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Get Unstuck by Being a Smart Leader Leading Smart Teams

June 2, 2013

Updated November 20, 2015

images The leadership print space is full of books, with a never-ending supply hitting the bookshelves, not to forget digital readers. So it’s always a pleasure to find a gem in the rough, considering that much of the recent literature is repetitive.

Meet Roger Schwarz, an established leadership presence.

CEO of Roger Schwarz Associates and an organizational psychologist, Schwarz is a long-time respected thought leader and advisor to corporations, public service agencies and not-for-profit organizations. His earlier book The Skilled Facilitator is still a go-to reference source. He holds a Ph.D. in organizational psychology from the University of Michigan.

His new book Smart Leaders Smarter Teams: How You and Your Team Get Unstuck to Get Results, is definitely a keeper. Instead of being a tomb of leadership philosophy, padded with the requisite verbiage, Roger gets to the point. This concise book of some 225 pages is slim to pack along while business travelling or squeeze into a tight office bookshelf.

Schwarz aims his book at mainly those leading teams–people with formal authority in terms of how their teams are designed and operate, and who hold final accountability. However, don’t let that deter you. For example, if you’re an up-and-comer who has a passion to learn about leadership and the effective functioning of teams, this book is for you. If you’re a member of a team with a vested interest in helping it achieve higher performance, check out this book. And if you do consulting work related to leadership and teams, this book’s a must-read.

9780787988739 Schwarz starts off talking about why teams get stuck, introducing two contrasting concepts: unilateral control and mutual learning. It’s his concept of mutual learning that is basis of the book. He describes in two consecutive chapters eight mutual learning behaviors. He guides the reader on how to develop a mutual learning mindset and how to put it into action.

The premise for what he calls mindset is derived from the 1970s work of Chris Argyris and Donald Schon, whom he acknowledges. Argyris is recognized for his concept of mental models and the Ladder of Inference, the latter of which Schwarz uses later in his book as an illustration.

He defines mindset as “…the set of core values and assumptions from which individuals and groups operate.” And continues: “…virtually all leaders tend to use what I call a unilateral control mindset, despite the negative results it generates.” He provides the link to his website where the reader can take a short survey to determine what is at the heart of a problem of a team’s performance.

At the heart of a leader understanding the mutual learning mindset is the leadership concept of Power With versus Power Over. Until a leader sincerely grasps this distinction, it will be impossible for that individual to make solid personal improvements in his or her leadership practice, or gains in the team’s effectiveness. A Power Over approach with people involves unilateral control behavior. The “leader” makes the decisions, often under the pretense of “team” decisions. In this type of setting, decisions are typically or poorer quality, compared to when people are truly engaged–Power With.

It may seem to some leaders a daunting exercise to re-orient their teams to improved functioning and performance. This is especially true if there are deep-seated problems within the team. However, when feeling powerless in such a situation remembering these words from Roger Schwarz’s will help serve as a compass to the leader who is committed to positive change:

When the entire team has a shared understanding of and commitment to a common purpose and values, then the purpose and values themselves become guides by which team members can each assess their own performances. In effect, every team member can lead using the purpose and values as a guide….When you choose to make purpose and core values central to the team, not only do you increase team members’ accountability, you also increase your own.

Smart Leaders, Smarter Teams is a solid book. My main disappointment is the last two chapters, on Becoming a Smarter Leader and Becoming a Smarter Team, which don’t pack the same punch as the rest of the book. They lacked the energy and more innovative way of talking about how to create and sustain a culture of mutual learning and its impact on how leadership is perceived and practiced in organizations.

However, no work of art is perfect. Smart Leaders, Smart Teams is still a superior management book which would be a clear asset on the bookshelves of any leader or team member.

Be sure to check it out.


Getting your entire team to use a mutual learning approach is much more powerful than changing your own approach alone. As a team you can learn faster and achieve better results quicker.

– Roger Schwarz


Intergen ebook cover with TextClick here to download my new complimentary e-book Leadership and the Inter-Generational Divide, 2nd Edition.


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