The Hedgehog Effect by Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries
Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries has written over 35 books on the subject of leadership and the dynamics of both individuals and teams during periods of organisational change. A clinical professor of leadership development, he has been rated by The Financial Times and The Economist as one of the worlds leading leadership theorists and among the world’s top 50 leading management thinkers. More than this though, he has over 20 years of hands on experience of running CEO leadership team coaching programmes entitled ‘The Challenge of Leadership: Creating Effective Leaders’ and his book draws on many personal ‘real-life’ experiences.
Don’t let his academic standing put you off. His book is full of easy to understand concepts that I found really resonated with me from my days of working in medium to large corporations. If you are a CEO, senior manager or aspiring leader, this leadership book is a must read.
It provides real insights into the ‘human’ intricacies of working in teams; the dysfunctional overt and covert behaviour that can marginalise individuals and hinder team productivity. Manfred goes on to examine the benefits of leadership coaching and the positive impact this has had through his own experiences of building high performing teams.
He provides a wonderful story which for me sums up the culture that managers can create, without even realising it:
“A group of frogs was hopping contentedly through a swamp, doing whatever it is frogs do, when two of them fell into a deep hole. The other frogs gathered around to see what they could do to help their friends. When they saw how deep the hole was, they gave up. They told the two poor frogs in the hole that they should abandon hope and prepare themselves for death.
Unwilling to accept their fate, the two frogs tried with all their might to jump out of the hole. The frogs in the marsh kept calling down to them, insisting that their situation was hopeless and that the best they could do was save their energy and wait patiently for death. They did not hesitate to add that the frogs would not be in this unfortunate situation if they had been more careful, and listened to their elders.
But the two frogs continued jumping as high as they could. Gradually, they grew tired. Finally, one of the frogs took heed of his friends’ words. Spent and disheartened, he quietly accepted his fate, lay down at the bottom of the hole, and died as the others looked on in grief.
But the other frog was more persistent. He continued to jump with every ounce of energy he head, although his body was wracked with pain. Once again, the crowds of frogs, hanging over the hole, yelled at him to stop this nonsense, accept his fate, and just die. Undaunted, the weary frog jumped harder and harder and – wonder of wonders – finally leapt so high that he got out of the hole. Amazed, the other frogs celebrated his miraculous return to freedom and then, gathering around him asked, “Why did you carry on jumping when we told you to give up?”
The poor frog stared at them in astonishment. “But, my friends,” he said, “I am rather deaf. At that distance I could not read your lips. When I saw you waving and shouting, I thought you were encouraging me not to give up. That’s why I kept on trying.”
As the paradoxical tale illustrates, having your team-mates on your side, cheering you on, motivating and encouraging you, can be very powerful. This level of support may stimulate you to perform beyond expectations. Equally, where the opposite culture exists, team members are doomed to fail. Your future as leaders will rest on your ability to recognise the often invisible undercurrent of group dynamics within your organisation as these can either create a group effect that is more powerful than the sum of its parts, or quickly destroy the purpose and performance of the team. This book will enable you to explore team-based distributive leadership skills, enabling you to get the best from your people.
‘The Hedgehog Effect’ goes on to explore the need for the organisations of tomorrow to have executives who can deal with the advantages and disadvantages of teamwork and know how to be an effective member of a team themselves.
The book focuses heavily on self-awareness, culture and group dynamics. It is very well written and I found myself highlighting whole pages of ‘golden nuggets’ of practical tasks I could undertake as a coach, leader and team member with everyone I interact with. This is one of the most powerful, up-to-date leadership books I have read recently and one well work adding to the arsenal of tools to help you learn some of ‘the secrets of building high performance teams’. It will be well worth quoting from in forthcoming practical articles on coaching and team work.
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