Book review: Redesigning Leadership

Redesigning Leadership is a gem of a book, and like a genuine gem is compact, short, succinct and a pleasure to read. Since it starts with a haiku I will attempt to sum up the book with my own feeble effort.

Wisdom in bursts
Succinct, real, obvious
As all insights should

Or as author John Maeda liked to communicate with his team on twitter

@mohsenmedic.. according to media savvy Maeda it is best to lead by listening hard  preferably face-to-face and an open mind.

Maeda’s book is full of advice and experience that seemed on first encounter perfectly obvious, until I reflected that almost all the leaders and managers that I have seen in my life ignore them. All but a handful, and these remain vivid not just in my memory but in that of virtually all the students or doctors that had studied or worked under them.

Redesigning Media by John Maeda published by MIT Press

When Maeda, a US born Japanese designer and computer scientist took over as the president of the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design in 2008 he thought he knew how to lead. What makes him so successful as a leader was his ability to jettison all preconceived notions that did not work out in practice. In other words he was prepared to listen both to his surrounding and also to his own heart.

In this book he takes us in 80 pages through this experience. For Maeda linking and underpinning macro and micro management, art and design, leading and being led, are the same principles. His is a style of management that when faced with an employee that everyone disliked, instead of firing him he retains him because like a body an organisation ‘needs viruses … to survive and be strong’. My guess is that he also listened to the ‘virus’.

Here is a leader who tries to regularly see his team, preferably over a meal of pizzas: as he says ‘until you can serve pizza and drink over the Web, a social media portal to foster true collaboration will be so-so’.

Here is a president who emails all his students and staff individually when he can’t meet them face-to-face. Just the boss I always craved for and sometimes got.

Better to talk
eye to eye
than blog in stratosphere

Read it and re-read it if you aspire to be leader or boss that is both successful and is remembered with affection and the awe that comes from deep love.

Guest blogger Mohsen Shahmanesh

Redesigning Leadership by John Maeda is published by MIT Press. Visit the DT bookshop comprehensive selection of books on design.

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