Book Review: Smart Leaders, Smarter Teams

6 minute read
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When it comes to most enterprise social, collaboration, information management issues,  the key indicator as to whether it will be successfully integrated or not is if a company’s mindset can be changed to accept, adopt and adapt accordingly. So when it comes to executive leadership, it isn’t surprising that changing one’s mindset about how to govern can be the key to cultivating successful relationships, ideas and innovation.

A New Mindset For Enterprise Success

In a new book called Smart Leaders, Smarter Teams: How You and Your Team Get Unstuck to Get Results, Roger Schwarz likens changing mindsets to operating systems. Here at CMSWire, we often cover updates for popular operating systems, discussing the ways that they improve functionality or help users browse smarter, faster, better. When it comes to the way we lead (or don’t lead), it’s not unreasonable to expect that our strategies should be updated as well.

From the engaged employee to data-driven cultures, executive leadership has been the driver or the dead end for many companies. If there’s not support from the C-Suites, projects die, but if there’s not enough support for bottom-up innovation, people feel stifled. According to Schwarz, one of the main reasons leaders and those they lead get stuck is because everyone operates under the assumption that there’s just one leader. Schwarz writes:

"Traditionally, when people think of the leader of an organization, division, or team, they think of the person who has the greatest authority, such as the CEO, president of the division, or team leader. And almost always, they think of that person as the sole leader of that unit. They assign many leadership responsibilities to that leader the most obvious being that the leader has the right and corresponding duty to make the decisions for the team.

...This one-leader-in-the-room approach requires the one in the hot seat to be all-seeing, all-knowing, and all-doing, and to guide the whole content and process of the meeting. It’s as if the team is a boat with one person serving as designer, captain, navigator, and engineer at the same time, and the rest of the crew merely show and up row."

This reminded of an interview I read in the New York Times this weekend. Mark Pincus, founder and CEO of Zynga was asked why he got fired so often from his previous jobs. Pincus replied, “I thought of myself as C.E.O. at every company I was at. Not many companies are set up so people low in the hierarchy can challenge everything like a C.E.O.”

It also reminded me of the crap Marissa Mayer, Yahoo's new CEO, is getting. She's only one person. She can't do it all herself, nor should we expect her to change Yahoo's culture overnight. It's another example of how the One-Leader-In-The-Room approach is so pervasive. It's like the old soccer adage -- when you win, it's thanks to great teamwork; when you lose, it's the goalie's fault.

How can we effectively change our mindset to allow for more flexible and community-orientated leadership styles while not letting power run amok?


First, leaders must get rid of the unilateral mindset. That is, the mindset which seems to come naturally to most of us, but leads people to try to achieve goals by influencing others without being influenced. How do you know if you're using the unilateral mindset? Schwarz recommends asking yourself a few questions.

Learning Opportunities

  • When my team members have a view different from mine, do I think that they simply don't understand the situation and I do?
  • When my team is having difficulty getting something accomplished, do I think that I'm not contributing to the problem?
  • When I am working with my team, do I try to get them to buy into my proposed solution more than understand their proposed solutions?

Schwarz outlines the behaviors and results of those who employ unilateral mindsets, making it pretty easy to figure out if this is, indeed, the way you or someone you know works. Once identified, Schwarz makes it very clear that changing mindsets isn't as easy as just doing something differently. Instead it's about making significant changes to create sustainably better results. It's more than just changing yourself; it's about working with your team over and extended period of time so that your team's mindset changes as well.

Transparency & Curiosity: The Keys to Success?

The Mutual Learning mindset is presented as an alternative to the unilateral mindset. With mutual learning, the approach incorporates both transparency and curiosity. The idea is that together, these crucial elements can create a common pool of information and understanding between yourself and others. If you think about it, it's exactly the same method community managers employ when creating and managing online communities. Schwarz says "when you are transparent, others learn what you know, think and feel. When you are curious, you learn what others know, think, and feel." 

It makes sense then, if, as organizations, we want to learn as much about ourselves as we do our customers and online influencers, then we should engage in the same style of leadership. We know that if you march into an online community and declare yourself 'supreme ruler and knower of all things', the wisdom of the crowd will shut you down pretty quickly. But did it ever occur to us that the same thing happens all the time in our workplace? Not many of us respond well to dictatorships, but seldom do we think of our workplaces as democracies.

In each chapter, Schwarz effectively outlines the behaviors, results and organizational structures associated with the new mutual learning mindset, while addressing the challenges that may present themselves along the way. Instead of giving your boss a copy, this book will be best used by giving a copy to your whole team. Smart leaders can make for smarter teams, but smarter teams can help facilitate the learning of new leaders who may automatically default to old, tired ways. If you and your team can stop expecting for one person to do it all, it will be harder for one person to do it all.

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