Great advice on leadership: A review of Don’t Just Manage Lead!

An engaging book on leadership that makes the lessons sticky.
An engaging book on leadership that makes the lessons sticky.

I have to be honest, when I started reading this book I expected a book of leadership platitudes and truisms written by yet another CEO trying to make his name as an author. I am happy to say that was NOT what I found. Arthur E. Coombs III has produced a book that is generously sprinkled with his life lessons that demonstrate his view of leadership.

No new lessons

Are these lessons earth shattering or groundbreaking revelations on leadership? No, they are not. We still learn that it is important for effective leader to be good communicators. We still lean that effective leaders have to be results oriented and have the ability to meet and exceed goals. We still learn that leaders have to have the ability to focus on critical issues. We still learn that leaders have to create, foster and advance followers and not just manage people. And we still learn that leaders have to model the behaviors they expect from their followers. These are all things that have been written about many times before in other leadership books. But Coombs has a personal twist on his story of leadership that makes these lessons much more engaging that just a business book. To me the lessons are much “stickier” than those from just a dry text.

Lessons taught by his life

Coombs weaves a tale that brings us lessons from his struggles as a child with dyslexia. He tells of lessons he learned about making mistakes and owning up to them and even laughing about them with his children. He tells us a story about one of his failures that was bad enough to literally leave egg on his face, on the top of his head and down the front of his shirt. All of this while in front of all his employees.
Another engaging story about his young daughter and her statement that she had a “hot butt” left him flabbergasted and taught him the value of seeing things from the other person’s point of view.
Coombs passes on wisdom from his father and mother in a number of stories that demonstrate leadership principles. Goal setting and the process of “chunking” came from his mother as a lesson in having a clean room. Chunking is the process of answering the question “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”
He gives us stories to demonstrate the importance of asking the right questions and allowing people to work in a safe environment where they are allowed to point out mistakes and make their own without fear of punishment.

Strengths not weaknesses

One of the lessons I really liked was Coombs focusing on how leaders focus on followers’ strengths and not their short-comings. This is a valuable lesson and should be critically important in today’s discussions of performance evaluation. As an HR consultant I have long told people to focus on what employees do well as opposed to what they do poorly. Coombs tell us to focus not on the P&L, but rather what he calls the P&E, people and empathy.

Business decision litmus test

He tells us about the business decision litmus test he uses. It consists of the following questions:

  1. Will this decision increase revenue?
  2. Will this decision decrease expenses?
  3. Will the decision decrease “ugly” assets?

To learn how he applies these questions you will have to read the book.


One of the tips that Coombs tells us is important to leadership is the use of humor. Not joke telling humor, but extracting the humorous life situations that occur every day to make someone smile and to teach them a lesson. Coombs does this very well in this book and he makes the lessons of leadership more learnable as a result.


The last chapter in the book is on something called “mimesis” which is defined as “the deliberate imitation of the behavior of one group of people by another as a factor in social change.” In terms of Coombs book it means followers do what leaders do. If leaders are unethical followers are very likely to be unethical too. In my HR classes I tell students that employees will model the behavior of their supervisors. If a supervisor ignores a safety problem employees will most likely ignore it as well. If a manager cheats on an expense report employees are more likely to do the same.


Despite my initial thought I really enjoyed reading Art Coombs’ book and even though I knew these leadership points before they are much stickier now. If you are looking to learn about leadership or to teach leadership to supervisors or students I think Don’t Just Manage LEAD! would be an excellent tool to use. It is easy to read and very informative.

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