Overview of the Book
Leadership: It’s not about Power, Position, or Personality
What do Oprah Winfrey, Winston Churchill, Mary Kay Ash, Jonas Salk, and Lance Armstrong have in common? Not much, if you look at their temperaments, viewpoints, and passions. Yet, each has demonstrated the unique ability to define, make and sustain progress during times of success as well as disappointment.
Oddly, though, current leadership books rarely discuss the notion of progress. Transforming Leaders into Progress Makers: Leadership for the 21st Century is a new book that makes progress the centerpiece of a fresh perspective on leadership.
Progress Makers weaves together original research, novel strategies and tactics with stories of successful leaders to provide a refreshingly original perspective on how to become a progress-making leader. The book illustrates key concepts with in-depth profiles of successful leaders including a coffee entrepreneur, a general in the U.S. Army, a newspaper editor-in-chief and an executive with a Fortune 500 company.
The book features new leadership research including findings from:
- interviews with over 50 leaders
- surveys of over 1,000 employees about how their organizations manage uncertainty
- surveys of over 200 employees about how their organizations manage errors
The book emerged from a unique collaboration between a professor and a business executive that resulted in actionable ideas grounded in sound research and tested in the rigors of organizational life. Special chapters on how leaders “select, detect, and correct organizational errors” and “enlarge the circle of engagement” illustrate the unique insights gleaned from the collaboration. Progress Makers will help executives, managers, professionals, students, and small business owners move beyond the traditional leadership skill-set to a progress-centered conviction.
Foreword (by George Reed)
Many of the contemporary contributions that attempt to address the subject of leadership
have the intellectual heft of a bumper sticker. They are often based on pithy suggestions like
“lead, follow, or get out of the way,” or “when in charge take charge.” Then there is the
“leadership secrets of…” genre that suggests that we too would be great leaders if we would
emulate the actions of some notable historical figure. At a higher level of sophistication, but
equally problematic, are overly-engineered competency-based models that list a series of traits
or skills that promise the consistent production of excellent leaders if we could just master the
list. It’s not that there is anything inherently wrong with such observations. There is something
to be said for proverbs, truisms, and rules of thumb. The problem arises when well-intentioned
academics teach them without thinking critically about them, and when practitioners try to
apply them in their practice. I’m reminded of a conversation with Dickinson College President,
William Durden who responded to a student’s question, “What leadership books do you
recommend?” with the statement, “For goodness sake, don’t read anything with the word
‘leadership’ in the title.”
When it comes to leadership the results achieved from applying formulaic approaches are often
disappointing if not downright harmful.
Leadership is a complex and dynamic social phenomenon. What works for one person doesn’t
work for the next. What works in one situation is inappropriate for another. That’s not to say
that we should remain silent about leadership. There are patterns that can surely be discerned,
studied, and applied. We should seek out these patterns, but we should also maintain a healthy
skepticism when faced with definitive statements about how to influence other people.
Most leadership scholars would agree that influence is at the heart of leadership. The most we
may be able to hope for are probability statements that generally hold true while maintaining
the possibility of exceptions. As Clampitt and DeKoch note, probability statements use terms
like “usually, sometimes, often, frequently, rarely and occasionally.” The study of leadership
may well attract those who are comfortable with uncertainty. The lack of clear and
unambiguous answers will undoubtedly frustrate some and send them running in search of the
universal laws of the natural sciences. Those who remain, who can handle paradox and
uncertainty, will find their studies most gratifying.
Phillip Clampitt and Robert DeKoch understand something about the promises and the pitfalls
of trying to decipher the truths of leadership. In Transforming Leaders into Progress Makers
they engage in some high-order patterning, yet they also avoid the trap of declaring universal
truths. They provide real-life examples to illustrate their points without falling prey to hero
worship. In this book we can see the reflection of their book Embracing Uncertainty: The
Essence of Leadership. I have often assigned that 2001 contribution as an example of a
refreshing alternative approach to traditional depictions of leadership. Progress Makers is far
more than a rehash. There is indeed new wine in this bottle. Beyond its useful treatment of
uncertainty and platforms, it touches upon one of the great questions of leadership studies by
including the notion of progress as a central theme.
Almost 20 years ago the late Joseph C. Rost, a founder of the field of leadership studies,
struggled to capture the definition of leadership. The result was the seminal book Leadership
for the Twenty-First Century. After reading hundreds of books on the subject of leadership, and
criticizing most of them for a lack of definition, Rost proposed that leadership is, “an influence
relationship among leaders and followers who intend real changes that reflect their mutual
In Rost’s definition we see the importance of change and the characterization that leadership is
more than simply raw influence. Change, however, can just as easily be for the bad as the good.
Rost’s definition makes no distinction between the leader of the criminal enterprise that works
to the detriment of society and the public servant that works for the public interest. Here’s
where Clampitt and DeKoch come in. They sagely avoid the highly doubtful proposition that an
influence relationship that results in a bad outcome is something other than leadership. Instead
they focus on progress—a hopeful term that connotes something inherently positive and
worthy, and they describe the kind of leadership that is most likely to result in progress. Once
again, with a level of candor that is rare in published works, they assert that progress is not an
inexorable linear advancement, but a messy process full of fits and starts.
I suggest that this work contains concepts and insights that advance the study and practice of
leadership. It is to be celebrated equally for its humility as well as its assertions. An example of
intellectual humility appears in the conclusion where they caution the reader that none of the
strategies and tactics in the book should be considered sacrosanct. Here there are no false
claims of certainty demonstrating that the authors practice what they preach. Instead of
punctuating their work with a declarative statement of truth they enjoin the reader to refine
and explore. Yet just as we accept the caveat and invitation we should not overlook the helpful
exploration that lies within the cover of this book. The authors are in search of a more
sustainable form of leadership, a project that could be the next great platform of leadership
George E. Reed, Ph.D.
Department of Leadership Studies
University of San Diego
1 J. Rost, Leadership for the Twenty First Century. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger, 1993, p. 102.
Are You a Progress-Making Leader?
About the Authors
||Phillip G. Clampitt (Ph.D., University of Kansas) is the Hendrickson Professor of Business at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, where he teaches in the Information Sciences program. The Wall Street Journal and MIT Sloan Management Review recently highlighted his work on "Decision Downloading” which details how companies can effectively communicate decisions to those not involved in the decision-making process. He is the author of a Sage Publications best seller, Communicating for Managerial Effectiveness 4e and co-author of Embracing Uncertainty: The Essence of Leadership. Along with being on the editorial board of numerous professional journals, his work has been published in a variety of journals including the MIT Sloan Management Review, Academy of Management Executive, Management Communication Quarterly, Journal of Business Communication, Communication World, Journal of Broadcasting, Journal of Communication Management, Ivey Business Journal, and Journal of Change Management. In addition to many guest speaking opportunities in the U.S., he has also been invited to speak internationally at The University of Pisa, The University of Aberdeen, The University of Ulster, as well as to numerous multi-national businesses and professional organizations. As a principal in his firm, Metacomm, he has consulted on
communication issues with a variety of organizations, such as PepsiCo, Manpower, Schneider National, American Medical Security, Dean Foods, The Boldt Company, Stora Enso, The U.S. Army War College, Appleton Papers, Foremost Farms, Thilmany Paper, Dental City, and Nokia.
||Robert J. DeKoch received his Bachelor of Arts Degree from Lawrence University and his Masters Degree in Business Administration from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. His career has spanned numerous manufacturing industries where he has held various management positions in operations, engineering, and research. He is currently the President and Chief Operating Officer for a major U.S. construction services firm, the Boldt Company. He is also Co-Chairman of the Board of New North, Inc., a regional economic development initiative in Northeastern Wisconsin. The initiative’s mission is to harness and promote the 18-county region's resources, talents and creativity for the purposes of sustaining and growing the regional economy. Throughout his career, Mr. DeKoch has focused on developing work environments for high involvement and continuous learning. He has instituted progressive communication processes in the workplace to promote understanding, focus and alignment. He strives to build organizational relationships that foster innovative thinking, recognition of achievement, and genuine teamwork. He co-authored the book Embracing Uncertainty: The Essence of Leadership and leadership articles in various journals.
||Transforming Leaders into Progress Makers is an engaging and practical study of the key elements of leadership and what one must do to move an organization through change and to a more successful place. By way of excellent examples, reinforced by the real life experiences of the authors, one will be exposed to what it takes to lead and move an organization to a higher level of performance. The book is written in a way that makes it hard to put down and holds one’s interests. This should be required reading for anyone who is in a leadership position and searching for a comprehensive source and guide for success in the world of business or life in general.
President and CEO of
Sappi Fine Papers North America
||Transforming Leaders into Progress Makers: Leadership for the 21st Century will quickly become required reading for all who aspire to organizational leadership. Phil Clampitt and Robert DeKoch have crafted an insightful and practical approach to leadership development. Packed with organizational examples from their extensive business experiences, the book draws from a broad array of literature in management, science, arts and technology to explore change, innovation and other strategic leadership issues. The book is hard to put down.
Dr. Angela Brenton, Dean of the College of Professional Studies at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock
||This work contains concepts and insights that advance the study and practice of leadership. It is to be celebrated equally for its humility as well as its assertions. Here there are no false claims of certainty, demonstrating that the authors practice what they preach. Instead of punctuating their work with a declarative statement of truth, they enjoin the reader to refine and explore. Yet just as we accept the caveat and invitation we should not overlook the helpful exploration that lies within this book. The authors are in search of a more sustainable form of leadership, a project that could be the next great platform of leadership theory.
Dr. George Reed, Professor of School of Leadership and Education Science at University of San Diego
||In Transforming Leaders into Progress Makers, Clampitt and DeKoch offer leaders insightful analyses of the key challenges associated with achieving tangible, sustainable progress in large, complex and often decentralized organizations. I found the chapters dealing with the Focused Flexibility Mind-Set and Enlarging the Circle of Engagement to offer particularly useful insights that I can apply in leading my firm.
The book is filled with rich and diverse business examples that challenge the reader to re-evaluate long-held “truths” about how to move an organization ahead, in spite of inevitable roadblocks along the way.
I found Transforming Leaders into Progress Makers to offer valuable recommendations and tools for addressing the quintessential leadership challenges: knowing when to invest precious resources in improving existing systems and methods, and when to take the organization into unchartered territory that offers promise, but no guarantees. Readers are led through a series of case studies and check lists that propel them along the path to achieving significant, sustainable change within their organizations.
Jeannette Terry, President and CEO of Tercon Consulting; Director of Americas for Global Leadership Alliance
||The increasing volatility of the business and political environments require new models to lead effectively in the 21st Century. Clampitt and DeKoch go far beyond the typical tomes on leadership by providing readers with an innovative model that challenges the conventional wisdom on leadership. Transforming Leaders into Progress Makers makes a compelling argument that effective leadership in the 21st Century is not a simple personality trait but a complex process of leading an organization through different phases of development and effectiveness. Clampitt and DeKoch enhance the reader’s understanding of their model by providing compelling examples of leaders who have transformed their organizations into highly effective, successful organizations; true Progress Makers.<
Transforming Leaders into Progress Makers is one of the few books on leadership that will provide insight and enjoyment to the highly placed executive as well as the student who is preparing to lead in the 21st century.
Rick Fantini, Executive Vice President for Appleton Coated
||Phil Clampitt’s and Bob DeKoch’s Transforming Leaders into Progress Makers is an insightful examination of balance and decision making translated into tangible action. They introduce the concepts of “Calculated Boldness” along with “Focused Flexibility.” Leaders must constantly balance exploring the future possibilities for their organization with spending time on refining current, known practices. And leaders must balance the fear of the unknown for their employees with the comfort and stability of current habits. Underpinning their theory are practical tools to help leaders make the right day-to-day choices and transform themselves into true “Progress Makers.” This is a must-read for navigating these extremely uncertain times and moving your company forward.
Terri Pawer, COO of Dental City
||Transforming Leaders into Progress Makers is an enjoyable journey throughout history -- from great leaders of the past to current day executives. The stories of success (Netflix) and failure (why Sears didn't become Amazon.com) lead you to reflect not only on the current structure of your organization, but the future and what other platforms might emerge. Progress Makers has important lessons for our times.
Michael Sadoff, Investment Advisor/Co-owner - Sadoff Investment Management LLC