06/18/2013 11:43 am ET Updated Aug 17, 2013

Kevin Allen's The Buoyant Leader : A Review

"You are now dinner conversation." And with these words, that will resonate with every leader, Kevin Allen opens his latest, stunning book: The Buoyant Leader.

Visceral, compelling and bullshit-free (much like Allen himself), the book is an effervescent essay in humanly relevant leadership. Weaving rich, Gladwellian, personal anecdote into tangible, usable advice, the central thesis is the leadership imperative to make an individual priority of each direct report: to be a leader who believes in his or her teams, who in turn believe in themselves -- leadership is, in short, 'totes emosh.'

Because for Allen, empathy and generosity -- not technical superiority -- are what enable a leader to be 'buoyant;' to be carried as primus inter partes, not by command but by common consent. Standing on the shoulders of giants, one might say, but with historical reason, argues Allen -- as the world continues to shift away from a supply based economy, to one which is demand-centric.

For what it's worth, I couldn't agree more. Allen draws on many decades of coal-face experience, from the lessons he learned from JW Marriott about the 'nobility of service' to the astonishing job he did in convincing Mastercard to go with the now famous 'Priceless' work, and much in between besides.

Placing particular significance on the importance for leaders of finding a common cause, and then -- crucially -- letting people simply get on with things, Allen reminded me of the words of a shared mentor of ours: 'manage 'em on kite strings not dog leashes.'

People are at their best when they are free, and as leaders we have a duty to liberate -- to do away with reduced expectations, to do away with negativity; neither of which, says Allen, are to be tolerated. Only 'radiators' and not 'drains' can help create the 'movement', that community of followers which makes Buoyant Leadership possible.

And these followers must be motivated, catalyzed -- not by numbers, facts or figures (hallelujah!) but by uncovering, on an individual basis, each person's own wants, needs and values. This is a highly practical application of Martin Seligman's school of positive psychology; focusing on what is 'right' with people -- and why -- as opposed to what is 'wrong' with them. In this way, argues Allen, each person can -- because he or she will proactively want to -- urgently make his or her own way to the audacious promised land that it is a Buoyant Leader's obligation to articulate; Reagan's Shining City On A Hill.

But this journey will never be -- should not be -- straightforward; not least for the Buoyant Leader -- there will always be times where all around you are losing their heads, and blaming it on you. But, like Kipling, Allen is clear that moments of hardship are an essential part of the process. The shared knocks, combined with the Buoyant Leader's unwavering, effusive and -- importantly -- infectious confidence, knit a team together like nothing else. And success and failure, those two impostors, must continually be assessed along the way -- analysed in a continual kaizen loop of listening, of learning, of improving. A cycle throughout which the Buoyant Leader gives, constantly, relentlessly; always.

Because leadership is as life, and as it says on the front door of the gyro: London offices here in Chelsea, "And in the end, the love you take, is equal to the love you make."