Book Reviews

 
Leadership

Unnatural Leadership: Going Against Intuition and Experience to Develop Ten New Leadership Instincts

Author: David L. Dotlich and Peter C. Cairo
Publisher Wiley, John & Sons, Incorporated
Publication Date: February, 2002

Reviewer:G.A. (Andy) Marken
In his nearly 25 years in the advertising/public relations field, Andy has been involved with a broad range of corporate and marketing activities. Prior to forming Marken Communications in mid-1977, Andy was vice president of Bozell & Jacobs and its predecessor agencies. During his 12 years with these agencies, he developed and coordinated a wide variety of highly visible and successful promotional campaigns and activities for clients. A graduate of Iowa State University, Andy received his Bachelor's Degree with majors in Radio & Television and Journalism. Widely published in the industry and trade press, he is an accredited member of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).

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If we had been Wiley’s editor we probably would have stopped with the cover title and forgotten the subhead. It really slowed us down. Didn’t put us off but definitely slowed us down. It seemed to go against everything logical but then perhaps why they call it Unnatural Leadership.

In today’s unsteady business environment we would have placed high priority on gut feelings and experience before reading Dotlich and Cairo’s book. The authors have done an excellent job of digging up actual examples of how humanizing an organization can actually improve its chances for survival and its opportunities. They borrow from the psychology field and explain why it is important for managers to expose their vulnerabilities, admit their flaws and embrace team members who are ‘different.’

Since we increasingly work in a knowledge-based economy it is important to understand how to work with smart, creative people. It’s always been a challenge in public relations and perhaps this book will help the heads of these activities understand why its vital to have this diversity of people, experience and opinion if the PR programs are going to be effective.

If you head a PR firm or function you know how you have to really work at biting your tongue when some concepts and programs are recommended and not reply…”been there, done that…it doesn’t work” or “we’ve attempted that in the past and it will fail.” Sometimes experience simply works against you.

Sometimes you bring a project or program team together and they mix like oil and water even though each in his or her own right is ideal for the team. Dotlich and Cairo explain why such team discomfort can actually produce better results. They also point out why it is important to entrust projects to people who may not appear to be quite up to the task --in your mind -- yet and help them succeed by being a coach and teacher rather than a leader.

The book is filled with true stories, not theories of how organizations and people have become unnatural leaders. As you read the book you’ll find it challenging many of the beliefs and realities you have about managing and in some instances will completely contradict what you had been previously taught. But that’s okay. Our global activities are connected yet disconnected. Our business landscape looks more like a turbulent sea than solid ground.

As long as you understand these facts, Unnatural Leadership will be an important book for your future. The book is an excellent roadmap of self-therapy that helps you identify your strengths and weaknesses … and improve on them. However, if you come from and firmly believe in the “old school” with its sacred cows, predefined roles and a game plan that must not be redefined this isn’t a book you’ll want to read. If you do you’ll become terribly uncomfortable and may want to retire early or find a new line of work.

The two authors constantly challenge the effective leadership norm. Often their ideas, thoughts and recommendations fly in the face of logic but they do it in very practical terms that you can accept even when you don’t fully agree.

Dotlich and Cairo did something special for warhorses that have seen more than their fair share of business battles. They give you a wealth of exercises you can work with to hone your Unnatural Leadership skills. They give you a series of practical tips on how you can put the ideas that are presented to work in your office and your organization.

For the best people in our field, this book is head and shoulders above any other self-help becoming a better manager book than you have ever read. If you have the strength to break out of your comfortable, expected and predictable way of working and managing; you’ll suddenly find that Unnatural Leadership will open your eyes to a whole new set of management skills. The book may possibly even get you excited about coming into the office every day.

Imagine standing in front of one of your peers or people on your team, looking them straight in the eyes and saying, “I don’t know.” Suddenly these people know that you are human enough to acknowledge your own weaknesses and you deserve their personal commitment and support.

It is tough to admit that we’re only human but that’s what global firms are composed of … humans. At first it will be unnatural to put into practice some of the things you learn in this book. But if you want your public relations ideas, recommendations and programs to be believed and implemented to help your firm produce the kind of success you feel it needs an deserves now is the time to begin practicing a little Unnatural Leadership.