Become a Leader. Become Yourself

Book Review of Become: The Five Commitments of Purposeful Leadership by Mark Hannum

reviewed by Rockie Blunt, EdD, President, Blunt Consulting Group

“Leadership” is such a multi-faceted concept, at once vague and complex, that we have difficulty arriving at more than a superficial understanding of it. We immediately think about our own bosses: Are they doing a good job or not? Do we like them or not? Or we think of those at a greater distance from us, people at the very top of our organizations who interact with us less frequently. Or we think more abstractly about larger-than-life exemplars like Gandhi, Churchill or Lincoln, but unfortunately that doesn’t get us any closer to answering two fundamental questions: What exactly is leadership? and How is it done well?

But after reading Mark Hannum’s new book, Become: The Five Commitments of Purposeful Leadership, my understanding of leadership is at last coming into clearer focus. Hannum, Chief Research Officer at Linkage, Inc., a Massachusetts-based leadership development firm, has an extensive background in training, organization development, executive coaching, and leadership development.

Hannum assembled a Linkage team that analyzed 360-degree data on more than 100,000 leaders, examined competency models, conducted hundreds of interviews and assembled a collection of case studies and profiles. This multi-year effort culminated in the concept of “Purposeful Leadership” and the creation of the “Linkage Purpose Index” instrument.

The book’s meta-message is that successful leaders, as distinguished from those less successful, are driven by a purpose, an internal motivation, a felt need why something needs to be done and how to do it. Accordingly, the five “commitments” to purposeful leadership are:

  1. Inspire: the leader’s purpose and vision galvanize others to join in the pursuit.
  2. Engage: the leader engages every team member to contribute.
  3. Innovate: the leader drives new thinking and creative opportunities on the way to the vision.
  4. Achieve: the leader organizes people and aligns resources to produce results.
  5. Become: leaders transform and grow themselves while bringing out the best in others by respecting and involving them.

Chapter by chapter, the reader is guided through these commitments, but at no time feels overwhelmed or confused. The writing is natural, accessible, refreshingly free of academic jargon or pomposity. Leaders are humans, after all, and Hannum’s authentic, helpful tone reflects that. You can sense that he sincerely wants readers to understand leadership.

And the book’s structure, too, is effective. Case studies of three young, emerging leaders are used as “connective tissue” throughout the pages. Stories of their backgrounds, skills, shortcomings and opportunities are woven together with detailed explanations of the five commitments. In keeping us apprised of the trio’s progress on their paths to leadership, Hannum balances theory and narrative nicely.

As impressive as the case studies are, however, another feature of the book is, in my opinion, less satisfying: a series of “Purpose Insiders,” sidebar profiles of outstanding leaders, successful business executives and organizations, authors, consultants and experts on leadership. There are nearly twenty of these profiles but had there been fewer of them (or if some had been shortened), they would have been more impactful and illuminating.

I also would have liked to see more attention paid to the question of leadership styles and sensibilities across the generations. Are Millennials, for example, leading in similar or different ways than Boomers and Gen X’s? Do we know anything yet about the leadership values or expectations of the Generation Z population currently entering the workplace?

And a final question that Hannum could address is whether current supervisors, managers and executives who have grown stale or resistant to change over the years can indeed formulate new goals, re-set their performance, and open themselves to newer, wider visions? It’s been said that “tigers can’t change their stripes,” but how about established leaders? Perhaps Hannum will take up this topic in future research and writing.

But these are mere quibbles. Become: The Five Commitments of Purposeful Leadership is an impressive take on a subject that is hard to pin down. Mark Hannum offers us a roadmap as we journey toward answers to our original two questions: What exactly is leadership? and How is it done well? It’s a truism that a journey along any path begins with the first step. As Hannum makes clear, the first step is an internal one: “[I]t is important for you as a leader to feel good about yourself, who you are, what drives and motivates you, how you interact with the world, and what you are trying to accomplish—your sense of purpose….It must come from inside you, and if it does, it will ‘radiate.’ ”

At its deepest level, then, Become: The Five Commitments of Purposeful Leadership is a challenge to those who aspire to leadership positions. It is fundamentally a call to action. The word “become,” after all, is a verb.