Book review: Leadership Sustainability: Seven Disciplines to Achieve the Changes Great Leaders Know They Must Make


Leadership Sustainability: Seven Disciplines to Achieve the Changes Great Leaders Know They Must Make by Dave Ulrich and Norm Smallwood

McGraw Hill Education, 2013, RRP: $34.95

Who is the book for?

Early in this book, the authors state that “leaders do not always accomplish what they intend or finish what they start” and they say the book’s purpose is to help leaders sustain the changes they know they should make.

The suggestion is that this book is for any leader, anyone developing leaders, HR professionals and coaches who strive to help leaders sustain desired changes.

Seven leadership sustainability disciplines

Ulrich and Smallwood’s seven leadership sustainability disciplines are: simplicity, time, accountability, resources, tracking, melioration and emotion.

They claim that other books, including their own, address the ‘why’ and ‘what’ of leadership, whereas this book also focuses on the ‘how’ – how to become a better leader and how an organisation sustains leadership by weaving it into its systems.

Case studies and examples include the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, BP, the Emergency Management Institute, Ford, HealthNEXT, RBL Group and the United States Department of Justice. These examples are clearly from their own consulting experience, which is understandable, but selective, and not very transferable outside their own country (the US) and experience.

Their self-assessment tool in the last chapter is interesting and a novel app approach is offered for accessing the book’s resources. There are also a lot of figures and lists on what a leader should do, supported by up-to-date references. Respected giants in related disciplines such as strategy are cited, as are academics including Henry Mintzberg, Edward E. Lawler and Edgar Schein. But there are few, if any, citations from acknowledged leadership experts such as Gary Yukl, Peter Northouse, James Kouzes and Barry Posner.

The front cover graphic of a supposedly archetypal business leader is male – an assumption I found disappointing.

Is this a new approach to leadership?

There’s no shortage of books on leadership, and this one creates yet another model based around sustainability. However, I’m not sure the model adds significantly to the literature or if it has strong factual support. And why these seven disciplines? I question their factual integrity or purity.

Ulrich is better known for his impressive contribution to HR literature. Perhaps he should focus on that.

In summary, I’d cautiously recommend this book mainly because it’s another offering from well-known, respected writers.

This book is available for purchase from the AHRI bookshop.

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Book review: Leadership Sustainability: Seven Disciplines to Achieve the Changes Great Leaders Know They Must Make


Leadership Sustainability: Seven Disciplines to Achieve the Changes Great Leaders Know They Must Make by Dave Ulrich and Norm Smallwood

McGraw Hill Education, 2013, RRP: $34.95

Who is the book for?

Early in this book, the authors state that “leaders do not always accomplish what they intend or finish what they start” and they say the book’s purpose is to help leaders sustain the changes they know they should make.

The suggestion is that this book is for any leader, anyone developing leaders, HR professionals and coaches who strive to help leaders sustain desired changes.

Seven leadership sustainability disciplines

Ulrich and Smallwood’s seven leadership sustainability disciplines are: simplicity, time, accountability, resources, tracking, melioration and emotion.

They claim that other books, including their own, address the ‘why’ and ‘what’ of leadership, whereas this book also focuses on the ‘how’ – how to become a better leader and how an organisation sustains leadership by weaving it into its systems.

Case studies and examples include the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, BP, the Emergency Management Institute, Ford, HealthNEXT, RBL Group and the United States Department of Justice. These examples are clearly from their own consulting experience, which is understandable, but selective, and not very transferable outside their own country (the US) and experience.

Their self-assessment tool in the last chapter is interesting and a novel app approach is offered for accessing the book’s resources. There are also a lot of figures and lists on what a leader should do, supported by up-to-date references. Respected giants in related disciplines such as strategy are cited, as are academics including Henry Mintzberg, Edward E. Lawler and Edgar Schein. But there are few, if any, citations from acknowledged leadership experts such as Gary Yukl, Peter Northouse, James Kouzes and Barry Posner.

The front cover graphic of a supposedly archetypal business leader is male – an assumption I found disappointing.

Is this a new approach to leadership?

There’s no shortage of books on leadership, and this one creates yet another model based around sustainability. However, I’m not sure the model adds significantly to the literature or if it has strong factual support. And why these seven disciplines? I question their factual integrity or purity.

Ulrich is better known for his impressive contribution to HR literature. Perhaps he should focus on that.

In summary, I’d cautiously recommend this book mainly because it’s another offering from well-known, respected writers.

This book is available for purchase from the AHRI bookshop.

Leave a reply

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More on HRM