Leadership Books Are Useless – Unless…

LEADERSHIP BOOKS are useless if you don’t have the desire, the passion, and the commitment to be a leader. There’s got to be thousands of books written about leadership, each of them promoting their “easy way” to become a better leader, offering a few easy steps to great leadership, etc. The reality is that not one of those books is going to do anyone any good unless someone truly wants to lead…one who has the passion for leadership and is willing to commit to meeting the challenges of being a leader. There are no “easy” steps to leadership…you don’t just read a book and become a leader…just like you don’t become a surgeon by reading a medical book on surgery. It’s hard work, it demands a commitment and it’s a commitment you live 24/7. You can read book reviews and shorten the reading time on the Blinkist app but the same principles follow.

Leadership is hard but if done well, is the most personally rewarding and joyful experience one can have…the joy of watching folks you lead working in harmony as a team, achieving more than they thought they ever could and being proud of what they’ve accomplished.

I truly enjoy leading and as a business leader, I’ve never moved away from the eleven leadership principles I learned as a U. S. Marine. These are principles, ideals if you will, which are the foundation of leadership and defines your character as a leader. Simply knowing these principles doesn’t make you a leader, however, if you are a committed leader and live by them; doing so will make you a better leader. Just so everyone knows I changed some of the verbiages of the USMC leadership principles and explanations to adapt them to “business”. The eleven leadership principles are:

  • Be technically and tactically proficient…be competent in your job.
  • Know yourself and seek self-improvement: Evaluate your strengths and weaknesses. Be honest with yourself and work to shore up your weaknesses.
  • Know your employees and look out for their welfare: You should know your employees and how they react to different situations. Knowing your employees’ personalities will enable you, as the leader, to decide how best to employ each employeeLibrary
  • Keep your employees informed: Informed employees perform better and, if knowledgeable of the situation, can carry on without your personal supervision. Providing information can inspire initiative.
  • Set the example: Set the standards for your employees by personal example. The employees in your company, division or department all watch your appearance, attitude, physical fitness and personal example. If your personal standards are high, then you can rightfully demand the same of your employees.
  • Ensure the task is understood, supervised and accomplished: Before you can expect your employees to perform, they need to know what is expected of them. Communicate your instructions in a clear, concise manner, and allow your employees a chance to ask questions. Check progress periodically to confirm the assigned task is properly accomplished.
  • Train your employees as a team: Train your employees with a purpose and emphasize the essential elements of teamwork and realism. Teach your unit to train, play and operate as a team. Be sure that all employees know their roles and responsibilities within the team framework.
  • Make sound and timely decisions: Rapidly estimate a situation and make a sound decision based on that estimation. There’s no room for reluctance to make a decision, revise it. Employees respect the leader who corrects mistakes immediately.
  • Develop a sense of responsibility in your employees: Show your employees you are interested in their welfare by giving them the opportunity for professional development. Assigning tasks and delegating authority promotes mutual confidence and respect between the leader and the team.
  • Employ your employees in accordance with their capabilities: Successful completion of a task depends upon how well you know your employee’s capabilities. Seek out challenging tasks for your team, but be sure your team is prepared for and has the ability to successfully complete the mission.
  • Seek responsibility and take responsibility for your actions: Actively seek out challenging assignments for your professional development. Seeking responsibilities also means that you take the responsibility for your actions. You are responsible for all your team does or fails to do. Stick by your convictions and be willing to accept justified and constructive criticism.

There’s nothing in these principles that’s rocket science or laying new ground in leadership development but they do codify, simply and very clearly, what the responsibilities of a leader are. You can’t read a book or simply follow the leadership principles and think, presto, you’re going to become a leader…it doesn’t work that way. It takes hard work, it takes commitment and it takes a passion to want to be a leader. Only then will the books or the leadership principles help you.


Joe Anderson
Joe Anderson
JOE is a partner at Anderson Performance Partners LLC , a certified woman/veteran-owned business, working with organizations to facilitate problem solving through workforce energy and innovation. He is a retired Marine Officer and a seasoned senior business executive with more than 30 years leadership experience as a senior business executive in several Fortune 500 companies and as a business owner.

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  1. Hello Joe,

    Thanks for sharing your insights.

    Business executives act as if they can make leaders out of the employees that they select to be leaders. However, executives’ beliefs are irrelevant.

    I suspect that we all have one or more leadership traits but that is not enough to make us leaders. 

    Leadership is a lifestyle that few of us choose and even fewer of us can live.

    Leaders must: 

    – Give their word. 

    – Keep their word. 

    – Live their words. 

    – No excuses.

    80% of employees self-report that they are not engaged.
    80% of managers are ill suited to effectively manage people.
    The two 80 percents are closely related.

    Successful employees have all three of the following success predictors while unsuccessful employee lack one or two and usually it is Job Talent that they lack.
    1. Competence
    2. Cultural Fit
    3. Job Talent 

    Employers do a… 

    A. GREAT job of hiring competent employees, about 95%
    B. good job of hiring competent employees who fit the culture, about 70%
    C. POOR job of hiring competent employees who fit the culture and who have a talent for the job, about 20%

  2. As a retired Naval Officer, I can tell you that Joe did a good job converting the eleven leadership principles into civilian lingo. And, as leadership goes, these are as good as any set of principles.

    However, leadership is not easy and there is NO one leadership book or training program that could provide such an answer. Most books or training programs tend to teach leadership as though it occurs in a vacuum by itself. It does not. In real life, leadership skills exist within the context of many other skills, such as management skills, executive skills, technical skills, financial skills, business strategy skills, functional (Sales, Marketing, Manufacturing, etc.) skills, and so on.
    Unfortunately, most if not all of the leadership books and training programs do NOT intertwine all or most of these skills TOGETHER IN THE PRACTICAL REALITY OF AN EXECUTIVE’S POSITION. Such a task can be accomplished, but it takes time and sound overall BUSINESS and FINANCIAL acumen to do so – both of which are typically lacking from most HR and Talent Management personnel who should be responsible for implementing such an effort.