Stretch is unique amongst the wealth of leadership books currently available because it is written as a fable, following the journey of a leader with a deficit – or weakness orientated mind-set, gaining insight and experience about how to lead more effectively through stretching and optimising his own strengths, as well as the strengths of the workforce, in order to achieve outstanding results. The result is something more engaging than an academic text, so that even those who are not the keenest readers will be able to benefit from the book’s practical advice.
The central character is Joe, an executive of an online recruitment company, who is being threatened with failure both at home and at work, with most of his issues revolving around him being a pessimistic and problem centred leader. Executive coach Richard steps in to challenge Joe’s ideas about leadership, and helps him understand that he is on the “Path of Limitation”, characterised by negativity, fear and feelings of helplessness and isolation. The alternative proposed by Richard is the “Path of Possibility”, which focuses on what is possible, finding solutions and figuring out where strengths lie:
“’Successful people focus on making their strengths productive and don’t dwell on their weaknesses,’ Richard had said. ‘They take the Path of PossibilityTM, Not the Path of LimitationTM.’ This is a revolutionary idea to Joe. He has been groomed to believe that improvement is all about fixing bad points and weaknesses.”
By adjusting his perception of improvement Joe is able to spend more of his time and energy on making positive changes, which ultimately benefits his own development, as well as the development of his team. As a result his leadership style is more effective and the success and engagement of his team is ensured.
Richard helps Joe to realise that encouraging people to work towards fulfilling their collective strengths and capabilities, known as Positive Stretch, is a more successful and effective form of leadership as it helps everyone to push the boundaries of what they can achieve.
“Great leaders recognise what they do and don’t have and call on the strengths of those around them to make up for their limitations. Being strong isn’t about being self-sufficient. Strong people and strong teams know how to borrow strengths from, and lend strengths to, other people.”
The book also explains that leaders need to discover their unique combination of aspirations, values, skills and strengths, known as their “Leadership Edge”, and learn four key Stretch Leadership Habits, as the authors’ research has shown that this is key to achieving positive stretch. The first key habit is ‘Sharing Vision’ – so establishing a clear ‘picture of success’, for both themselves and their organisation. Second is ‘Sparking Engagement’ which is achieved by breaking this vision down into manageable stretch goals. This is supported by the two other key habits, ensuring that they ‘Skilfully Execute’ at each step, and celebrating success to maintain a positive energy and ensure that they are ‘Sustaining Progress’. The ultimate goal is to advance their own career, whilst simultaneously pushing the boundaries of possibility to help their organisation achieve its own goals. Understanding and relaying these goals is an essential skill:
“When communicating goals, or a corporate vision come to that, try starting at the end – the outcome you want. That’s where all peak performers start in all walks of life – by clearly identifying their goal – the trophy they wish to lift. They then work backwards to where they are now, in order to work out how to get there.”
Stretch works differently to other books on leadership because instead of explaining the research and background to the topic it brings the theory to life. The popular areas of positive psychology and the strengths-based approach to talent management are explained through the eyes of a relatable leader, so their practical application can be more clearly seen.
I would strongly recommend this book to leaders and aspiring leaders at all levels,as the practical frameworks, techniques and tools it contains will provide them with a road mapto strengthen their results, and bring the best out of themselves and those they lead.Trainers and coaches will also benefit from reading the book, as there is clear guidance on how they can enhance their impact and ‘leadership edge’.
This book is a practical framework for all leaders and coaches, and will bring clear benefits to those who read it, as well as the organisations they work for. I would recommend this to managers and leaders across the board as the guidance it contains will serve to strengthen results and ensure that the boundaries of performance are pushed.
Michael Farry, Human Resources Director, PhotoBox
James Brook, BA (Hons), MSocSc (Organisational Psychology), MBA, FCIPD
James has around 20 years international experience in leadership development, coaching, organisational change and talent management. For the past 12 years, James has focused on helping organisations identify and translate strengths into innovation, engagement and business success. He is a regular speaker on strengths-focused human resources and has contributed to a wide range of publications in the area.
Dr. Paul Brewerton, BA (Hons), MA, MSc, PhD, Chartered Occupational Psychologist
Paul is a Chartered Occupational Psychologist and Doctorate in Organisational Psychology with over 15 years experience in individual, team and organisational development. In recent years, Paul has dedicated his business activities to helping organisations translate a strengths-focused approach to bottom line business performance.