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July 2011


If You Will Lead: Enduring Wisdom for 21st-Century Leaders


by Doug Moran (Agate Publishing, 2011)


What are the big take-aways?


I genuinely enjoyed this buoyant examination of the leadership traits that can be drawn from Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem “If—” and, in the interests of full disclosure, I must also admit I was rather predisposed to favor it! The author, Doug Moran, was a classmate of mine in the Georgetown Leadership Coaching Program, and we remain good friends.


Doug’s main point is that Kipling was a kind of “leadership guru” and his turn-of-the-century poem – intended as guidance and advice for young men – actually provides a timeless framework of 16 “essential leadership attributes.” Doug arranges the attributes into four categories, and provides a profile of 16 historical figures who embody each trait, in order to answer these four fundamental questions about leadership choice and self-awareness (p. xviii):


- Who am I, and what do I believe?

- How will I attract and motivate others?

- How will I earn and retain the privilege to lead?


Why did I like it?


First, I liked Doug’s clear, crisp and accessible writing style. It’s very direct and repetitious in a way that’s usefully reinforcing, not plodding. Also, Doug carefully and thoroughly breaks down the distinctions he makes among similar leadership attributes (such as the differences between “authenticity” and “integrity” in the cluster of traits discussed in “Knowing Who You Are and What You Believe”). I found Doug’s distinctions to be provocative, engaging and helpful. Despite the complex organization of the book, it is easy, fun and straightforward to read because it is also highly structured.


Another thing I appreciated about If You Will Lead is how much I learned from it. Many of the “If Sixteen” leaders whose lives Doug chose to chronicle are people I thought I knew about, and/or whose careers I had formed solid opinions about (the bulk of them are well-known military chiefs and/or heads of state). However, Doug’s biographical information about them, coupled with his unique interpretations, provided healthy challenges to my understandings.


Doug’s short “Everyday _______” vignettes from his own life about the “If Sixteen” attributes, which closed each chapter, were a lovely touch.


In what situations would this be useful?


I would be most likely to recommend this book to a friend or client who was exploring her own leadership strengths and looking for the vocabulary, and/or the examples, to give names and practical definitions to them. Also, If You Will Lead would certainly be one of my first go-to recommendations as leadership literature for a client who is a history or military buff.


I’m not sure yet – only time will tell – but I might be more likely to recommend If You Will Lead to men than women readers, as it features three times more male than female historical figures. This is because most of the “If Sixteen” lived in eras in which women did not have the same kinds of conventional opportunities as men did to make the kinds of large-scale societal impacts that are celebrated in this book. (Indeed, the four women profiled – Harriet Tubman, Mother Teresa, Louise Mulligan and Golda Meir – were all subversive mavericks. Personally, I find this quite appealing, but some readers of either sex might find it limiting or off-putting.)


What other resources might “pair” well with it?


Since If You Will Lead emphasizes self-awareness and leadership as a choice, I think it would pair well with any Daniel Goleman material on emotional intelligence or “EQ,” such as Primal Leadership (Harvard Business School Press, 2002). A workbook I would recommend to anyone who is inspired to take Doug’s message to heart, and is now looking for a self-development program, is Leadership from the Inside Out: Becoming a Leader for Life by Kevin Cashman (Berrett-Koehler, 2008).


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