How to Be Exceptional: Drive Leadership Success by Magnifying Your StrengthsLeadership has been a lifelong passion for me. I read thousands of books, papers, articles, and blogs on the topic. I’ve also written seven books, hundreds of articles and blogs, facilitated over a thousand retreats and workshops, and delivered hundreds of keynotes on personal, team, and organizational leadership.

As I wrote in the September issue of The Leader Letter, in more than three decades of watching countless leadership books come and go in this business, I can count on one hand — starting with Corporate Cultures and In Search of Excellence — the very few that marked a major turning point in development focus and approaches.

How to Be Exceptional: Drive Leadership Success by Magnifying Your Strengths is one of those books. It heralds a mega-shift in leadership training and development. In just a few months since the book’s September release other highly experienced authorities in leadership and organization development are coming to similar conclusions. Dave Crisp is just such an expert with deep experience including 14 years leading HR at Hudson Bay Company where he took the 70,000 employee retailer to “best company to work for” status.

Reviewing How to Be Exceptional in Canadian HR Reporter Dave writes once in a decade, there’s a business book worth reading and remembering … there are many excellent books that simply reiterate things we should already know. Then there are those destined to become classics of new knowledge, the way Jim Collin’s 2002 title Good to Great did …Zenger and Folkman published an excellent book the same year as Good to Great called The Extraordinary Leader  (read my review here) I have routinely recommended to audiences. Collins said, quite bluntly, he didn’t know how to teach people the six key competencies he found leaders need (he subsequently rethought that, but hasn’t necessarily hit the mark with direct advice). That same year Zenger and Folkman were laying the ‘how to’ out in their book, but many people didn’t connect the two.”

You can read Dave’s full review at Some books deserve a long life: The next Good to Great? He concludes the interview with his plans to “re-read a few times as more details click into place each time.” This is very similar to the feedback I recently received from a municipal CAO who read How to Be Exceptional: Drive Leadership Success by Magnifying Your Strengths after I presented the core concepts of its Strengths-Based Leadership Development System at the Ontario Municipal Administrator’s Association conference in September. He wrote to me “I’ve read How to Be Exceptional twice already and consider it one of the best leadership books I’ve ever read. It is truly an eye-opener.”

And in case you missed it, earlier this fall The Globe & Mail published a full length review of How to Be Exceptional that concluded with, “It’s a clear, easy-to-read book, despite the heavy focus on research, and a compelling alternative approach to our tendency to obsess over weaknesses ( Excellent? Counterintuitive tips on how to be exceptional“). As I outlined in Leadership Lessons from Evidence-Based Medicine, that heavy focus on research is exactly what’s so badly missing from the confusing world of leadership theories, models, and approaches. And most of them have no basis in any research at all. Zenger Folkman have written an easy-to-read and very practical book that’s based on evidence.

If you’d like to see an overview of the key concepts in How to Be Exceptional and hear my interview with Jack Zenger and Joe Folkman it’s archived at Strengths-Based Leadership Development webcast. Here’s part of what we discuss:

  • Key research findings from How to Be Exceptional.
  • The sixteen empirically identified key leadership competencies in five clusters that cause leaders and their team/organizations to flounder or flourish.
  • The huge performance differences between “good” and “extraordinary” leaders and the dramatic impact on his or her team/organization.
  • Why building on existing strengths is up to 3 times more effective than fixing weaknesses.
  • How developing just three existing strengths out of sixteen competencies catapults a leader’s effectiveness from the 34th to the 80th percentile!
  • When to work on weaknesses.
  • Evidence-based strength development using Companion Competencies, cross-training, and non-linear approaches.
  • Why many 360 feedback tools are developing a negative reputation — associated with accentuating weaknesses — and how to correct the problem.

You can also download and read Chapter 1: Organizations Flourish with Strong Leaders. This special introductory chapter is embedded with brief video clips of Jack Zenger and Joe Folkman explaining key concepts. Click here to access it.

You can read about my rethinking and relearning on this radical new approach to leadership development in my downloadable whitepaper at Manifesto for a Leadership Development Revolution. Earlier this month I published a second whitepaper on Leadership Competency Models: Why Many Are Failing and How to Make them Flourish.

Christmas is coming. Why not help your colleagues or loved ones have an exceptional 2013!