Author's Preface

The Leadership Crash Course was first released in 2000. In the eight years preceding that, I had researched and written two books - one on leadership, the other on large-scale change in organizations. During that time, a common theme emerged in my conversations with clients, readers and colleagues, whether they were CEOs or Chief Finance Officers of globe-straddling businesses, mid-level managers in local operations in Spain or South Africa, investment bankers on Wall Street or in London, or the administrators of sprawling government institutions the world over. Typically, the conversation would run something like this: "I've been to training courses on leadership. I've read dozens of books. I've thought about the great leaders - Alexander the Great, Churchill, Mahatma Ghandi, Patton, Nelson, Napoleon, Mandela. It's all fascinating - in theory - but how do I apply it to me, to my situation now in a practical, down-to-earth way?" What was startling to me was how similar these views were at every level of every organization. What they clearly did not want was more theory or lessons from the lives of the gifted "Great Leaders" like those mentioned above, whose very greatness made them both remote and impossible to emulate.

A suggestion from a board executive I was advising got things started. "What we need here," he said, "is a practical workbook, a course-by-course guide that gets us to do the leadership you keep telling us about." Thus, The Leadership Crash Course was born.

Requests for editions in Spanish, Portuguese, German, Korean, Chinese, Polish and Latvian demonstrated, somewhat to my surprise, the international clamor for a pragmatic, challenging book on leadership, in spite of the received wisdom on the gulf between national cultures. Equally, as my opportunities for dialogue with people across the world have multiplied, a slightly different emphasis for this new edition began to take shape. This is best captured in the question: "How do I create value through my leadership?"

It is a complex question and there may be multiple definitions of what constitutes value in different types of human enterprise, but it is also a universal leadership question which gets at the fundamentals of why a leader, at whatever level and in whichever circumstance, might act the way he or she does. So that is the challenge of this new edition of The Crash Course and, of course, your challenge as its reader.

Reflecting on the intervening years since The Crash Course was first released, I find that the need for leadership is more urgent, more important. This need is self-evident. In the political sphere, it is signified in the great events that have shaped the start of the 21st century: global warming, 9/11, the Palestinian Intifada, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the war on terror and the war on poverty. In economics, it is the rise of India and China as commercial powerhouses and the impact of technology and vast capital movements in driving globalization and lowering barriers to entry. And in the organizational world, it is the intensity of competitive pressure, ongoing mergers and acquisitions, the collapse and integration of once separate industries and businesses, and the blurring of the lines between government and private sector. In all of these events and processes, leadership is intimately and decisively the difference between excellence and mediocrity, success and failure.

Paul Taffinder