Virtually all CEOs say the development of their companies’ middle managers is a critical success factor, but research indicates that only 28 percent of companies have a program in place that addresses their needs. To turn the tide, organizations need to support and develop middle managers so they can learn to become a new breed of leader–a change leader who knows how to connect, exercise influence, foster trust, and build commitment to a common purpose among far-flung work teams.
Next Generation Leaders: Getting Tomorrow’s Leaders Ready Today
Reviewed by Mihir Shah
The US Review of Books
“‘Organizations that develop leaders who can deal with and lead change will prosper.’
Coming from one leader to future leaders, O’Neill’s Next Generation Leaders is surprisingly simple to connect with. The material and premise of this book is, in the author’s words, “simple yet profound,” but not a groundbreaking revelation. Change, O’Neill states, is essential for an organization to prosper. Keeping this theme in mind, the reading and content is clearly comprehensible and downright entertaining. This is a book that belongs on the shelf of an aspiring or established leader in any industry.
Few self-help or educational books provide such level of relatability. From the opening page, the author alludes to classic texts like Machiavelli’s The Prince to drive home the idea that change, though filled with perils and uncertainty, is necessary. More importantly, O’Neill rarely meanders with filler text and topic jumps. On the contrary, he is laser focused on the target or targets he believes are central to organizational success (e.g., middle managers).
Aside from stripping away the dense concepts and getting straight to the meat of the content, O’Neill lets his audience catch their breath and synthesize his advice by breaking down subjects into subtopics that generally are no more than a couple pages. Engaging subtopic headlines like “WELCOME TO CHANGE ON STEROIDS,” and “DOING MORE WITH LESS,” provide a clear-cut, but entertaining backdrop to ideas and concepts that can sometimes be tedious and repetitive.
Perhaps the most refreshing and novel aspect of Next Generation Leaders is the author’s seemingly astronomical research efforts. Despite being accomplished and successful in his own right, he integrates the experiences, advice, and anecdotes from one prolific individual after another, until he leaves zero doubt in his readers’ mind that this is the ideal leadership model for future leaders. From John Kotter, professor emeritus at Harvard Business School to three-time Pulitzer recipient and author of The World Is Flat, Tom Friedman, the audience is receiving insight from the best in their respective professions.
A foundational concept that O’Neill emphasizes for successful organizational leadership is the need to leverage relationships and form alliances. To this effect, he cites Elizabethan poet, John Donne, and his famous line from, “For Whom the Bell Tolls:”
No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent.
A part of the main.
O’Neill is adamant on showing readers his point rather than simply telling them and hoping that it clicks in their minds. He works the same magic with integral subjects for long-lasting change, grouped into an acronym called COACH: “Communicating, Overseeing team development, Aligning business constructs, CREATING the next generation of leaders, and Having a higher purpose.” For each, he explains who the potential targets are (e.g., stakeholders), and devises a chart-based, step-by-step program that aids in visualizing his teachings.
Essential to his belief is great teamwork. Any business-minded book that can incorporate successful team sports experiences, John Wooden stories, and iconic moments like Apollo 13 to show the power of working together, observing, and adapting to one’s circumstances, should be applauded, if for nothing else, for its innovation and creativity. Interestingly, even the complex concepts like constructs are well developed and explained such that a layman with no background in the topic would understand O’Neill’s point.
Another of the multitude of interesting topics is O’Neill’s theory on establishing a culture of ownership, beginning with creating an engaged and empowered team. Instead of the traditional “ask what you can do for your…,” O’Neill is intent on identifying and aligning the “employer’s business opportunity” with employee interests. While this concept is hardly novel and seems straightforward, it is undoubtedly an issue in today’s model of leadership, where many organizations hire for reasons other than fit.
For those who are serious about becoming or hiring strong leaders, Next Generation Leaders is all encompassing. In addition to memorable anecdotes and charts and theories, O’Neill explicitly outlines the dispositions and characteristics a good leader must have, from forward-looking to fundamentally sound mental/emotional health, and trustworthy.
Ultimately, Next Generation Leaders seeks to empower leaders in an ever-evolving workplace by establishing trust, ownership, accountability, and keeping employees engaged. With uncanny simplicity, an engaging writing style, dynamic supporting examples, and a deep dive into components of organizational leadership, valuable information and education drips from every page. All individuals, all learning styles—visual, conceptual, anecdotal, etc.—and all organizations as a whole are highly recommended to make this book required reading in their workforce.”