The short albums that punctuate these chapters highlight a set of attributes that leaders (both admirable and reprehensible) have demonstrated over the centuries: the capacity for deep attention, a sense of timing and the knowledge of when to delay decisions, an ability to persuade – occasionally to con – others, the exercise of superior judgment, the ability to weave effective personal and organizational stories, and a recognition, achieved through introspection and reflection, of when to let go.
Elizabeth D. Smart, from her introduction in her book Leadeship: Essential Writings by our Greatest Thinkers (a Norton Anthology).
Take a good look at that paragraph above. Look at the words in bold (the author did the bolding; not me): deep attention; delay; persuade; con; stories; let go. Attributes that leaders have to develop, and use.
I learned of this book in the New Yorker article by Joshua Rothman, Shut Up and Sit Down: Why the leadership industry rules. (Read my blog post about this article here). I ordered the book, and when it arrived I immediately read the introduction: “Introduction: A Crisis in Leadership.” And here is how she begins the book:’
Call it a crisis of leadership
— Proposition Joe, The Wire, season 3, episode 10.
Then she launches into “The Case of Stringer Bell,” a key player in The Wire.
Confession time: I watched every minute of every episode of The Wire. Some critics call it the best show that has ever appeared on television. No argument from me against that assessment. The Wire is a brilliant masterpiece. And for a book on leadership – a big book on leadership – to begin with Proposition Joe, Stringer Bell, and The Wire, well… she has my attention.
Elizabeth A. Smart is no lightweight writer and thinker. She is a Professor of English at West Point, teaches about leadership alongside Generals, and basically argues that leaders need to reflect on and learn from lessons gleaned from great literature (and, apparently, great television shows).
This book was not available in the Kindle App format, so I bought a physical copy. It’s an anthology, with many, many readings divided into useful leadership issue sections. I have it on my desk, and intend to read one reading a day until I finish. It will take me a while.
My suggestion: click over to the Amazon page for the book, and peruse the table of contents in their “look inside” feature. Then, buy the book. Then, read the introduction. Then, watch The Wire. Then, read the book slowly, as I intend to do.
She is right, of course. There is a crisis of leadership. Maybe this book will help us grasp just why this crisis is so real and so deep, and why it is so important to seek solutions to this crisis. Maybe with enough deep attention and deep thought and deep work, we can develop deeper, better leaders.