NOTE: For this book review, I intentionally and excessively quoted the author throughout the post. I do this for two reasons: (1) I prefer to have the author’s words speak for themselves rather than me interpreting, generalizing, or inadvertently misinterpreting the intent, and (2) It helps you, the readers, see the quality of the author’s work/writing.
I never thought I would be reading and reviewing a book by Jon Gordon. The simple reason is that I’m not a fan of books written in a fable format. In fact, I try to avoid them as I find them especially painful to read. If I wanted a fable, I would much rather read one from Aesop or the Bible. Many of Gordon’s previous books were written in a “business fable” format (e.g., The Energy Bus is a story about George who is forced to take the bus because of a flat tire and learns 10 secrets for approaching life and work; The No Complaining Rule is a story about Hope, head of Human Resources, charged with finding a solution to overcome the biggest challenge in her company’s history; and Training Camp is a story of Martin Jones, an un-drafted rookie trying to make it to the bright lights and big money of the NFL).
Gordon’s latest book, The Power of Positive Leadership, is not written in a fable format so I decided to review it. In this book, Gordon shares the lessons he’s learned about positive leadership and provides a positive leadership framework.
“Positive leadership is not about fake positivity. It is the real stuff that makes great leaders great . . . Throughout history we see it’s the optimists, the believers, the dreamers, the doers, and the positive leaders who change the world” (Gordon, 2017, p. 9).
Gordon says he has two goals for the book: (1) “to explain how and why positive leaders make a difference” and (2) “to provide a simple framework filled with practical ideas that will help anyone become a positive leader” (Gordon, 2017, p. 5).
“Being a positive leader doesn’t just make you better; it makes everyone around you better” (Gordon, 2017, p. 1).
The Power of Positive Leadership Framework:
1. Positive Leaders Drive Positive Cultures
Southwest Airlines arrived at the decision to not charge baggage fees because charging would not reflect their culture and their goal of providing friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel.
“As a positive leader, you can’t just show the way and talk about the way. You must also lead the way. You must live your culture and know that it is an extension of who you are as a leader” (Gordon, 2017, p. 21)
“When you create a culture worth fighting for and invest in your people to the degree that they want to fight for your culture and for each other, your organization will have grit and strength to overcome the challenges you face and become an unstoppable and positive force” (Gordon, 2017, p. 27).
2. Positive Leaders Create and Share a Positive Vision
“A positive leader sees what’s possible and then takes the next steps to rally and unite people to create it. Every invention, project, creation, and transformation starts with an idea, an imagination, and a vision of what’s possible” (Gordon, 2017, p. 31-32).
“Positive leaders tap into the power of a vision and find a way forward” (Gordon, 2017, p. 31). To rally people to follow them, positive leaders have to be able to “articulate and communicate [their] vision in a simple, clear, bold, and compelling way” (Gordon, 2017, p. 32).
“The vision a positive leader creates and shares serves as a North Star that points and moves everyone in an organization in the right direction. The leader must continually point to this North Star and remind everyone that this is where we are going” (Gordon, 2017, p. 33).
“A leader who shares a vision and a way forward is a dealer in hope, a believer in the impossible, a champion of what’s possible, and a coach who guides and inspires a team to keep improving, and keep moving forward” (Gordon, 2017, p. 33).
A positive leader needs to carry a telescope and a microscope. The telescope helps the leader and his team keep their eyes on the North Star (the vision) and the big picture. The microscope helps the leader to zoom in and focus on what needs to be accomplished in the short-term to realize the vision in the telescope.
“If you only have a telescope, then you’ll be thinking about your vision all the time and dreaming about the future but not taking the necessary steps to realize it. If you only have a microscope, then you’ll be working hard every day but set-backs and challenges will likely frustrate and discourage you because you’ll lose sight of the big picture” (Gordon, 2017, p. 34).
3. Positive Leaders Lead with Optimism, Positivity, and Belief
“Optimism, positivity, and belief are the fuel that positive leaders need to keep moving forward and drive results” (Gordon, 2017, p. 47).
“If you don’t have optimism and belief, you can’t share it. If you don’t have it, you can’t transform your team and organization with it. It starts first and foremost with you” (Gordon, 2017, p. 51).
“Every moment and every situation presents to us an opportunity to see and experience the positive or the negative. Each day we can feed the positive dog or the negative dog inside of us, and whichever one we feed, grows. So feed the positive dog” (Gordon, 2017, p. 52).
4. Positive Leaders Confront, Transform, and Remove Negativity
“Positive leadership is not just about feeding the positive, but also about weeding out the negative” (Gordon, 2017, p. 71).
“One of the biggest mistakes leaders make is that they ignore the negativity within their team and organization. They allow it to breed and grow, and it eventually sabotages the team and organization. You must address the negativity. Confront it, transform it, or remove it” (Gordon, 2017, p. 71).
5. Positive Leaders Create United and Connected Teams
“Positive leaders unite instead of divide. They are able to get everyone on the bus and moving in the right direction. They are able to create unity, which is the difference between a great team and an average team. The more united and connected a team and organization is, the more they are able to accomplish together” (Gordon, 2017, p. 87).
“A team and organization that’s not connected at the top crumbles at the bottom” (Gordon, 2017, p. 88).
“You may not have the most talented people on your team, but if you are a connected team, you will outperform many talented teams who lack a close bond” (Gordon, 2017, p. 92).
6. Positive Leaders Build Great Relationships and Teams
“Positive leaders care about the people they lead. They care about their team and organization. . .Because they care, they do more, give more, encourage more, help more, guide more, mentor more, develop more, build more, and ultimately, accomplish more” (Gordon, 2017, p. 128).
Gordon shared a powerful story about his late mom making a sandwich for him even though she was tired and, unbeknownst to him, was battling cancer.
“Looking back I realize that she wasn’t just making me a sandwich. She was showing me what selfless love and positive leadership are all about. At her funeral, many of her real estate clients and colleagues came up to me and shared countless stories of all the selfless acts of love my mom did for them as well” (Gordon, 2017, p. 133-134).
“We often think that great leadership is about big visions, big goals, big actions, and big success. But I learned from my mom that real positive leadership is about serving others by doing the little things with a big dose of selfless love” (Gordon, 2017, p. 134).
7. Positive Leaders Pursue Excellence
Positive leaders are always searching for ways to make things and the future better. They’re constantly “striving to improve themselves, their teams, their organizations, and the world” (Gordon, 2017, p. 137).
8. Positive Leaders Lead with Purpose
“Every great organization must have a greater purpose for why they exist and every positive leader must be driven by purpose to lead others and make a greater impact” (Gordon, 2017, p. 151).
“Hard work doesn’t make us tired. A lack of purpose is what makes us tired. We don’t get burned out because of what we do. We get burned out because we forget why we do it” (Gordon, 2017, p. 152).
9. Positive Leaders Have Grit
Angela Duckworth’s research on grit: Grit is the ability to work for a long period of time towards a goal. It means to persevere, overcome, and continue moving forward in the face of adversity.
“Positive leaders have grit and find a way to navigate the roadblocks or run through them to move closer to their vision and goal” (Gordon, 2017, p. 169).
“When we look at successful companies and organizations, we see their current success and prominence but what we don’t see is the leadership and grit that powered them through all the failure and moments of doubt, heartache, fear, and pain” (Gordon, 2017, p. 169).
“Whether you are attempting to turn around a company, grow a start-up, build a winning team, or move a successful organization to the next level, you can expect it to take time and perseverance” (Gordon, 2017, p. 170).
What I do not like about this book is the tiring references to Gordon’s previous books, in particular The Energy Bus — referenced on 13 pages!
The Energy Bus — referenced 13 times; pp. 4, 15, 16, 17, 41, 42, 71, 72, 73, 80, 83, 84, 183.
The No Complaining Rule — referenced 3 times; pp. 79, 80, 81
The Shark and the Goldfish — referenced 1 time; pp. 57
The Seed — referenced 1 time; pp. 153
The Positive Dog — referenced 1 time; pp. 51
You Win In The Locker Room First — referenced 2 times; pp. 25, 108
If you found what I have just done to be annoying, imagine how I felt having to see the same book titles and words or phrases (e.g., positive dog, energy bus, shark, goldfish) mentioned ad nauseam. At times, I felt as if I were reading an advertisement about one of his other books.
Takeaway: I really wanted to like The Power of Positive Leadership book. I tried to read it with an open mind and I gave the book multiple opportunities to stay on my ‘like’ column while I was reading it. In the end, I found The Power of Positive Leadership to be an OK book. It’s a quick read, probably because it was so repetitive. What’s more, for my taste, there were just too many references to Gordon’s other books, especially The Energy Bus. If you are a fan of Jon Gordon and are familiar with his other books, then you might like The Power of Positive Leadership. There were some good stories and examples in this book. However, reading The Power of Positive Leadership is like attending a long-drawn-out pep rally. Indeed, Gordon shared lots and lots of stories about the sport coaches and athletic directors (basketball, football, baseball) he has worked with. I like the first 15-20 minutes of a pep rally, but if the pep rally goes on for too long and repeats the same materials then you have lost me. Regrettably—and yes I see the irony in giving a negative review about a book on positive leadership that I received for free—I just didn’t find enough in The Power of Positive Leadership book to warrant my recommendation.
Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership Advisor & Talent Development Consultant
Gordon, J. (2017). The Power of Positive Leadership. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
Disclosure: I received The Power of Positive Leadership as a complimentary gift, but my book review was written as though I had purchased it.