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Book Review: Unleashed - The Unapologetic Leader's Guide to Empowering Everyone Around You

Updated: Nov 6, 2020

In their book Unleashed, Frances Frei and Anne Morriss provide a fresh and practical framework for leadership, and how great leaders excel not just with intelligence but also with emotional intelligence.

The authors say leadership is about "creating the conditions for the people around you to become increasingly effective, to help them fully realize their full capacity and power," and "making sure the impact continues in your absence." Unleashed tells the story of how empowering leaders live up to this definition by navigating paradoxes of leadership. The paradox of empowering others starts with empowering yourself by being honest with oneself, operating with love and compassion, and building trust through authenticity.

Honest self-image

A common paradox about leadership development is that your past defines you, but at the same time your past does not define you. Having an honest self-image is the way through. We can separate reality from perception, strengths and weaknesses; and analyze our past experiences to evolve and grow.

Therefore it's important that as a leader you develop a 360-degree understanding of your own values, beliefs, tendencies to know which attributes help and hurt in various situations. This is emotional intelligence. Frei and Morriss point out this is some of the hardest work for a leader. And it is worth it because a leader's beliefs can have a great impact on the team.

Operating with Love and Compassion

Frei and Morriss say leaders must be "intentional about distributing power and decision rights, and then take total, unqualified responsibility for the outcome." This can be scary.

What if someone makes a bad decision? What if I don't know what is happening three floors down or five time zones away? What if my team fails to meet my expectations? These inner questions originate in the "lower brain" (where the amygdala sits), which prompts worry and anxiety that in turn lead to flight or fight impulses. The uncertain feelings can be overwhelming for leaders especially when stakes are high.

Frei and Morriss offer a framework (image below) that shifts a leader's perspective to conquer inner fears and set initial conditions to be able to unleash others' capacity. The premise of the framework is that leaders make others better when coming from a place of devotion, compassion and grace. This is the essence of love. It is a key ingredient to cultivating a culture of deserved trust.

The authors also recognize that coming from a position of devotion, compassion and grace doesn't mean standards or expectations of other need to be compromised. A leader can show tough love. In other words, it's not mutually exclusive for a leader to demand high expectations but also be compassionate. This paradox is navigated by being balanced and embodying justice. (The author's share a haunting story told by ancient scholar Valerius Maximus about how this is done.)

Justice: High Standards and High Devotion
Justice: High Standards and High Devotion

Authenticity develops trust

The more authentic you are as a leader, the more trust others will place in you. Frei and Morriss offer three dimensions of authenticity (image below): (a) being comfortable with yourself, (b) knows what you are saying, and (c) others feel heard by you. Most importantly, the authors suggest how to assess your authenticity pillars (strengths) and wobbles (weaknesses), and what do about the wobbles.

Example of three wobbles and what to do about them:

1. Not being comfortable with yourself.

  • Effect: Others perceive they are not getting the real you.

  • Action: Open the window so others can see the real you (your intent, purpose, beliefs and values). Learn in public, a la Ray Dalio. When everyone on the team does this, the team becomes inclusive and high-performing.

2. Not knowing what you are saying:

  • Effect: Others perceive you do not have the judgment required for the terrain the team is navigating.

  • Action: Expand what you know, or communicate more effectively with the Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF).

3. Others do not feel heard:

  • Effect: Others perceive you are putting yourself first (common among those who are analytical and eager to learn).

  • Action: Change perspective from getting what you need to helping others get what they need.

Trust: Knowing yourself, your subject and others
Trust: Knowing yourself, your subject and others

There is a lot more to take away from thought leaders Frei and Morriss on how to apply their leadership frameworks to build emotional intelligence, overcome paradoxes and address inequality, divisiveness, bias, strategy and culture in the workplace and society. Unleashed is required reading for today's leaders.

Some other highlights:

  • Be the "Santa Claus of feedback, handing out improvement gifts wherever you go".

  • Aim for 5:1 ratio: 5 units of positive reinforcement to 1 unit of constructive advice.

  • If you suspect you're being indulged and dismissed, you probably are.

  • To attract top diverse talent, make an offer that does not require any negotiation.

  • Strategy and culture are invisible forces that can shape your organization whether or not you are present.

  • Strategy: Find your wedge to create a whole lot more value than you capture. Describe your wedge simply.

  • Culture: Culture is a collective agreement about how to be.

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