Book Review: Leaders Ready Now
Updated: Jul 1
NOTE: For this book review, I intentionally and excessively quoted the authors throughout the post. I do this for two reasons: (1) I prefer to have the authors words speak for themselves rather than me interpreting, generalizing, or inadvertently misinterpreting their intent, and (2) It helps you, the readers, see the quality of their work/their writing.
Leaders Ready Now is a book about preparing your leaders faster.
“DDI’s global data suggests that when organizations look to their benches to find ready leaders for key assignments or promotions, half the time no one is there” (Paese, Smith, & Byham, 2016, p. 279).
From the Introduction: “It’s a book about how to grow great leaders. . . . Those who feel their leaders are growing at a satisfactory pace will not be inspired [by this book]. This book will be useful only if you feel it is time to take bold steps to prepare your leaders for bigger challenges—more quickly, more continuously, and fully enough so that they are ready—ready to lead in the competitive, chaotic world that we have come to know as the new normal” (Paese, Smith, & Byham, 2016, p. ii).
The authors (Matthew J. Paese, Audrey B. Smith, and William C. Byham) all work at Development Dimensions International (DDI). Dr. Paese is the Vice President of DDI’s Succession and C-Suite Services, Dr. Smith is Senior Vice President for DDI’s Talent Diagnostic Solutions, and Dr. Byham is DDI’s founder and chairman.
Development Dimensions International (DDI) says its does one thing really well — identifying and growing leaders. Founded in 1970 by industrial/organizational psychologists William C. Byham and Douglas W. Bray, DDI works with clients from all over the world and “major corporations make crucial promotion and placement decisions for more than 3,000 senior executives each year using [DDI’s] assessment process.”
The main premise to this Leaders Ready Now leadership development book is not that your company needs to have (or have more or better) tools, technology, or processes, but rather that there’s an absence of energy. Paese, Smith, and Byham approach the topic of accelerating leadership growth from a very different angle than other books. They maintain that if we’re not careful, the same tools and processes that we’ve set up to develop our organizations’ leaders may, in fact, rob us of the energy necessary to grow our leaders!
And if that isn’t frustrating enough, consider this: Although corporations have and continue to invest billions into readying its next generation of leaders, by all account and measures, leadership readiness has sharply declined.
Reading and following the recommendations outlined in Leaders Ready Now is almost like hiring DDI to help you with your leadership development process and program, only much less costly. These same three authors co-wrote Grow Your Own Leaders in 2002 to “help you understand and implement systems that will identify talent and develop the high-potential people your organization needs to grow and prosper” (Byham, Smith, & Paese, 2002, p. vii). Leaders Ready Now follows up with how to grow your own leaders more and faster, and prepare them to thrive in a complex world.
But readying leaders now doesn’t mean cramming more into our already frenzied organizations and lives or bombarding the minds of potential leaders. Instead, it’s about infusing energy into your efforts. “The most fundamental barrier to growing leaders quickly is a lack of energy, and that energy can be generated by boldness—your boldness” (Paese, Smith, & Byham, 2016, p. vi).
5 Reasons Why Leadership Acceleration Programs Fail:
1. Your processes are draining/sapping energy. “It is not the process itself that is failing—it is the absence of energy to fuel it. Without energy, any processes you put in place will be unsustainable” (Paese, Smith, & Byham, 2016, p. viii).
2. There’s no “why.” “For management, the why is the business case for acceleration. In the absence of a strong one, it is difficult to convince senior executives to take any risks (much less big ones) with development” (Paese, Smith, & Byham, 2016, p. ix).
3. You’re doing things to leaders rather than with them. “If you aim to prepare more leaders—and do it more quickly—you must put them in the game, and much sooner than what might feel comfortable. You must play with them, learning and growing together, faster than you otherwise would” (Paese, Smith, & Byham, 2016, p. x).
4. You are keeping your own growth to yourself. “Growth is an effect that cascades from leaders to teams, from the CEO down. . . . For the energy of growth to become infectious, people at the top must model it. . . . Modeling growth is displaying experimentation with new approaches and hungrily gathering feedback so that the experimentation can iterate with a positive arc” (Paese, Smith, & Byham, 2016, p. xi).
5. Your company has an unhealthy relationship with failure. “Your senior leadership team’s orientation and response to failure will either catapult or kill your acceleration efforts. . . . Leaders in rapid-growth mode will, by design, face situations that test their mettle. But if the expectation is that they need to succeed in each instance, risk taking will soon be strangled, and growth along with it. To learn and grow quickly, they will need to struggle through the ambiguity, discomfort, and loss of failed attempts, and come back again to try different, hopefully better ways. With the right support before, during, and after their experiences, your leaders will gain the insight and capability needed to be ready for larger assignments” (Paese, Smith, & Byham, 2016, p. xii).
I really like what Paese, Smith, and Byham (2016) wrote: “Don’t worry—we won’t be promising a silver-bullet solution or warning that you can avoid disaster only by adopting our unique and perfect formula. You don’t need us—not really. Everything you need to accelerate the growth of leadership is already inside your organization” (Paese, Smith, & Byham, 2016, p. iv).
“Tools and technology do not grow leaders. Leaders grow leaders. . . . While the talent-management industry has poured incalculable resources into the advancement of tools and technology, the muscles of human effort for growing leaders have atrophied. It seems the more we invest in things, the less adept we are at investing in each other” (Paese, Smith, & Byham, 2016, p. v).
The Six Acceleration Imperatives
The key to remember about the Six Acceleration Imperatives is that you don’t need to be great in all six areas in order to make significant gains. You can still be “good” in several while concentrating on one or two areas. Paese, Smith, and Byham (2016) stated that many of DDI’s most successful clients actually select only one or two Acceleration Imperatives to focus on.
1. Commit: Adopt acceleration as a business priority. Senior management must sanction and actively own and participate in leadership acceleration efforts.
“The most successful business strategies identify the few most-critical priorities and relentlessly pursue them. But somehow, leadership strategies don’t seem to receive the same rigor” (Paese, Smith, & Byham, 2016, p. 23).
2. Aim: Define leadership success for your business context. Successful organizations transform their competency model into a tool that management and individual leaders use to direct their efforts to where the business is heading, how the context is changing, and what they have to do to be prepared for it.
Make sure your success profile measures and contains four components: business and organizational knowledge, experience, competencies, and personal attributes required for success (Paese, Smith, & Byham, 2016).
3. Identify: Make efficient, accurate decisions about whom to accelerate. Turn talent reviews into a talent investment by ensuring that it is done routinely, as part of business discussions. Use accurate data to isolate the most critical talent gaps, identify the individuals who have what it takes to grow as leaders, and have the resources to ensure that it happens quickly so leaders can be deployed where the need is greatest.
“One of the most consequential actions you can take as you work to accelerate leadership growth is to integrate your conversations about leadership talent into your senior management team’s business discussions” (Paese, Smith, & Byham, 2016, p. 84).
“In a talent review senior leaders must understand that the identification of potential is a decision to invest in growth, not a determination of readiness for promotion” (Paese, Smith, & Byham, 2016, p. 91).
4. Assess: Accurately evaluate readiness gaps and give great feedback. Successful companies are able to leverage talent data to allow top executives “to see how big bets (e.g., placing a young leader into a major leadership role) will play out and precisely how they can craft accelerated development plans that will make them pay off” (Paese, Smith, & Byham, 2016, p. xvii).
“Your goal is not simply to accurately describe each individual, but to do so in a way that enables specific, objective conversation among your senior leaders” (Paese, Smith, & Byham, 2016, p. 115).
5. Grow: Make the right development happen. It is crucial that practice and experimentation become routine and are applied. Help emerging leaders ignite the application of leadership approaches that are necessary to business success.
“[L]earning is not the same as growth. Learning becomes growth only when it is sustained and applied. And to convert leaders from not ready to ready now, growth must happen consistently” (Paese, Smith, & Byham, 2016, p. 161).
“As you take action to cultivate your leaders’ skills, make sure they are specific skills your business needs, now and in the near future” (Paese, Smith, & Byham, 2016, p. 165).
“The first lever to pull in making competency development happen faster is to ensure that the learner understands the Key Actions in the target competency and that he or she focuses on the highest-payoff Key Actions. This makes feedback, training, coaching, practice, and ongoing measurement much more precise and meaningful” (Paese, Smith, & Byham, 2016, pp. 166-167).
6. Sustain: Aggressively manufacture the energy for growth. Your acceleration efforts must last and this only occurs when you build passion, common purpose, and devotion to ensure that growth happens.
“Make acceleration a discipline—a continual process that evolves and grows with each business cycle” (Paese, Smith, & Byham, 2016, p. 280).
Each organization is unique so you’ll want to select a starting point (i.e., pick one or two Acceleration Imperatives) and make progress by “leveraging strengths and building in the areas that will create the greatest return within [your] unique business context” (Paese, Smith, & Byham, 2016, p. xviii).
“The ready now mind-set means continually looking forward, scanning the environment to anticipate the next challenge, and working with discipline to prepare for it” (Paese, Smith, & Byham, 2016, p. 283).
At first glance, Leaders Ready Now seems deceptively simple and easy to read, thanks to its clean layout and many colorful tables, figures, and graphics to illustrate and reinforce the crucial concepts and processes. But make no mistake. This is a handbook that requires you to take your time and really study it. Indeed, readying your leaders means making an investment in doing it right.
I wish I had the Leaders Ready Now book when I was working on designing the succession planning and high-potential development process for my organization. It would have saved me so much time, and spared me the stress and anxiety of gathering and organizing disparate and often unreliable information scattered online and in an assortment of research articles and books.
Leaders Ready Now is an incredible book written by three industrial/organizational psychologists at Development Dimensions International (one of the most respected leadership development consultancies in the world). The book is packed with clear, useful, and (perhaps most importantly) practical suggestions for growing better leaders, and growing them faster. Highly recommended!
Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Organizational & Leadership Development Leader
Byham, W. C., Smith, A. B., & Paese, M. J. (2002). Grow your own leaders: How to identify, develop, and retain your leadership talent. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc.
Paese, M. J., Smith, A. B., & Byham, W. C. (2016). Leaders ready now: Accelerating growth in a faster world. Pittsburg, PA: DDI Press.
Disclosure: I received Leaders Ready Now as a complimentary gift, but my book review was written as though I had purchased it.