This Is Day One: A Practical Guide to Leadership that Matters

Reviewed by Melanie B. Brewer, melanie@sbhumanfactors.com

Reviewed by Melanie B. Brewer, melanie@sbhumanfactors.com
Santa Barbara Human Factors, Santa Barbara, CA

Is it a powerful studio executive, a Wall Street CEO, or a Navy Seal commander who fits your image of a leader? This Is Day One: A Practical Guide to Leadership that Matters shows leadership is more than these stereotypical images. Drew Dudley’s book is for anyone who seeks to improve themselves and the world around them. The focus is on personal development and how that can lead to true leadership.

Dudley’s TEDx talk on leadership has been voted one of the fifteen most inspirational TED talks of all time. As an internationally-known leadership expert, he’s also helped some of the world’s largest organizations redefine their core leadership values, companies that include Procter & Gamble, JP Morgan Chase, and more.

Dudley’s engaging vision for leadership is fresh and new, and is definitely more inclusive than traditional models that imply a leader is a special role that only one or a few people can hold within an organization. He deeply believes in making leadership something that’s accessible to anyone, and that “leaders aren’t identified by their jobs, they are identified by how they choose to do them.” This applies to all from the C-Suite to the mailroom and everyone in between.

The core message is that leadership begins with leading yourself first. He asserts that true leadership can be developed as a daily practice of asking what he calls “action-driving questions” that reinforce a set of personal leadership values. Thus, in his hands, leadership training becomes more like a daily practice such as meditation or yoga. Leadership is reimagined as a means for reaching one’s full personal capacity, while also inspiring leadership in others and shining a light on underrecognized leaders.

Throughout the book, Dudley illustrates his concepts with vivid stories that are highly effective at communicating the big ideas and making them memorable. Some are also quite moving, so if you’ve never been moved to tears (other than tears of boredom) by a leadership book, get your tissues ready when you read this book.

Dudley begins Part I with the concept of a Day One, which is a renewal of commitment to leadership behaviors, every single day. He moves on to blowing up conventional ideas about “what is a leader” and “what do leaders do” and asserting that leadership is what happens on the ordinary days, not the extraordinary ones. A key idea is operationalizing leadership values, which means taking a disciplined approach to identifying your own deeply resonant personal leadership values and then living them out.

In Part II, he does a deep dive into his own six personal leadership values, which can be applied to anyone. Some of these sections are better developed and more thoughtful than others—but the good ones, particularly the first three, are worth the price of this book. Throughout, he sprinkles in stories and wisdom gathered in his travels.

Part III moves on to exercises intended to help each reader identify his or her own core values and action-driving questions to put the method into practice. This section ping-pongs back and forth between advising us to focus on aspirational values (self-improvement) and, alternatively, to focus on existing values (to aid good decision making), leaving an overall impression that the techniques and ideas in this section haven’t had the chance to fully mature to the same extent as some of the other material in the book. It would help if Dudley were clearer that either choice can be a good one, depending upon the reader’s situation and goals, which seems to be the point he is making indirectly.

The book wraps up with a surprisingly high-value appendix section, which includes an alphabetical list of 48 astonishingly diverse personal leadership values and action-driving questions that I found myself referring to again and again as I read the book. This list could inspire personal growth in a sea anemone. As such, it can inspire all of us and serve as an ongoing touchpoint for leadership values from accountability to vulnerability and everything in between.

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