Book review – The Cult of the Leader: A Manifesto for More Authentic Business by Chris Bones

If you’re interested in leadership and management, read this book.

If what’s going on in the upper echelons of leadership in the private sector enrages you, read this book.

And if you get angry about public sector leadership, read this book.

You should probably read this book if you ever get exasperated at 3rd sector leadership.

Or your boss.

You get the idea – I highly recommend you read it.

If you haven’t read it yet, of course. Because it’s won heaps of awards and is widely praised. Rightly so. I’ve been trying to write a calm review but whenever I look back at the book and my notes, the anger builds again, so I’ve given up on calm and settled for energised determination instead. There’s no doubting the rage on every page. Professor Chris comes across as boiling mad at the state of leadership – pretty much globally – and determined to do something about it. He has the credentials to lecture us all too:

  • 22 years in industry at a range of blue chips
  • Dean of Henley Business School
  • Professor of Creativity and Leadership at Manchester Business School
  • Plus now, not surprisingly, a consultant

How about this for starters: ‘All leaders are flawed because all human beings are flawed.’ You may think, ‘no @*£% Sherlock’ but Professor Chris goes on to explain, with evidence, just how that shows up at the individual, team and organisational level.

A former HR director, Bones is dismissive of many current practices in recruitment, performance management systems, promotion, KPIs/Goals/objectives (‘noise’) and remuneration. Reading between his lines about corporate top dog packages and their frequent absence of relationship to shareholder value delivered, I’d back Professor Chris’s work to have inspired a few shareholder springs.

He pours particular scorn on leadership development, particularly the way in which it can divert focus and funds away from line managers, and here I find myself nodding vigorously. Bones contends that engagement is not exclusively delivered by the behaviour of the top tier of management, but primarily by the everyday interactions of employees with their line managers. Hear hear.

What’s more, those interactions need to be geared towards ‘strong performance management’ and not ‘performance management systems’. According to Professor Chris, there is too much emphasis on the latter and nowhere near enough on the former. This lays ‘the foundations for a culture of compliance and a community of clones’ (love the onomatopoeia – can you hear that anger?).

Line managers need to be tasked, supported and rewarded for delivering results through people, or as Bones puts it, ‘deliver today through those you manage and deliver tomorrow through developing those you manage’.


You can get the book here and you can find Professor Chris on YouTube too.

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