Rudyard Kipling’s leadership wisdom

Rudyard Kipling’s words in the poem “If-” describe a path we may choose to follow to become better leaders, according to Doug Moran in his book If You Will Lead: Enduring Wisdom for 21st-Century Leaders. Each of the poem’s sixteen couplets describes a leadership attribute, and together they provide a leadership framework on which the author bases his book, with one famous leader from history being chosen to exemplify each attribute.

The attributes are: character, authenticity, integrity, self-efficacy, ambition, vision, boldness, resilience, inspiration, courage, selflessness, stamina, composure, patience, enthusiasm and accountability. There is room for debate about whether these are the most important leadership attributes – for example, empathy and judgment are missing from the list – but they are still a remarkable list of leadership characteristics.

The leaders chosen to illustrate the various attributes include some obvious choices like Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa and George Washington, as well as some less obvious choices. The author does not claim to be a historian, and some of the stories he relates are not entirely aligned with the most widely accepted historical sources. To get the most benefit from the book the reader needs to overlook any historical inaccuracies and concentrate on the lessons that the author elicits.

I enjoyed reading the book and found it to be a worthwhile experience. There is not a lot of new material for those who have already read plenty of other leadership books, but Kipling’s inspiring poem and the historical stories keep the book interesting. For each leadership attribute the author poses a number of useful questions that the reader can use in reflecting on his or her own leadership qualities.

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