Title: The Three Levels of Leadership
Author: James Scouller
Publisher: Management Books 2000
Price: £16.99
ISBN: 9781852526818

Ten years ago US business thinker Jim Collins, in an influential analysis based on the most thorough research study of its kind, identified the factors that allowed top companies to move from Good to Great, the title of his book. Yet there was a big hole in the explanation.

Collins wrote that a key component was what he called "level 5 leadership". The leaders of those great companies manifested "a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will". But Collins couldn't throw light on how such a winning combination had developed in those leaders.

James Scouller makes an impressive attempt to explain that inner development process. His model, called "three levels of leadership" – not to be confused with Collins' five – distinguishes between public leadership (actions that leaders take in a group setting), private leadership (how they relate to individuals) and personal leadership. This third dimension is about "the leader's psychological, moral and technical development and its effect on his presence and behaviour".

Scouller, a Briton who spent 11 years in chief executive roles with international firms before becoming an executive coach in 2004, outlines the "public" and "private" dimensions of his model by drawing on all the main strands in leadership theory in a brisk and practical style. But it's his attempt to integrate an understanding of psychology and the inner life into his leadership model that is his most original contribution.

He believes there is no single or best way of being a leader. While we can identify key leadership behaviours and knowledge, the way each individual combines and expresses them is unique. But, he says, "our ability to express our unique character traits powerfully but wisely, and use our skills and know-how confidently, without fear, will depend on our level of inner integration, of wholeness".

There's the rub. This process of inner integration or "self-mastery" can be even harder work than the more conventional aspects of leadership. We all have unconscious "limiting beliefs" and "defensive behaviours", says Scouller, which block our full potential, authentic expression and joy in our work. He offers detailed maps and techniques for facilitating self-awareness and change.

Scouller's model of the psyche and personal change is based on the work of Italian psychotherapist Roberto Assagioli, who was a contemporary of Freud and Jung, and created the school of psychosynthesis. He has updated it to include major developments in psychology such as cognitive behavioural therapy, and the latest insights provided by neuroscience.

Many academically-based management trainers will be suspicious of any attempt to chart the inner experience of human beings, but this book is a serious and measured contribution to the leadership literature. My reservations are not with the theory, but about whether it is realistic to imply that the process of deep psycho-spiritual change can be navigated solely with the help of a book, however good. Very few people would have the discipline or self-awareness to undertake such a project without the help of a good executive coach, ideally one with a psychotherapeutic training.

This book is a competent attempt to fill the gap in Jim Collins' analysis back in Good to Great. James Scoullar has six pages of impressive recommendations at the front. However the absence of Jim Collins from the plaudits suggests the guru himself may not yet be convinced.

Review by Rob MacLachlan, editor of People Management

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  • I look forward to reading the book. As far as needed a coach, I doubt that any of us would be where we are on a spiritual path without some deep personal guidance along the way.