The Leader Code

"Leaders are not born, they are taught; in fact leadership skills are more caught than even taught."

- The Leader Code, page 5

Imagine you have been promoted to a senior leadership position in your organization. On your first day in your new position you oversleep and arrive late to work. From then on everything that can go wrong does go wrong. You feel like you are in over your head and then someone throws you a lifeline – they offer to be your leadership mentor and share with you the ‘leader code’ they discovered in an ancient book. Do you accept the offer?

This is the opening to Dan Blakeslee’s book, The Leader Code, and he chooses to reveal his formula for effective leadership through the dialogue that ensues between Bob (the mentor) and Christopher (the protégé). The ancient book Bob refers to is the Bible and if this revelation makes you uncomfortable, you are a lot like Christopher who initially resists the idea that he can learn from the Bible even if he is not religious. As it turns out, while Blakeslee does quote several passages from the Bible early on in the book, it is more to provide some historical context about his leadership framework. Those with an open mind and a desire to learn will continue to read and will benefit from Blakeslee’s wisdom.

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

Effective Leaders Emulate Chameleons

"There is no one best leader mode. They can all be effective…and they [all] can be ineffective…"
- The Leader Code, page 58

A chameleon is “a type of lizard that can change the color of its skin to look like the colors that are around it” (Merriam-Webster online dictionary). I’ve always thought that was so cool! When you think about it, effective leaders actually are like chameleons; they adapt their methods of leading others according to the situation and the abilities of the people they are leading. In doing so, they are more effective and their teams achieve higher levels of success. Those who fail to adjust their leadership styles to the situation as well as the knowledge and skills of those they are leading, are less effective and the results suffer.

This makes intuitive sense, but exactly how does one know what adjustments to make? Fear not, The Leader Code provides you with a clear and simple way to assess the situation and determine which mode of leadership is most likely to achieve desirable results. To be an amazing leader all you need is some PEP and a little STP!

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Develop your PEP!

"There are three Greek words that are used to describe a leader in the New Testament. These three leadership styles encompass most of the situations that you will face as a leader."
- The Leader Code, pages 19-20

The foundation of the leader code is based on three words used to describe leaders in the New Testament:

  • Poimen (pronounced poy-mane’) which means pastor or shepherd;
  • Episkopos (pronounced e-pis’-kop-os) which means bishop or overseer; and,
  • Presbuteros (pronounced pres-boo’-ter-os) which means elder.

Blakeslee divides each of these leadership styles into two distinct roles for a total of six leadership modes. Each mode is defined by how it performs the following five tasks:

  1. Listening – to diagnose and solve problems
  2. Planning – both long- and short-term
  3. Delegation – directing others
  4. Recognition – feedback and rewards
  5. Mentoring – train and develop others

I loved the clarity that these five tasks brought to my understanding of a leader’s responsibilities, and the fact that they are relevant no matter where someone is in an organization or community. And while I wish that I had this frame of reference back when I held a management role in a large organization, it is equally applicable to my responsibilities as a parent of two twenty-something young men and in my current role as an external consultant. We all will find ourselves in situations where doing these five tasks will be critical to our success. In the future, I will be more conscious of which task area I am operating in and you might want to do the same.

So, now that you appreciate the importance of developing some PEP, let’s move on to the real magic – using STP!

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

High Performers use STP!

"…remember Stress, Task and People – S.T.P."
- The Leader Code, page 55

While we can improve our leadership results by being more in tune with the five tasks of a leader, the real traction comes when you add some STP. This formula is the essence of the ‘leader code’ and enables you to assess any given situation and determine which leadership mode will help you achieve optimal success.  The most effective leaders approach situations in terms of the dynamics between the level of stress + the complexity of task + the experience of the people involved. Then they adjust their leadership response accordingly.

So, it’s as simple as looking at any given situation and asking three critical questions:

  1. How stressful is the current situation (low stress, moderate stress or high stress)?
  2. Is the task that needs to be done simple and routine, complex and demanding or somewhere in between?
  3. What is the skill level of the people involved – unskilled and inexperienced, moderately skilled and experienced or highly skilled and highly experienced?

Once you know where along the continuum these three elements fall, you will know which of the six leader modes to employ.

There were a few other notable gems in The Leader Code which space limitations won’t allow me to elaborate on (check out page 64 for some more sage advice from ‘Bob’). The book also includes several reflection questions at the end of each chapter to deepen your learning and a quiz to help you identify your preferred leader modes and decipher your personal leader code.

Many business books tout the importance of tailoring your leadership style to the unique needs of your direct reports however fall short on tips for how to do it. I found the concepts of PEP and STP helped me see exactly how I could more easily shift my leadership style to suit different situations and the unique qualities and expertise of the people involved.

Do you have your own ‘leader code’? That is, do you use other strategies to help you tailor your leadership style to specific situations? Can you see yourself using STP to change how you might lead others differently tomorrow? Share your tips and viewpoints by commenting below.

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Dianne Coppola

ABOUT Dianne Coppola

I am passionate about leadership development, change management, community collaboration and…reading! I’ve been writing for the Actionable Book Club since 2014 and love to share my book insights with folks like you...
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