Review: Speed – How Leaders Accelerate Successful Execution by John Zenger & Joseph Folkman

speedThis review first ran in the May 8 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Speed: How Leaders Accelerate Successful Execution

By John Zenger and Joseph Folkman

McGraw Hill


Sitting through marathon meetings irritates you.

Pursuing perfection at the expense of making progress frustrates you.

And dealing with people who can’t cut to the chase exhausts you.

Patience is not your virtue.

We could punish you. Remind you to go along to get along. Tell you to work on your poker face. Ship you off for remedial training.

But if we’re smart, we’ll promote you.

Organizations need to pick up the pace, say John Zenger and Joseph Folkman.

“The survival of organizations depends on their ability to move quickly,” say the authors of Speed and CEO and president of a firm that delivers leadership development programs to organizations worldwide.

“We live in a world where the pace at which an organization moves and its ability to adapt and change can lead to dramatic success or failure.”

One of the keys to organizational success is leadership speed.  “Agile organizations are full of speedy leaders,” say Zenger and Folkman.

“Organizations can only move as fast as their employees do. The pace of employees will impact the pace of the organization. Even more important is the pace of the leader. Leaders who resist a brisk pace can be a major source of a company’s problems and ultimately its failure.”

Zenger and Folkman say we need more leaders who excel at doing things well and doing them quickly. Pacesetting leaders are adept at spotting problems and trends early and then wasting no time in making course corrections.

These quick-off-the-mark leaders inspire the rest of us to pick up our game and keep us motivated to go the extra mile.

To move your organization from sluggish to speedy, leaders can set an example by holding shorter meetings and having briefer interactions. Become a master at gently guiding others’ conversations.  “Help others get to the heart of the matter and let them know you respect their time and you want them to respect yours.”

Based on 360-degree feedback results on 52,000 leaders, Zenger and Folkman have identified eight companion behaviors that will dial up your leadership speed:

  • be innovative with a willingness to change
  • exhibit strategic perspective
  • display courage
  • set stretch goals
  • communicate powerfully
  • bring an external focus
  • take initiative, and
  • possess knowledge and expertise

“The pendulum defining most organizations’ behavior is currently not in the middle, but on the slow, ponderous side,” say Zenger and Folkman. “There is an urgent need and huge benefit to attaining what we have defined as true leadership speed.”

The authors make a convincing case for why organizations and leaders need to swing the pendulum to the speedy side.

@jayrobb serves as communications director for Mohawk College and lives in Hamilton.




Published by

Jay Robb

I've reviewed more than 500 business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and worked in public relations since 1993.

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