Garvey Berger, J. (2019) Unlocking Leadership Mindtraps: How to thrive in complexity. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
The world of leadership is awash with ‘self-help’ how to do leadership styles of book, and generally I tend to steer clear of them as they often appear to be based on a form of ill-evidenced ‘Californian psycho-babble’ with little actual concrete grounding in leadership or organisations. However, when I saw this book online I really wanted to know more, mainly because as someone who embeds much of their thinking in complexity theory, the title seemed interesting.
Once I had the book in front of me it became very evident very quickly that in actual fact this book does not make explicit use of complexity theory at all, but uses it in a more ‘things are quite complicated’ kind of a way, and given the difficulties of good leadership, what can we do to make the task better/easier. Stylistically it is quite a ‘light’ book, and mainly uses reflections and ideas from the author’s experiences of working with leaders. It also uses a made-up story of some characters which appears in each chapter, dramatising some of the main points which are made. I personally find this kind of storytelling rather false, and by the middle of the book tended to skate over them, though I have no doubt that this style will resonate with some readers. Thankfully, the story elements are in a different font to the main body of the text so it is easy to move on if this isn’t your bag!
The book is centred on five habits or approaches to leadership which can lead to narrowing thinking or which can trip us up by getting us to think in unhelpful ways. Each of the five areas is a chapter in its own right. The book starts with reflecting on the problems we can cause ourselves by creating simplified stories which feel safe and create secure, clear explanations – but reality is often not so simple. Similar foci are then developed which look at
For each of these areas, not only are the potential problems explored, but suggestions of how to overcome them are made.
This short book (135 pp.) is a useful reflective read which, whilst only looking at complexity tangentially, explores some of the common problems that leadership can bring with it and which can be sidestepped with some basic thought and mindfulness about the role and work of leaders. I felt it is written in a style akin to business guru texts, but has some substance and useful reflections.
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Some reflections on things I'm reading