Book Review: The Corner Office

corner office

Adam Bryant was curious about CEOs. Specifically, are there certain traits they have in common that set them apart from others? And are those traits necessarily what we would expect?

To find out, he interviewed more than 70 CEOs and executives, then grouped the nuggets he gleaned into chapters under three broad headings: “Succeeding,” “Managing,” and “Leading.” Continue reading “Book Review: The Corner Office”

December Book Review: The Prince

The Prince has been on my reading list for the better part of fifteen years and I borrowed it over a year ago, so it is a bit ironic that my first reaction on finally cracking it open and reading the first few pages was, “Wow, this is so useful! I should have read it years ago!” That reaction fluxed and changed over the course of the book, and this is the story of how that happened.

Of course, The Prince is often spoken of in shocked terms as being an amoral book, and certainly, as the introduction to this edition readily admits, “Machiavelli’s chief contribution to political thought lies in his freeing political action from moral consideration.”

True, Machiavelli does not insist upon morality if that will lessen power. But neither does he completely ignore moral considerations Continue reading “December Book Review: The Prince”

Summer School

When this blog went on extended hiatus this summer, it was not a rejection of the Eschewing Easy project. On the contrary (as many of my readers will know), I was committing to it for the rest of my life: I got married. I rather suspect that living happily ever after will provide the seed of many new Eschewing Easy posts.

The biggest lesson learned this summer? Planning a wedding is not easy or fun.

It is also great practice in leadership: from my perspective (although I’m sure others will disagree!), the bride can be regarded as the “CEO” of The Wedding. An involved groom is like a 40% shareholder – you’d better listen to what he wants. When the parents are paying, the Mother of the Bride is like the Board of Directors – the only person who can tell the bride what she absolutely cannot do. And the goal of it all is to fulfill the CEO’s vision while showing the “customers” – the guests – a good time.

I admit I thought of all this rather late in the process and therefore didn’t manage and lead the chaos as well as I might have. Turns out that no matter how determined one may be not to be a Bridezilla, planning a wedding does tend to focus one’s attention on Self and what “I” want. That’s a very hard position to lead from; you have to take a larger view if you’re going to manage (and keep happy) different factions.

The other thing I realized, at least more practically than I had previously, was that it’s hard to find the balance between being warm and emotive without being emotional, and between being decisive without being or seeming inconsiderate of others’ ideas.

Craving simplicity in a complex process, or just a brief respite from constant discussion, it’s easy to over-do the decisiveness, to pull rank, to put your foot down. It doesn’t work. Without consensus, or at least without others knowing you’ve given open-minded consideration to their ideas, resentment builds, everybody digs in their heels, and discussion accelerates – at a greatly increased level of tension.

Still, I’d say the end product was worth it all.

first kiss

Mother of the Bride and family friends under the pergola
Mother of the Bride and family friends under the pergola
friends enjoying the party
You know your wedding has a relaxed atmosphere when friends wander away and seat themselves on the grass.

It’s good to be back.

Harry Potter

Recently I have found myself tearing through the Harry Potter books. While there is plenty that could be said about their subject matter, so controversial in certain circles, and their shortcomings in the more technical aspects of literary merit, the thing that has struck me most is the courage and leadership consistently displayed by the hero, young Harry himself. Continue reading “Harry Potter”

Make as Few Rules as Possible

Benefit? Because I never said what or how much I had to post, only that it had to be weekly, this counts.

I know, it’s a cheap trick that only works once…

Of course, even writing this much on the subject prompts some consideraton of when there is a benefit to maximizing the number of rules (i.e., arguably, when regulating Wall Street) and when to cut back (generally, when trying to produce intelligent employees and effective Customer Service). And, that said, I would suggest that thinking about the objective one wants to accomplish by implementing one or more rules will tend to simplify them, and make them broader in scope and fewer in number.

Then again, there’s an exception to every rule.

Give Up

A recent conversation about leadership ended with the question, “Do you know what I’ve gone through to get there?” Yes. I do.

Later I wondered whether the only way to really know is to have gone through it oneself. Probably. I know what an accomplishment it is to have 30 people who don’t report to one consistently do one’s bidding, because I can’t get three people who don’t report to me to spend 10 minutes each month on a simple task. Do I know what it takes to gain influence over them, let alone get them to “jump through hoops”? Apparently not.

The summary given was 1) time, 2) get down in the trenches with them every time you ask them to do something, and 3) take an approach of eagerness to learn from them.

All are worthy of consideration, but the more I thought about it, the more what hit me was the phrase “what I’ve gone through.” It reminds me of the 18th Law of Success – The Law of Sacrifice.

To quote John C. Maxwell:

The life of a leader can look glamorous to people on the outside. But the reality is that leadership requires sacrifice. A leader must give up to go up.

The cliché of “paying dues” is misleading in two ways. For one thing, it suggests that the sacrifice is temporary, that if you put in your overtime, eventually you’ll reach a place where life is easy and the perks extreme – whereas, logically, more responsibility means more and bigger and thornier issues to deal with. But on the other hand, I suspect the cliché limits our idea of what’s at stake. Notice I said “if you put in your overtime.” I’m guessing most will have read right over that without a second thought, and yet, work is only one area where sacrifice can be required, and time is only one of many things on the table.

Maxwell poses a series of questions:

To become a more influential leader… are you willing to give up your rights for the sake of the people you lead? Give it some thought. Then create two lists: (1) the things you are willing to give up in order to go up, and (2) the things you are not willing to sacrifice to advance. Be sure to consider which list will contain items such as your health, marriage, relationships with children, finances, and so on.

As a first step to making such a list, I started brainstorming about the things that are available to be given up, regardless of whether I would do so or not. After about 20 sub-items to the obvious categories (sleep, exercise, hobbies, friends, pay cuts, etc) I landed on these:

  1. Spirituality
  2. Ethics and morals (Enron or Bernard Madoff, anyone?)
  3. Impatience/ dependence on the easy – I would suggest that this and the above are mutually exclusive
  4. Privacy
  5. Rights – Maxwell posits that rights decrease as responsibilities increase
  6. Your own preferences/ self-centeredness –the well-being of the followers or project must come ahead of yourself
  7. Excuses – the ability to shuffle any of the blame onto any other person or circumstance
  8. Security – success is rarely found in the comfort zone, and leaders rarely (ever?) in the pack

Even then, the term “Sacrifice” may itself be misleading, with its aura of passivity and diminishment. If you’re sitting boatless in the middle of the ocean, you will definitely gain from sacrificing your in-flight reading materials and maybe your shoes. But that won’t get you to shore. Progress is made when you start swimming, and start trading more and more of what you have for decreased resistance. Progress is made by motion, not sacrifice.

Turns out much can be sacrificed without gaining leadership, or advancement in some direction. I’ve recently given up about 6 hours of TV each week, and several hours on Facebook, and all I’ve succeeded in doing is not drowning in my to-do list. My ‘Getting Things Done’ post a few weeks ago acknowledged that there isn’t time to do everything. The sad truth is that to accomplish things of real value, you have to sacrifice more than the low-hanging fruit.

I dislike the term ‘compromise;’ to me it sounds weak and cowardly, like the quickest way to get to the lowest common denominator; and ‘sacrifice’ is depressing enough to provoke instinctual resistance. But, yes, life is a series of choices and trades. Success must be bartered for. It’s worth noting that in many cases you’re not discarding your assets. “Sacrificing” time now doesn’t mean you’ve given up your whole allotment, only that you’ve traded this moment of time for something you valued. If you have nothing of value to give, how can you expect to get anything of value in return?