Book Review: Leader of One

leaderofoneOne of the hallmarks of the Executive MBA (EMBA) curriculum at the University of Maryland Robert H. Smith School of Business is the opportunity to work with an executive coach throughout the program. As a student, I was privileged to be coached by Dr. Gerald Suarez, a veteran of the Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush White Houses, and author of Leader of One.

Before he matched as my coach, Dr. Suarez gave our EMBA cohort an 8 hour course in design thinking about planning with the future in mind. A gifted story-teller, Dr. Suarez held our attention for the entire day. He introduced us to design thinking, keeping the mission first, and the importance of empathy.

Naturally, when we were given a copy of Leader of One, I went home and read it over the course of the next few days. The book advocates creating a future shaping perspective rather than a short-term, quick fix orientation to accomplishing our life and career goals. The book is a deeper dive into Dr. Suarez’s design framework which is a cycle of: Contemplation (what) – Desire (why) – Design (how) – Creation (when).

In each section of the framework, Dr. Suarez introduces core concepts and important lessons about how to look both inward and outward when planning to achieve our goals. At the end of each section, he includes a compilation of questions that force the reader to reflect.

Throughout the book, he covers concepts like developing a strong sense of self, understanding your purpose and meaning, design thinking, finding your “ethical north”, and developing trust.

In addition to the variety of anecdotes throughout the book, my favorite thing about both the book and in working with Dr. Suarez as a coach was his insistence on going deep. Many books and philosophies are based on symptoms. For some, we focus on our de-railers and look for strategies to overcome them. Even in a strengths-based approach, we leave out what is going on underneath the surface of our consciousness.

Dr. Suarez, both in his book and in coaching, starts with reflection to perform a diagnosis before treating symptoms, defining the mission, and staying fired up. He insists that the reader takes time to reflect and go down to that “next level” to understand their subconscious and work to contemplate an “ideal state” in the future and then create it.

For the modern professional, the opportunity to slow down and engage in self-reflection is critical. Reflection prevents us from waking up one day in the future feeling like we have neglected our families for work that is more occupying and distracting than rewarding and aligned to our purpose.

Leader of One is an important read for the aspiring or current leader. My advice is to really take the time to internalize the lessons in the book. If you do, you are on your way to creating your future rather than letting that future reactively shape you.

TAKE-AWAY: For the most important things in life, there are no quick fixes. Take the time to go deeper and learn more about yourself, define your personal mission, and pursue it. 


Leader of One is available for purchase on Amazon for $24.95.