There is no gee-whiz or wham in the book; if it were any less sexy, its jacket would be a plain brown wrapper. Instead, there are pages of research-based advice on the routine — and real — work of leadership. Lawler explains in specific terms why leaders need to devise and implement reward systems that reinforce corporate strategy, design, and core values. Then he shows how that is done, documenting how bonuses are more effective than merit pay, explaining why it is better to determine pay increases by skills acquired than by individual performance, and warning that forced distributions — rating systems requiring supervisors to divide people into “walking on water,” “swimming,” and “drowning” categories — are counterproductive, even if currently fashionable. No arm waving or exhortations are involved in the exposition: Lawler simply presents the facts about what works and what does not.
This book is a useful reminder that leadership isn’t all glory and games; there is nothing here about headline-making acquisitions or dramatic bet-the-company investments. He acknowledges that many leadership tasks are not only dull but difficult. Lawler deals with the hated task of performance appraisal, both unpleasant and almost impossible to do fairly and effectively, in the most practical manner: He reviews best practices and presents the research data about the pros and cons of each. For leaders looking for a ton of useful advice, this is the book.
It is hard to imagine how these six authors could have written books on the same subject that are so different, yet their perspectives converge on one important point: The role of leaders is to create environments in which their followers can realize their own potential. In different ways, each author reminds us that leadership is about addressing the needs of followers. That point bears repeating because, apparently, it needs to be personally rediscovered by every would-be leader.
Bruce A. Pasternack (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a senior vice president with Booz Allen Hamilton in San Francisco. He is the coauthor, with Albert J. Viscio, of The Centerless Corporation: A New Model for Transforming Your Organization for Growth and Prosperity (Simon & Schuster, 1998).
James O’Toole (email@example.com) is Research Professor in the Center for Effective Organizations at the University of Southern California and has written extensively about political philosophy, corporate culture, and leadership. He has written 13 books, including Leadership A to Z: A Guide for the Appropriately Ambitious (Jossey-Bass, 1999).