Guru Review: Too Many Bosses, Too Few Leaders

Matthew E. May reviews Rajeev Peshawaria's book that focuses on the "why" in leadership, rather than the "how."
May 31, 2011

For many years I worked closely with the chief learning officer and the founding dean of a well-known corporate university that focused in good measure on leadership development at a Fortune 50 company. What stuck with me most was his take on leadership—he rejected typical competency models, preferred Robert Greenleaf's "servant leader" concept, and defined the role of a leader in such a simple way that I have not only never forgotten it, but also adopted as my de facto definition. "The role of a leader," he maintained, is to create meaningful change."

To create is to bring into existence something that was not there before. Meaningful relates to action that is purposeful, that connects us to something larger, outside of ourselves, in service of others. And in that context, change is something new, different and better.

I bring this up because of the uncanny alignment between this view and the way author Rajeev Peshawaria presents his views on leadership in his new book Too Many Bosses, Too Few Leaders: The Three Essential Principles You Need to Become an Extraordinary Leader.

Perhaps I shouldn't be so surprised, as Peshawaria was also a founder of two high-profile corporate universities: Morgan Stanley University and Coca-Cola University. He is also one of the founding members of the Pine Street Group, the noted leadership development program for Goldman Sachs.

That pedigree entitles Peshawaria to his claim that the over $40 billion spent by American corporations on leadership development programs is largely wasted. He attempts to solve the conundrum of why, when people are asked, "Out of all the bosses you've had in your life, how many would you rate as truly great leaders?" the typical answer is between zero and two, even for people in the twilight of their careers.

Big idea:

You can't script leadership behavior, yet that is exactly what most leadership development programs attempt to do. The best leadership comes not from some amalgam of competencies or formula of best practices, but from an innate desire to create change. Fueling that desire is a clear sense of purpose. In essence, leadership, as Peshawaria defines it, is the art of harnessing human energy toward the creation of a better future.

Key takeaways:

Great leaders exert massive amounts of energy, according to Peshawaria, and his three key principles thus center on energy.

  • Energize yourself by clearly defining your purpose and values.
  • Energize a well-crafted team of co-leaders by allowing their intrinsic motivations to flourish. Do this by meeting their core desires regarding their role in the company; work environment; and career development. (Peshawaria uses the acronym RED.)
  • Energize the entire enterprise by shaping and maximizing the power of the three most important levers of sustainable business growth: the Brains (clear vision and strategy); Bones (well-constructed organizational structure); and Nerves (a vibrant, positive culture). This Brains-Bones-Nerves concept is the key takeaway of the book. Just as the human body needs all three systems functioning in perfect harmony to maximize longevity and performance, a business needs its strategy, architecture and culture to maximize results. They must be managed constantly, and this is the full-time job of an enterprise leader.

Liked most:

Peshawaria has witnessed extraordinary leaders up close in action, and tells those stories well in clear language—from Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack saving his bank from collapse, to Harvey Golub and Ken Chenault reviving American Express, to Inspector General of Prisons Kiran Bedi humanizing the Tihar Jail in New Delhi, to Acumen Fund CEO Jacqueline Novogratz founding an organization to build enterprises that serve the poor.

Best for:

Anyone more interested in the "why" of leadership, as opposed to the "how" of leadership.

What people are saying:

“It’s easy to dispense advice about how leaders should direct and motivate their people. It’s much harder to have actually done these things yourself, and to be able to describe, in highly useful terms, how the best leaders harness their own energy, and energize and direct the talents of others to achieve superior performance. Rajeev Peshawaria’s simple but powerful methods, derived from many years of training and developing leadership skills in premier companies on three continents, provide an essential roadmap for managers at every organizational level.” —Steve Kerr, Managing Director of Goldman Sachs