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John Hamm, on the 3 games of leadership

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John Hamm is author of “Unusually Excellent, The Necessary Nine Skills Required for the Practice of Great Leadership.” Miri McDonald, a strategic communications consultant, recently spoke with Hamm about the principles behind his book. An edited transcript of their conversation follows.

How is this book different from all of the other leadership books out there?

As a leadership coach, I have had the opportunity to really dig in with leaders for six to 18 months at a time. I was looking for a book that would provide a useful thinking framework that was not specific to someone’s unique situation but rather discussed overall patterns that come up for leaders. I was finding myself at the whiteboard untangling and reformatting the same problems over and over again.

There are lots of books out there about leaders where you can watch from the bleachers. There are also thematic books where a central idea — for example, trust and leadership — is discussed at length. But, to use a skiing metaphor, I couldn’t find anything out there that was essentially a trail map for the territory combined with the basics for how to ski well.

I wanted to help address the sense of entanglement the leader feels on a daily basis. To help the leader separate and distinguish the things they encounter again and again. That is what my coaching work helps them do. It helps leaders separate things as different from each other. I wanted to create a book that would provide leaders some of the same benefits of working with a coach.

Tell me more about your framework — the 3 games of leadership.

I think the leadership playing field is about three big things — Credibility, Competence, and Consequence. And then within those, I identified three key focus areas, to give leaders nine essential skills to worry about. My philosophy, and I tested it time and again, is that once you cover the three essential elements for each “game” of leadership, the rest falls into place.

  1. Credibility: This is who you are. It gets at who leaders are to their followers, the quality of the relationship, and earning the right to lead. It’s really a matter of character and understanding that leadership is an earned, versus granted, position. You are being called to a higher ground of credibility to be authentic, trustworthy, and compelling. A leader can behave in ways that can either increase these areas or unknowingly break them down.
  2. Competence. This is what you do. You have to get the job right. This one is built on the premise that every leadership problem can be categorized into three key areas: People, Strategy and Execution. You’d be shocked at how enormously liberating it is when leaders are provided with this framework. It often gets them “unstuck” because it helps them categorize their problems, which is the first step to solving them.
  3. Consequence. This is how you do things. The legacy you leave. This one is about decision-making, communication, and impact. How did you make decisions? How did you choose to communicate your decisions? What is your reputation and your impact on others?

Which of the nine skills do you think is most critical?

Trustworthiness. Trust is an environmental condition that allows people to feel safe. How safe do you make your people feel? Do they feel free to take risks without fear of arbitrary consequences? Organizations and leaders don’t realize that if people do not feel safe, the organization will flounder. The organization’s performance is directly linked to how it feels for the staff to try and perform at their best on a daily basis. Many executives don’t get good information because they punish bad information.