with its stunning meta-analysis.  That said, you don’t need to be familiar with these other resources in order to use the powerful information in this book.

Perhaps Scaling Leadership would be especially useful and encouraging to women leaders.  As a leadership development professional who coaches a lot of women leaders, I was gratified that Anderson and Adams highlighted the fact that despite being proportionally fewer, the women in their study were rated as more effective (by 15 to 20 percentile points more Creative and less Reactive) than the men (p. 45).  After another way of slicing their data, the authors concluded, “women are more effective because they lead more relationally. Doing so requires a high degree of self-awareness and authenticity” (p. 46; authors’ emphasis).  Notably, these findings bolster Zenger & Folkman’s landmark research summarized in this Business Insider article, “Why Women Leaders Are More Effective Leaders Than Men.”  I agree with Anderson and Adams that the primary reason more women aren’t in more senior roles “is because of systemic bias created and maintained by a male-dominated power structure” (48).

What other resources might “pair” well with it?

For more about adult development theory (also known as vertical development, ego development or consciousness development) and the “developmental gap” as described in Scaling Leadership, see this white paper by Bob Anderson.  To go directly to Robert Kegan’s work, my favorite book of his is Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization (Harvard, 2009) which he co-authored with Lisa Laskow Lahey.  My current go-to leadership book on what a developmentally conscious organization looks like and runs like in practical terms – especially in the nonprofit sector – is Simple Habits for Complex Times: Powerful Practices for Leaders by Jennifer Garvey Berger and Keith Johnstone.

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