No Excuses Leadership
Author: Brace E. Barber
Publication Date: 2004
Book Description: What’s the key message?
No Excuse Leadership is a book that leverages the direct experience of the author as a U.S. Army Ranger and the experiences of other Rangers. This book is one filled with stories, directly from the mouths of ten Rangers, who tell of their experience of being tested beyond their known limits. Most of the stories hail directly from Ranger School, an experience designed to stretch the mind, body and spirit beyond its breaking point for Rangers to learn what they are capable of and to learn that other struggles can’t be that bad. Each chapter in the book focuses on one Ranger and one leadership principle. The principles drawn out through these stories are that Rangers are Persistent, Humble, Focused, Driven, Instinctual, Honest, Selfless, Confident, Dutiful and Determined. Of course, these leadership principles as a list are not that revealing or fresh. To say that a leader must be Honest or Driven is not a breakthrough concept. What makes this book powerful is the way in which these leadership principles are brought to life. By telling these stories in the first person, you put yourself side by side with the Ranger as they paint a picture in vivid detail – you can feel the cold of the water, the strain to stay awake, or the desperation for a moments rest. The reader is placed in the desert or swamp with the Ranger to gain a sense of just how severe and how challenged these Rangers were to rise to the top. Each Ranger’s stories carry many lessons on leadership, including the title of the book of no excuses, although each of the 10 principles are focused on a single Ranger. The author, Ranger Barber, not only includes a chapter on his own experience, which is the most extensive chapter drawing the Ranger lessons outside of the military into civilian experiences, but Barber also provides an introduction and summary of each Ranger’s chapter drawing upon the key lessons.Â Barber focuses on these two key lessons: “seek responsibility and take it for your actions and know yourself and seek self-improvement.”
How does it contribute on the lean knowledge base?
Being a lean change agent doesn’t quite carry the same risks as in the military, but a lean change agent might be the Rangers of the operations world. There is tremendous pressure and it requires the types of leadership skills discussed in No Excuses Leadership. The lean change agent has to be Persistent, as they are trying to make a big change over a long period of time. The lean change agent has to be Humble, because they will only win the hearts and minds of others if they get the credit and not the change agent. The lean change agent has to be Focused, because otherwise they will get sucked back in to the very firefighting they are trying to change. The lean change agent has to be Driven, because they will have to push through barrier after barrier. The lean change agent has to be Instinctual, because they will have to make organizational bets that might not pay off for many months. All of the leadership principles that Barber discusses in this book apply to the lean change agent, and while the environment and consequences are different, a lean transformation is a war, but a war for the hearts and minds of the employees and leaders of the organization.
What are the highlights? What works?
The primary strength of No Excuses Leadership is the inspirational stories told in the first-person. You have the feeling you have really met the people telling their stories.Â You feel as if you are part of the experience. The author assumes you have the ability to draw out the majority of the lessons yourself, and while you have a short intro and summary, you are left to focus on the stories. These stories will inspire you and you are likely to adopt the message of No Excuses for yourself.
What are the weaknesses? What’s missing?
There is some redundancy in the stories. It is sometimes difficult to separate the stories if you read long stretches at a time.Â And because each Ranger exhibits many leadership capabilities, the alignment between the stories and the leadership principles are sometimes not as clear as you would like them to be. And while being immersed in Ranger School may provide the most intense lessons on leadership and the most extreme stories, you would also like to hear more about how the Ranger applied these lessons beyond Ranger School, whether still in the military or in civilian life. A little of this is provided but more would help deepen the lessons provided.
How should I read this to get the most out of it?
Don’t read this book quickly in just a few sittings; by spreading out the reading over time, you will gain more from the stories. Because these stories provide outright inspiration, it can also be read any time such inspiration is called for. Because the stories are told in the first person it is very easy to read and can be digested in any setting, not requiring a great deal of deep reflection.Â Because the author does not go too far in turning the leadership principles into actionable ideas for you, it is suggested that you spend a little time after each chapter reflecting upon how you live each principle and how to use it for self-improvement.