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The Benefits Of When Everyone Leads


It’s only January and the new book, When Everyone Leads, could likely be my pick for the best new leadership book of 2023. It’s that good. There’s still nearly a whole year ahead of us so we’ll see what other books debut. In the meantime, add this book to your must-read list. 

You’ll learn that:

  • Leadership is an activity, not a position.
  • Leadership is mobilizing others to make progress on the most important challenges.
  • Leadership is interactive, risky and experimental.
  • Leadership comes in moments.
  • Leadership is always about change. 

When Everyone Leads, by Ed O’Malley and Julia Fabris McBride, presents a revolutionary approach to leadership; not based on position or authority, but an activity that anybody can undertake by learning to spot opportunities for improvement and taking the initiative to engage others. 

“It can be unfamiliar and uncomfortable, but in a culture where everyone leads, organizations start to make progress on their most difficult problems,” explain the authors. 

As founder and chief leadership development officer at the Kansas Leadership Center, respectively, O’Malley and Fabris McBride have led thousands of people through programs to help them engage in the act of leadership. They have seen remarkable results with people from all walks of life, but they’re also keenly aware of the obstacles that tend to come up. In When Everyone Leads, they delve into: 

  • Identifying the Gap: how to pinpoint the area where your organization needs to improve, the gap between where you are and where you want to be;
  • Overcoming Barriers to Progress: how to circumvent common pitfalls that impede growth, including value clashes within a team and resistance to changing the status quo;
  • Starting With You: how to empower yourself to take the first steps towards leadership;
  • Using the Heat: getting your team to the productive zone between avoidance of the tough challenges (heat too low) and clashes over how to solve them (heat too high);
  • Inviting Everyone to Lead: specific steps to take, questions to ask, and methods of thinking that you can use to engage in the act of leadership, and allow your peers to do the same. 

Full of specific examples of challenges and solutions from fields as diverse as nonprofits, school boards, healthcare, and the corporate world, When Everyone Leads, offers a proven, actionable approach for any company, organization, or community to navigate through its most pressing challenges. 

The book is fast paced and highly readable, with a bold design including graphics, end-of-chapter Q&A’s, and bite-size content presentation for easy reading and comprehension. You’ll discover what you learn from the book is relatable and directly applicable.

Julia Fabris McBride and Ed O'Malley

Today, the authors share these insights with us: 

Question: Why did you decide to write the book? 

The Authors: Our hope in writing this book is to build on a movement we’ve already started. A movement that inspires more people to practice leadership where they can and when they can. We want to spread our counterculture leadership ideas far beyond the people we can reach through our in-person and Zoom-base programs. Because our world needs more people to embrace the ideas in this book and to step up and start leading. 

The new model leadership we talk about in When Everyone Leads is a match for our turbulent times. It is hopeful and forward-looking. We know through our experience working with hundreds of companies, organizations, and communities that what you’ll discover in our book is an antidote for polarization, stagnation, and divisiveness. Our model works because it places the challenge, not the person, at the center. 

It's pretty counterculture of us to declare, as we do in the book, that even if you are the CEO (or the governor, prime minister, or president) with today’s toughest challenges, your authority alone will never be enough to bridge the gap between where you are and where you want to be. Another way to put that is no matter who we elect (or appoint, or hire) their brilliance will never be enough to solve our most pressing problems. Progress on what matters most requires those in authority to do their part, but their part alone is insufficient. 

Leadership position and leadership team are outdated terms from a model that no longer works. Think eliminating poverty, stopping climate change, achieving racial equity, or building the innovative organizational culture your company needs to survive. Authority is not enough to solve those daunting challenges. (Don’t get us wrong. Our institutions need structure and processes, and people in authority positions to keep it all running. Society would fall apart without that. Authority is necessary. It’s just not sufficient.) 

We need everyone ­to have understand that leadership is an activity. It is not a role. It’s a thing we do. We need everyone to know that leadership is mobilizing others to make progress on complex and entrenched challenges, and that each of us has a responsibility to find our moments to lead. 

That’s why we wrote this book.

Question: Tell us more about your reader-engaging approach in book presentation -- combination of Q&As, letters, illustrations, conversational style. 

The Authors: If we want everyone to lead, we needed a book that everyone would want to read. 

We love that you think it’s engaging in its presentation. That’s exactly what we were going for. When Everyone Leads is as much for avid readers as it is for people who read just one book a year. It’s a business book that is accessible to non-businesspeople. It’s a quick read that a busy executive can digest in an evening. It’s for the activist who doesn’t have time to read. It’s for visual learners who almost never read. The design – by Stauber Design Studio – is intended to draw you in and pull you along quickly. The short chapters with a semi-predictable rhythm to them make it easy to dip in and out. 

We want teams and groups to read and discuss this book together and we know from experience with Ed’s first book that Pat Byrnes’ cartoons are great conversation starters. He draws for the New Yorker, so that gives you an idea of the kind of compelling images we were going for.   

Our bullet-pointed lists of tips and traps make it easy to begin applying the ideas in the book right away. That’s our big goal. Get as many people as possible to pick up the book, thumb through and think, “This book is for me.” 

Question: How has the Kansas Leadership Center influenced your book? 

The Authors: We launched the Kansas Leadership Center (KLC) in 2007 with funding from a foundation whose board members understood that the quality and quantity of leadership is key to the prosperity, health, and success of organizations, companies, and communities. Over the last 15 years worked with over 15,000 people using the ideas in this book. Our research and experience with partners throughout our state and around the world, show that the ideas in this book work to help people make more progress on what they care about most. 

Question: What's your book's most important takeaway for readers? 

The Authors: We want readers to know that leadership is not about position or authority. It’s not about having the top job or the ability to command huge audiences. 

Leadership is engaging others to solve daunting challenges and achieve big aspirations. And leadership is for everyone. That’s a powerful and energizing idea: Anyone can lead, anytime anywhere. We all face challenges in our professional lives, in our communities, in our personal lives and in our families. They can seem insolvable, beyond our ability to even see what needs to be done. But they are not. 

Because leadership is an activity. It’s small actions taken in moments of opportunity. Once you’ve read our book, you’ll be able to see more of those moments. The blinders will come off and the barriers will start to fall away. You’ll see more moments and you’ll be able to seize the opportunity in those moments. And, most importantly, you can help others see those opportunities too. 

Today’s toughest challenges demand a new approach to leadership. 

Thank you to the book’s publisher for sending me an advance copy of the book.

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