Choosing Smart Leadership

I’m a believer in people. I also believe that when women and men elevate leadership, they activate potential to change their life, change their work, and change the world. Enter Mark Miller, author of recently released Smart Leadership: Four Simple Choices to Scale Your Impact. Are you ready to increase influence and impact in life and work? Smart Leadership offers readers options to gain insight and grow leadership capacity for themselves and their organizations.

You should know I’m a huge fan of Mark Miller’s body of work. Miller’s writing supports leader development and growth in personal and professional domains. Most important for busy professionals, his books are highly readable and actionable.

Quick Overview

Miller begins Smart Leadership with an analogy of swimming in quicksand. Leaders stuck in the quicksand are less effective and ultimately unable to sustain the effort required to keep from sinking. Navigating the suck of the quicksand drains energy and attention away from practice of leading well. Having set the stage, it’s time to know how to escape this trap.

Smart Leadership describes four critical choices: confront reality, grow capacity, fuel curiosity, and create change. Embracing and harmonizing the four choices generates a scaffolding for success for the leader, his or her team, and the organization each serves.

What To Expect

The book is meaty—offering substance on the topic, but doing so in easy to digest chunks. Readers will find Smart Leadership designed to fit into their reading/learning style. While a leader may read straight through, she or he will benefit by pausing, completing suggested prompts, reflecting, and executing on the ideas.

Unlike Miller’s leadership High Performance Series that began with Chess Not Checkers (which I highly recommend), Smart Leadership is not a business fable.* Instead, the book reflects Miller’s extensive background in the leadership field, presenting a cohesive “how to” for leaders. Miller has filled Smart Leadership with nuggets of wisdom. Readers will find description, stories, expert insight, and research seamlessly woven throughout the work.

As a bonus, Miller provides additional material that readers can access online. He also includes several ways to reach him, with prompts to share a reader’s takeaways directly. How many authors do you know that publish their cell phone?

Notes, Quotes, & Takeaways

If you’re looking to grow your leadership, you can be confident you’ll find actionable insights in this book. While I personally have close to ten pages of notes and actions from my first pass, any reader can pull out a single key thought, take action, then pick out a next suggestion for follow up. Here are a few notes I marked with call out *stars* … I tend to mix conceptual ideas, quotes, actions, and connections to other experiences and learning in my notes.

  • Knowing our current reality is like marking our starting point on a map. We can see where we want to go and identify our best path for the journey.
  • An outstanding plan is trash if we don’t execute.
  • Capacity building makes the impossible possible.
  • T. D. Jakes, “If a leader is in a sustained period of stress and pressure, he or she doesn’t have the proper structure. Structure, by design, is supposed to lift and support. …”
  • One of my actions: commit to 30 days of sleep at 9:30 pm—even in the midst of Olympic coverage when my fave events hit after 11 pm; report to Mark Miller on results.
  • Random connections:
    • Design thinking – reminds me of my appreciation for IDEO’s approach to design. How do the lessons from their “reimagining a shopping cart” apply to Miller’s suggestions on applying design to life and work?
    • Notebooks! Connection to another book I really like: Michael Gelb’s How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day (2009). Capture thoughts, ideas, books to read and more—I use journals for this.
  • Status quo is not leadership. Progress is the promise of leadership.
  • Steve Jobs, “The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”
  • What do you want to be true in a decade?

Final Thoughts

Let me repeat the last item I listed from my Smart Leadership notes: What do you want to be true in a decade?What can you imagine for yourself and your organization? Work backwards and add different time horizons. What has to be true five years from now in order for your imagined future to exist? How about in the short term (3 months, 6 months, 1 year)? How will confronting reality, growing capacity, fueling curiosity, and creating change get you there? What first step will you take?

Remember, I believe you can change your life, your work, and your world. Pick up a copy of Smart Leadershipand use Mark Miller’s recommendations to move you forward. If you need help, feel free to reach out.

As an academic and executive coach, I’m often given the opportunity to read and review books prior to publication and, yes, Smart Leadership is one of these. I only recommend books I believe will be of real value.


*Read Want a game plan to Win Every Day? to learn about Win Every Day: Proven Practices for Extraordinary Results, one of the books from Miller’s High Performance Series.

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