I mentioned to a group this week that I think The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande is the most important book I have ever presented. Not necessarily the best book – but the most important book. I think about its principles, such as that our age is an age of great complexity, with nearly every news story I read. I have blogged about it so often that my readers must be thinking, “Oh no – not another Gawande blog post…”
But today, as I was going thorugh the concepts of the book yet again, these two simple phrases flew out of my mouth.
“We don’t know it”
“We blow it.”
All mistakes that we make flow from one of these. Here are the relevant quotes from Gawande’s book (emphasis added):
We have just two reasons that we may fail.
The first is ignorance – we may err because science has given us only a partial understanding of the world and how it works. There are skyscrapers we do not yet know how to build, snowstorms we cannot predict, heart attacks we still haven’t learned how to stop. The second type of failure the philosophers call ineptitude – because in these instances the knowledge exists, yet we fail to apply it correctly This is the skyscraper that is built wrong and collapses, the snowstorm whose signs the meteorologist just plain missed, the stab wound from a weapon the doctors forgot to ask about.
For nearly all of history, people’s lives have been governed primarily by ignorance.
Failures of ignorance we can forgive. If the knowledge of the best thing to do in a given situation does not exist, we are happy to have people simply make their best effort. But if the knowledge exists and is not applied correctly, it is difficult not to be infuriated.
In other words:
“We don’t know it” (our problem with ignorance)
“We blow it.” (our problem with ineptitude).
We don’t know it.
We blow it.
Solve these two, and we will have a much less troublesome world.
To purchase my synopsis of The Checklist Manifesto, with handout + audio, go to our companion web site, 15minutebusinessbooks.com.
I was revising Servant Leadership by Robert Greenleaf this week. It is a true classic. The phrase “Servant Leadership” was coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in The Servant as Leader, an essay that he first published in 1970. The book develops his thoughts more fully, and provides the true and sure foundation from which all succeeding writings on “servant leadership” flow.
Here are some thoughts, with quotes from the book
He wrote the definitive line about servant leadership:
The servant leader is servant first. “It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first.” The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types.
And then he established the agenda for a servant leader’s life and career:
The best test is: do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?
And then he reminded us of the scope of the servant leader’s influence:
And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society; will they benefit, or, at least, not be further deprived?
And he understood that leadership is leadership of real, “flawed” people:
Acceptance of the person requires a tolerance of imperfection. Anybody could lead perfect people — if there were any. It is part of the enigma of human nature that the “typical” person – immature, stumbling, inept, lazy – is capable of great dedication and heroism if wisely led.
As I revisited this classic work, it dawned on me that we have a genuine shortage of servant leaders at this moment. And with a shortage of such leaders, there is a pretty good chance that this shortage will be perpetuated. Not good!
This is what I think. We all have a tendency to become like the people we follow. Oh for more true servant leaders to follow….
Here is the definition page of “Servant Leadership” from the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership web site.
The 50 Classics concept is based on Butler-Bowden’s belief that every subject or genre will contain at least 50 books that encapsulate its knowledge and wisdom. By creating a list of those landmark or representative titles, then providing commentaries that note the key points and assess the importance of each work, he hopes that an increased awareness of these key writings will include readers who may not otherwise have known of their existence. The series was introduced with the volume that focuses on the subject of self-help, 50 Self-Help Classics was followed by 50 Success Classics (2004). The third, 50 Spiritual Classics (2005) explores some of the famous writings and authors in personal awakening, and has been translated into 10 languages. 50 Psychology Classics was released in 2007 and has been translated into 12 languages. As for Butler-Bowdon, he was working in the early 1990s as an adviser at the New South Wales Cabinet Office in Sydney, then took a year off to do further study in the UK, but put aside his political economy textbooks to read a growing pile of motivational and self-help literature. On returning to Australia, he spent some time in the Outback, where the idea came to him of writing about the classic books in the self-help literature. To date, he has written five volumes in the series. He earned a BA degree in politics and history from the University of Sydney and a Masters degree in International Political Economy from the London School of Economics. He is based in Oxford, UK, and travels frequently to Australia, the United States, and throughout Asia.
Morris: First of all, I want to thank you for the volumes that comprise the 50 Classics series. I think you have made an enormous contribution to helping people locate primary sources in the subjects of prosperity, psychology, self-help, spirituality, and success. Before discussing any of them, however, a few general questions. First, how did you decide which 50 “classics” works to discuss in each volume?
Butler-Bowdon: Thanks, Robert, for your kind words on the series. When you read widely in any subject, certain books are obvious inclusions in a ‘best of’ list. They are famous, and have often been around for a long time. So in any list of classics, be it spirituality or psychology or success, perhaps fifty per cent of the titles are must-includes. The rest involve judgments on my part.
I come across a lot of key works through peer referral, that is one author mentioning a book that inspired them, so I seek out that book to see what it was that they found so great. For instance, in How to Win Friends Influence People, Dale Carnegie mentioned the autobiography of someone I’d never heard of, Edward Bok. I found his book, The Americanization of Edward Bok, which is now quite obscure, but sure enough it was a great read with many lessons for today, so I put it in 50 Success Classics. Other books I include because I feel they fill an important niche for the reader, such as Richard Koch’s The 80/20 Principle (in 50 Self-Help), or The Inner Game of Tennis (50 Success).
Overall though, I wanted to create a “canon” of works in the self-help and success fields. This hadn’t really been done before because these areas are either considered too recent or too low brow to merit such a thing. But I felt it was time, and that many of these works deserved critical recognition, not just best seller status.
Morris: Many of the selections are no longer in print. How did you obtain copies of those you did not already have?
Butler-Bowdon: You can usually get hold of out of print titles either from good libraries or from used sellers like Amazon.com. I am lucky in that I live a few miles from Oxford University and its famous Bodleian Library, which has just about every book you would want to search for. So I spend a bit of time in there.
Morris: Of all the non-religious works that were composed before (let’s say) the 20th century, which one of them were you most surprised to find is relevant today?
Butler-Bowdon: My personal favourite of the 19th century is Samuel Smiles’ Self-Help, published on the same day as Darwin’s The Origin of the Species in 1859. Smiles was a Scottish doctor cum journalist who had begun giving inspiring talks to working men in the north of England, drawing on many of the Victorian success stories of his time. The book is a wealth of examples of people who beat the odds and did something great with their lives, and although it is dated to the extent that he included almost no women, it is still a brilliant motivational work that deserves a bigger readership today.
During his lifetime Smiles was quite famous, and it was said that many homes only had two books: the Bible and Self-Help. It was also the inspiration for Orison Swett Marden, the founder of Success magazine in the US and the author of books like Pushing To The Front.
Morris: To me, “spiritual” has always been an elusive term to define. What did you decide when selecting and then discussing the works in the 50 Spiritual Classics volume?
Butler-Bowdon: First, it was never going to be 50 Religious Classics. I was less interested in famous theologians or works of orthodoxy than whether a book had deeply moved or inspired people, whether it was written five or five hundred years ago. And I wasn’t bothered if some writings would be seen by others as sacrilegious (I wrote about a book on Wicca, for instance) or even a bit ‘trashy’. I was very keen to highlight that this has been a golden era in terms of modern spiritual writing, with books like The Celestine Prophecy, The Power of Now, Conversations With God and The Way of the Peaceful Warrior representing a new canon that lay totally outside established religion. Again, as with the previous 50 Classics books, I wanted to show that, even though many of them had been huge bestsellers, and people’s lives were being changed by these writings, they had not been given due critical recognition.
Having said this, I was also keen to cover many of the famous spiritual writings by authors such as Augustine, Teresa of Avila and Al Ghazzali. I wanted 50 Spiritual to be a treasury of inspiration covering many centuries.
Finally, my aim was to make this a spiritual book for people who don’t necessarily believe in God. The point I make is that, whether or not you believe in a divine entity, there is an unseen order that moves the universe, and that getting in tune with it provides for a magical, purposeful life. You become a vehicle for this force, helping to advance the universe in a positive way.
The subtitle of this book refers to “techniques for achieving success” but in my opinion, everything depends on having a mindset for success. This is what Henry Ford meant when observing “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” Only with the right mindset will a person be motivated to identify and then master the skills and then techniques that success (however defined) can be achieved. Ivan Misner and Don Morgan have collaborated on several volumes (including this one), selecting and then assembling material from a remarkably diverse range of sources, including themselves. For example, among the 65 articles, Misner is the author of “The Fundamentals of Success”; Morgan is the author of “Subconscious and SMART Conscious Goals” and “Goal-Setting Process (GSP).” They also co-authored the Preface and a brief introduction to each of the eight chapters.
There are several different ways to read this book, including cover to cover. However, my guess (only a guess) is that most readers will check out the Contents and then cherry-pick those articles whose author and/or title catches their eye. A word of caution: with all due respect to eminences such as Brian Tracy, Anthony Robbins, Tom Hopkins, Wayne Dyer, Mark Victor Hansen and Robert Allen, and Michael Gerber, some of the most valuable material is provided by those who are generally unfamiliar. Case in point: Peter Schutz, former head of Porsche, who shares his thoughts about “a culture of success.” He differentiates success from excellence, noting that success “must come quickly and may be fleeting and fickle” whereas excellence is “lasting and dependable,” adding that “an obsession for success can burn up the manager who seeks it. Excellence will build the manager who strives for it.”
Credit Misner and Morgan with selecting 65 articles that offer diverse and thought-provoking perspectives on how to achieve “success in business and life.” At this point, I presume to include one thought of my own. First, a great deal has been said and written about the importance of “balance.” Is it possible to be a devoted spouse and parent and still have a success business career? For whatever reasons, many men and women have found that very difficult to fulfill all of their obligations in both areas. I have become convinced that a person cannot balance everything but it is possible to balance what is most important, and be willing to accept compromises, adjustments, trade-offs, etc. with regard to everything else.
It remains for each of us to decide what is most important, both in business and in life, and then maintain a proper balance of these priorities. Directly or at least indirectly, all of those who contributed material to this volume can help readers to develop the right mindset so that they can make that determination, and then maintain that balance.
Those who share my high regard for this book are urged to check out other works authored or co-authored by Misner and Morgan well as two books by Tom Butler-Bowdon: 50 Success Classics and 50 Self-Help Classics.
Followership: How Followers Are Creating Change and Changing Leaders
Harvard Business School Press (2008)
In recent years, especially in the business world, relationships between “leaders” and “followers” have changed significantly. Throughout most of human history, leaders at the highest level (e.g. tribal chiefs, war lords, monarchs, and tyrants) were almost always those who seized or inherited positions of authority. Business leaders were owners. Over time, the concept of self-determination evolved to a point when political authority began to shift to elected representatives. Stock companies with shared ownership emerged in the business world. Still later, labor unions were formed to secure and protect workers’ rights. Throughout this lengthy process, the respective roles of the leader and follower reflected various social, political, and economic changes. Today, it is often difficult to answer a rather simple question, “Who leads whom?”
According to Barbara Kellerman, “followership is the response of those in subordinate positions (followers) to those in superior ones (leaders). Followership implies a relationship (rank), between subordinates and superiors, and a response (behavior), of the former to the latter.” Her book departs from the leader-centric approach that dominates much of the current consideration of leadership and management. “Focusing on followers enables us to see the parts they play, even when they do little or nothing. And it empowers them, which is to say that it empowers us.” Kellerman duly acknowledges that the line that separates superiors from their subordinates is often “blurred.” Also, “the line between them tends to shift. Some of us are followers most of the time and leaders some f the time. Others are the opposite.” Finally, that many people are superiors and subordinates simultaneously. Moreso now than at any prior time that I recall, our roles are determined within a context and, as Kellerman correctly suggests, “followers are creating change and changing leaders.”
These are among the questions to which she responds:
• What are some of the most common misconceptions about followership?
• How and why are leaders and followers “inextricably enmeshed”?
• Why do people follow their leaders, even those whom Jean Lipman-Blumen has characterized as “toxic”?
• What are the different types of followers and how are they “all in some way engaged”?
• “Standing up and speaking out is not, of itself, good enough.” Why not?
Note: James O’Toole also has much of value to say about this in an essay (“Speaking Truth to Power”) included in, Transparency: How Leaders Create a Culture of Candor, co-authored with Warren Bennis and Daniel Goleman.
Of special interest to me is the material Kellerman provides in Chapters 5-8 when citing real-world examples of followers who were “Bystanders” during the Holocaust, “Participants” who were involved in the “saga of Vioxx” at Merck, “Activists” who acted upon allegations of clergy sex with minors in the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and “Diehards” who “wanted to catch, to kill, the enemy responsible for the attacks on American soil [on September 11, 2001] but questioned the judgment of those who formulated subsequent responses to them, such as Operation Enduring Freedom that included involvement in Afghanistan (Operation Anaconda), beginning in March of 2002.
As for Participants, they “clearly favor their leaders and the groups and organizations of which they are members – or they are clearly opposed. [They invest] some of what they have (time, for example) to try to have an impact.” With regard to Activists, they “feel strongly about their leaders and act accordingly. They are eager, energetic, and engaged…[and] work hard either on behalf of their leaders or to undermine and even unseat them,” such as Cardinal Bernard Law of Catholic Archdiocese of Boston. As for Diehards, they are defined by their dedication, including their willingness to risk life and limb. Being a Diehard is all-consuming. It is who you are. It determines what you do.” Those who have Diehards among their followers “have a special responsibility in those situations in which lives are at stake.” Kellerman cites Colin Powell and George Tenet as two examples of leaders who remained silent rather than opposing the American invasion of Iraq, “putting their loyalty to the president ahead of their loyalty to the people. Consider it a lesson in how not to follow.” Whether or not you agree with Kellerman’s assessment, at least in this situation, Powell and Tenet were both leaders and followers.
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Click here to check out a video of Kellerman discussing her concept of followership.
Barbara Kellerman is the James MacGregor Burns Lecturer in Public Leadership at Harvard Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership. Her next book, Leadership: Essential Selections on Power, Authority, and Influence, will be published by McGraw-Hill in August.