Great Leaders Have No Rules by Kevin Kruse

June 18, 2019

Book Review by Andy Ghillyer

The term contrarian implies a direct challenge to the status quo and a willingness to throw out the existing rule book in pursuit of a transformative outcome.

In his new book Great Leaders Have No Rules: Contrarian Leadership Principles to Transform Your Team and Business, serial entrepreneur and New York Times best-selling author Kevin Kruse does exactly that. The basic premise of the book rests on two things. First, Kruse considers effective leadership to be a superpower. It doesn’t automatically arrive with the title. Second, and perhaps more controversial, the author is adamant that: “almost everything we’ve been taught about leadership is wrong.”

Managers Manage, Leaders Lead

If we follow the simple argument that effective managers manage things––strategic plans, budgets, production schedules, marketing plans, staffing––then by Kruse’s definition, leaders don’t automatically have to control all of that by virtue of their seniority in the organization chart. They should be focused on one thing––leading their people. People represent the culture of the organization, and the extent to which they are engaged and committed to the fulfilment of organizational goals reflects directly on your effectiveness as a leader.

In this modern age of “merciless change and 24/7 communication,” you have to inspire your people, not control them through detailed policies and procedures. Once you take the emphasis from command-and-control and replace it with inspiring and motivating people to do more than they ever thought they could, organizational transformation becomes a real possibility.

Sacred Cows

Kruse underlines his contrarian stance by tackling some specific sacred cows from traditional leadership theory. For example:

An open-door policy may be humanistic, but it creates constant distractions. If you want to be effective, publish a schedule of office hours and keep your door closed.

On the same theme of minimizing interruptions, turn off your smartphone––challenge the assumption that you must be accessible at all times.

To inspire and motivate your people, you need to lead with love, but aim to be likeable rather than liked. You need to maintain enough separation to make the hard decisions and give tough feedback when required, but you don’t have to be a jerk about it.

Truly effective leadership is situational, and you must develop the confidence to be counterintuitive and go against the established practice when the need arises.

Kruse defends his proposal with solid data. For example, 70 percent of employees attribute their lack of engagement at work to a lack of leadership. If you want to be “the boss everyone wants to work for and the high achiever every CEO wants to hire,” read this book.

Great Leaders Have No Rules uses detailed case studies and engaging real-world examples to present a convincing argument that most of what we have been taught in old-school management courses is wrong. To be transformative, leaders must be willing to be counterintuitive when the situation warrants it.


Andy Ghillyer

Andy Ghillyer is a Contributing Writer at Soundview. He lives in Tampa, FL where he specializes in writing for the B2B and academic markets while raising a growing menagerie of cats and dogs. His other reviews are here.