Rules & Tools for Leaders: A Down-to-Earth Guide to Effective Managing
Maj. Gen. Perry M. Smith, Ph.D., USAF (Retired)
© 1998, 2002, 296 pages

Recently, I asked a mentor to recommend some books that he thinks a young future lieutenant would benefit from reading. As a former Army Colonel with over thirty years in the military, his recommendations are valuable to me. In fact, he did better than just recommend books; he brought a box of them for me and others to sort through and borrow. This book by Maj. Gen. Smith is one of those.

Rules & Tools for Leaders is just what the subtitle says, a practical guide for managing organizations. Its context is large organizations, both military and civilian. It has three sections: leadership, growing people, and growing yourself.

In case you aren’t familiar with him, Gen. Smith is a retired Air Force General with an impressive career. He spent thirty years in the Air Force in various positions including command of the F-15 wing in Bitburg, Germany, top Air Force planner and commandant at the National War College, and fighter pilot in Vietnam. After the military, he has conducted seminars on leadership at companies like Lockheed and Microsoft in addition to working with news outlets like CNN, NBC, and NPR. Needless to say… the man is familiar with managing large organizations.

Although the book is not intended solely for military audiences, warriors will be familiar with a lot of his concepts. For example, here is his advice on controlling egos:

Often leaders have to suppress their strong personal ambitions in order to make sure that the movements toward higher standards of excellence, integrity, and performance are accomplished in careful and systematic ways. Selfless, strong leaders gain the respect of associates and the support of superiors.

Excellence, integrity, selflessness… that should sound familiar to airmen! Gen. Smith takes many leadership principles taught in military contexts and expands them in ways that you’ll be able to apply not just in your military career but also your other areas of influence.

While it differs from other leadership books I’ve read that are very military-focused (Like A Higher Standard), I appreciate the way he applies leadership principles to other contexts.

While I love a good training or combat leadership story, illustrations like the ones shared by Gen. Smith may be more easily connected to the everyday issues faced by many military leaders in office- or business-like environments or those that work with organizations outside the military on a regular basis.

Gen. Smith first outlines thirty important leadership principles and traits. The next section of chapters describes ways to develop, inspire, or discipline the people you are leading. The last section talks about the importance of developing yourself as a leader and ways to continue your growth.

One of the best parts of this book is its reference value. This is a book I would keep on the shelf and come back to in difficult situations. Each of the chapters has a checklist at the end to help you understand and apply the principles discussed. Whether its discerning morale from the comments of subordinates you hear in the hall, interacting with the press, or questions to ask in a mentorship meeting, these lists are extremely thorough and an invaluable resource I’ll refer to time and again.

Another thing I love about this book is that it’s really a jumping-off point for leadership development. Throughout the book he recommends other authors and books to read, and at the end there is a further reading list to learn more.

I recommend this book for its easy-to-read and easy-to-reference information on all aspects of leading and management.  Although it’s geared toward leaders of large organizations, it’s never too early to begin preparing for the leadership position you may have someday. You’ll have plenty of tips to work on at present and develop for when you need them later, for leadership skills don’t suddenly crop up when you receive a particular title.

Noteworthy quotes from the book:

“Each person is really five people: you are who you are; you are who you think you are; you are who your subordinate associates think you are; you are who your peers think you are; and you are who your boss thinks you are.”

“Integrity is not something that can be put on and taken off as we go to and from work. People whose character is weak while outside of the job do not have the character required to be leaders.”

“As a leader, it is important for you to do your own thinking, to read widely, and to talk with and listen to others inside and outside your organization.”

“…no organization can maximize the vital feedback mechanism if only men from one race sit around the corporate and organizational boardrooms in America and elsewhere.”

“About a month after my promotion [to Brigadier General] was announced, I asked the commander of all U.S. Air Forces in Europe how I could possibly have been selected for promotion. The answer I got was fascinating; he replied, ‘Because you handled failure well.'”

“Of all the various dimensions of leadership that must be mastered by those who strive to be great leaders, integrity is the most important.”

Have you read this book or any others by Gen. Smith? If so, what have you thought of them?  If you haven’t, do you think this book would be worth a read in the future?

You can also check out Gen. Smith’s website here.