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Jamie Lawrence


Insights Director

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Book Review: Stretch: Leading Beyond Boundaries by James Brook & Dr Paul Brewerton


Title: Stretch: Leading Beyond Boundaries
Authors: James Brook & Dr Paul Brewerton
ISBN: 978-1780884189

This book was reviewed by Michael Farry, Human Resources Director at PhotoBox.

There are numerous leadership books on the market today. What sets this one apart from others I have read is the fact that it is written as an engaging fable full of practical ideas, tips and tools, rather than another impenetrable academic text. This absorbing read is targeted at managers and leaders and even those that don’t read a lot will find it easy to digest.

Stretch follows the journey of an executive of an online recruitment company, Joe, a pessimistic and problem-centred leader, who is struggling in a quagmire of issues, failures, and threats, both at work and at home. With the help of an executive coach, Richard, he learns the importance of challenging his worldview to move beyond his limiting beliefs and assumptions. Joe learns that if he stays on what the authors call the “Path of Limitation”, he will be caught up in a destructive cycle of negative behaviours, emotions and outcomes, including a sense of fear, helplessness, and isolation. His coach, Richard, introduces him to a radically different leadership mindset based on a “Path of Possibility”, characterised by a focus on possibilities, solutions and strengths. By refocusing his time and energy on solutions and strengths (both his own and those of his team), he learns how to lead more effectively and deliver enduring success, innovation and engagement.

Richard helps Joe understand that effective leadership in today’s complex and uncertain world is about Positive Stretch – stretching people to push the boundaries and achieve in the upper range of their collective strengths and capabilities.

According to the authors’ research, to achieve positive stretch, leaders need to discover their “Leadership Edge” (their unique combination of aspirations, values, skills and strengths) and learn four ‘Stretch Leadership Habits’. They first need to establish a clear ‘picture of success’ for themselves and their organisation, referred to in the book as ‘Sharing Vision’. They then break the shared vision down into manageable stretch goals, ‘Sparking Engagement’ with their team. They ‘Skilfully Execute’ every step of the way, celebrating success and ‘Sustaining Progress’ and positive energy throughout. In short, they push the boundaries of thinking and possibility, looking for new and innovative ways of doing things to achieve the organisation’s goals, whilst at the same time advancing their own career.

Reviewer’s Rating

What I really liked about the book is that rather than trying to explain all the research and background concepts in the increasingly popular area of strengths-based talent management, this book brings the theory and research to life by showing how these concepts translate into practice through the eyes of a character most leaders will easily identify with. The excellent downloadable tools are another good reason to buy this book. I can’t claim to have used them all, however, the ones I have downloaded and trialled to date are easy to use and provide significant guidance and insight on the practical aspects of translating theory into action.

However, there are several weaker aspects of the book. Because it is a fable, it doesn’t go into any depth about the underlying research and evidence for a strengths-based approach to managing people. The book also deals somewhat superficially with some of the more challenging aspects I see in work environments, including the political nature of leadership and the cultural differences and complexities arising in a multi-national company that often complicate the leader’s role.

I would strongly recommend this book to leaders and aspiring leaders at all levels as the practical frameworks, techniques and tools in it will provide them with a road-map to strengthen their results and bring the best of themselves to those they lead. Trainers and coaches will also benefit from reading the book, as there is clear guidance on how they can enhance their impact and ‘leadership edge’.

Rating: 4.5 / 5 stars

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Jamie Lawrence

Insights Director

Read more from Jamie Lawrence