At first glance, the setup for Bob Burg and John David Mann’s fable, The Go-Giver Leader, seems to be only tangentially about leadership. The main protagonist, Ben, is trying to close an M&A deal: He has been charged by his company to persuade the leaders of an acquisition target — a manufacturer of high-quality chairs — to let his firm buy the company.
While Ben is not in a leadership position, the authors convincingly demonstrate that Ben’s assignment requires him to do what leaders must do if they are to be successful: convince others to take action because they want to. By not having the power over those he’s trying to convince, Ben’s situation accurately reflects the current state of leadership today: Your title doesn’t buy you respect, and a command-and-control leadership style leads to the disengagement of those you lead — and eventual failure as a leader.
When he first arrives on the scene, Ben is convinced that his success depends on “take, take, take”: taking control, taking charge of the situation, taking command.
As the book advances, Ben meets the four company executives he must convince to sell. These four executives are each portrayed as successful leaders who inspire their employees and managers. Each of these four also represents four different facets of leadership.
Allen, one of two brothers who co-founded the company, represents vision. Through his conversation with Allen, Ben learns that the challenge is not to have a vision but to keep people focused on the vision — what Allen describes as “holding the vision.” This facet of leadership is summarized as leading from the mind.
Augustine, the other brother, represents empathy, or leading from the heart. One of the key lessons Ben learns is that pull is more effective than push. Counterintuitively, the more you yield, the more power you have.
Frank, the VP of production who has been with the company since its founding, represents grounding — that is, getting the job done. The best leaders, Ben learns, are people who can actually do the work. The key attribute here is to lead from the gut.
Finally, Karen, the VP of Finance and Personnel, represents the soul of the company. Karen is very supportive of employees undergoing life-changing, personal challenges. Through Karen, Ben learns the importance of leading with your soul.
With the help of a mysterious mentor — the friend of a friend whom he meets for daily lunches in a local restaurant, Ben is able to develop his four keys to legendary leadership:
1) Hold the Vision, 2) Build Your People, 3) Do the Work and 4) Stand for Something. Ben, however, learns the fifth and decisive key to leadership — Practice Giving Leadership — on his own (with a little help from his mentor) at the turning-point moment in the book. Giving leadership is based on the philosophy that great leadership is never about the leader. You are not the “deal,” which is, in fact, the reverse of “lead.” At the climax, Ben discovers that, indeed, “the best way to increase your influence is to give it away.” Burg and Mann, authors of the best-seller The Go-Giver Leader, have written a compelling fable that succeeds as both a thought-provoking learning tool and, rather surprisingly, as a work of fiction with an unexpected plot twist at the end
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