In 1908, Napoleon Hill was retained by Andrew Carnegie to interview the most famous and successful men at that time, throughout the world. For the next two years, that’s what he did. Those in the U.S. included Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, George Eastman, Henry Ford, John D. Rockefeller, Sr., Charles M. Schwab, F.W. Woolworth, William Wrigley Jr., and Theodore Roosevelt.
Hill later published the results (“Philosophy of Achievement”) with Carnegie in 1928 as a study course called The Law of Success. It remains in print as one of the most popular books ever written, best known now as Think and Grow Rich (first published in 1937).
After Hill completed his research, he met with Carnegie to provide a report on what he had learned. More specifically, his sponsor wanted to know what all the great business leaders throughout the world shared in common. Hill’s reply? “They all walk the extra mile.”
I have accumulated hundreds of stories about people who not only did that but defined themselves by a worth ethic based on that simple principle. What do they share in common?
1. They don’t wait to asked to take on an unpleasant task. They volunteer.
2. They seize every opportunity to “go the extra mile” (e.g. coming in early, staying late, working holidays and/or weekends when there’s a crisis).
3. They consider it a privilege to help solve problems, especially problems that customers have.
4. They don’t have all the answers but know where to find them.
5. And it should be added, they are invariably ladies and gentlemen with impeccable manners who focus on doing what is right and doing it right.
They could not care less about credit, praise, recognition, etc. In fact, they appreciate it but it makes them somewhat uncomfortable.
Would you like to work with folks like these?
Have them as neighbors?
Have them teach and coach your children?
Represent you in government?
Serve in our military services?
I am amazed how fascinated we are with the future. Years ago, Stephen Covey told us that the best way to predict the future was to create it.
We also seem to love to read about it. Here is one more new book that tells us what the United States will look like in 2025. The book is called The Next Boom by Jack Plunkett (BizExecs Press, 2010).
In the book, Plunkett predicts that we will add 40 million people to the United States population in the next 15 years. He predicts a greater presence of engineers and scientists in countries such as China, India, and Brazil. And, he believes we will see a rise in the production of goods and services from markets in Southeast Asia and Africa.
I remember how much I loved to present synopses in 1999-2000 of The Long Boom by Peter Schwartz, Peter Leyden, and Joel Hyatt (Perseus Books, 1999). I have to admit that it really feels good to read about a prosperous future.
But what a crash when that future is not fulfilled! The “long boom” wasn’t very long. The “next boom” may never bloom, or boom.
Speaking only for myself, I am not willing to take the risk. Needless to say, I won’t be reading this one or presenting it at our synopsis. I’ve crashed once too often about unfulfilled futures.
But that is just me. What about you? Do you like reading about the future?
Let’s talk about it!
Collaborators aren’t born, they’re made. Or, to be more precise, built, one day at a time, through practice, through attention, through discipline, through passion and commitment – and, most of all, through habit… Like creativity, collaboration is a habit – and one I encourage you to develop.
Collaboration guarantees change because it makes us accommodate the reality of our partners – and accept all the ways they’re not like us. And those differences are important. The more we can draw upon our partner’s strengths and avoid approving our partner’s weaknesses, the better the partnership will be.
You need a challenging partner. In a good collaboration, differences between partners mean that one plus one will always equal more than two.
Twyla Tharp, The Collaborative Habit: Life Lessons for Working Together
With God, there are no little people.
Here’s a snippet of a scene from Sports Night, Aaron Sorkin’s first television series (Sorkin won the Academy Award for adapted screenplay last night for The Social Network. You can read the script of this Sports Night episode, The Six Southern Gentlemen of Tennessee, here). Casey McCall, one of the two fictional Sports Night co-hosts, had appeared on The View in the episode. A big deal had been made about the color of his tie by the women on The View. Monica (played by Janel Moloney) came to see him…
MONICA, A VERY SWEET 25-YEAR-OLD, APPEARS AT THE DOOR.
SHE’S HOLDING SEVERAL DRESS SHIRTS OVER ONE ARM AND SEVERAL NECKTIES OVER THE OTHER. IT WOULD APPEAR THAT SHE’S HAD TO SUMMON MOST OF HER COURAGE FOR THIS MOMENT.
Excuse me, Mr. McCall?
CASEY TURNS OFF THE TV.
I’m sorry, is this a bad time?
I’d like to ask you a question, but if you’re preparing the show, if this is a bad time, I can come back.
What’s your question?
What’s my name?
(BEAT) What’s your name?
What are we doing right now?
If this is a bad time –
I’m sorry, I’m not very good at remembering names.
Who was the number two man on the Boston Red Sox staff in 1977?
It was Ferguson Jenkins.
My name’s Monica. I’m the assistant wardrobe supervisor for Sports Night as well as two other shows here at CSC. I think you hurt the feelings of the woman I work for. Her name is Maureen and she’s been working here since the day you started.
I know Maureen.
Can I ask you another question?
I’m sorry I didn’t know your name.
(HOLDING UP A NECKTIE) Do you know what color this is?
It’s called gun metal. Grey has more ivory in it, gun metal has more blue. Can you tell me which of these shirts you should wear it with?
I don’t know.
You’re not supposed to know what shirt goes with what suit or how a color in a necktie can pick up your eyes. You’re not expected to know what’s going to clash with what Dan’s wearing or what pattern’s gonna bleed when Dave changes the lighting. Mr. McCall, you get so much attention and so much praise for what you actually do, and all of it’s deserved. When you go on a talk-show and get complimented on something you didn’t, how hard would it be to say “That’s not me. That’s a woman named Maureen who’s been working for us since the first day. It’s Maureen who dresses me every night, and without Maureen, I wouldn’t know gun metal from a hole in the ground.” Do you have an idea what it would’ve meant to her? Do you have any idea how many times she would’ve played that tape for her husband and her kids?
Let’s start with the obvious. The Academy Awards gives out Oscars for a number of different categories – all of which point to the obvious truth there is no such thing as a good movie that is not a team project – a true collaborative product. It takes a lot of people working together, with great and diverse skills, to make an Oscar-worthy movie. So there is no best actor, best director, best actress, without a really good cinematographer, or screen writer, or make-up artist, or, composer, or…you get the idea. And the Oscar telecast is filled with such reminders, as every winner thanks people who helped him or her win this coveted award.
But, within each category there is excellence all the way down to the smallest behind-the-scenes bit-part. And it was this truth that Natalie Portman so eloquently stated. Even though one winner (Randy Newman) reminded the audience that reading off a list of names is “not good television,” Portman’s list reminded us that people — real people, behind every name in such a list of “thank-yous” — are the reason a movie is made well to begin with.
Ms. Portman thanked many people, but near the end of her acceptance speech, she added this (from transcript, here):
And also there are people on films who no one ever talks about that are your heart and soul every day. Margie and Geordie who did my hair and makeup, Nicci, who dressed me, and Kate and Laura Mulleavy, who designed the beautiful ballet costumes, Joe Reidy, our incredible AD, first AD, and our camera operators J.C. and Steve who gave me so much soul behind the camera everyday, you gave me all of your energy.
Here is the business lesson (and yes, movies are big business). It takes a team — a diverse team, made up of people with a life-time of carefully honed skills (the 10,000 hour rule!) to make a world-class movie. Collaboration, with gifted, skilled, trained, people, at every level of the organization, produces excellence – even magic. And shoddiness, anywhere on the team, can lower the quality all the way through the endeavor.
And for every leader (or, those with “leading roles”), take a lesson from Natalie Portman. Don’t forget to include, and thank, the “little people.”
Here is a brief article written by Jeffrey Goldberg and featured by The Atlantic magazine online. To check out all the resorces provided, please click here.
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Not long ago, my 10-year-old son told me something funny his beloved science teacher Stephen said in class. I would be lying if I told you I remembered what exactly it was Stephen said, but that isn’t what struck me about our conversation. My son introduced the subject by stating, “Stephen told his husband the other day….” He said it in passing, as if it were no big thing that a person named Stephen had a husband. No one would mistake my childrens’ progressive school for the Valley Forge Military Academy, but still: My son’s obliviousness to the notion that, just a few years ago, it was not at all normal for a man to have a husband, surprised and touched me. And my thoughts, inevitably, turned to the man who, more than any other, created conditions in which gay people have very nearly gained equality in this country, and in which their lives are treated as the normal lives they are. That man, of course, is Andrew Sullivan, my colleague, friend and arch-nemesis here at The Atlantic, who announced tonight that he is leaving us for The Daily Beast.
I am actually very saddened by this, not because we are friends, though we are, but because he is among the most talented writers and thinkers I’ve been lucky enough to meet. He also makes me crazy, and he’s frequently wrong about a set of issues I care about quite a bit (such as in this post, about which I will write later), but that’s not the point. The Atlantic, which is thriving and growing, will continue to thrive and grow, but he has in many ways made The Atlantic a superlative magazine, and he has invested his deep feeling, limitless curiosity and seriousness of purpose — the same qualities that he brought to the fight for gay equality — to so much of what he has written here. And Aaron — Andrew’s husband — has taught my children some delightfully disgusting jokes. They will both be missed.
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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic. Author of the book Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror, he has reported from the Middle East and Africa. He also writes the magazine’s advice column.
The recent Academy Awards presentations remind us again of the fact that film is among our most valuable as well as entertaining art forms. In an article written for the Wall Street Journal (February 12, 2011), Stefan Kanfer recommends his favorite books about what are indeed “remarkable Hollywood lives.” Here are his comments about three: those of Montgomery Clift, Elia Kazan, and Judy Garland.
To read the complete article, please click here.
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Montgomery Clift by Patricia Bosworth (1978)
He was a burned-out case, shockingly decrepit at 45, when he died in his Manhattan townhouse in 1966. Patricia Bosworth, in her scrupulous and compassionate biography, is particularly acute about the decade-long decline that preceded Montgomery Clift’s death. Thanks to vibrant performances in movies such as A Place in the Sun (1951) and From Here to Eternity (1953), he had become a superstar by the mid-1950s and loved the fast track in every sense. In 1956, after a party at Elizabeth Taylor’s house, Monty lost control of his car and slammed into a tree. Surgeons could reconstruct the handsome face but not the wounded psyche; he grew fatally dependent on drugs and alcohol. Bosworth argues convincingly that it was Clift, even more than Marlon Brando, who personified the postwar leading man: anxious, vulnerable, dislocated. His influence can still be seen in the edgy performances of actors such as Sean Penn and Ed Norton.
Elia Kazan: A Life by Elia Kazan (1988)
For a period in the 1940s and 1950s, Elia Kazan towered over New York and Hollywood. He co-founded the influential Actors Studio and launched the careers of Tennessee Williams and Marlon Brando by guiding A Streetcar Named Desire to Broadway. In Hollywood, Kazan showed an equal facility for directing feel-good productions like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and critical and commercial blockbusters such as On the Waterfront and East of Eden. Yet when Kazan was given an honorary Oscar for life-time achievement, the heavily liberal Hollywood crowd booed. For Kazan had briefly been a communist in his youth, and in 1952, when the House Un-American Activities Committee investigated Hollywood “subversion,” he furnished it with the names of his “fellow Reds.” In his autobiography, Kazan addressed all that and more. The man who emerges is not particularly admirable (he was a world-class seducer of actors, women, journalists—anyone he could use); still his story remains as compelling as any of his productions. It’s impossible to fully understand 20th-century theater or movies without reading this pugnacious self-defense.
Get Happy Gerald Clarke (2000)
“I’ve lost my audience,” Judy Garland lamented in 1969, the last year of her life. Gerald Clarke begs to differ: “She had not lost her audience. Her audience had lost her; she no longer had either the energy or the desire to stand on a stage.” The tragic story is familiar, from the uppers and downers fed to her as a young star to keep her going to the unhappy marriages and ill health later in life. But there were plenty of inspiring moments, too—starting with The Wizard of Oz, of course, plus many of her later concert tours, when she performed for enraptured audiences in America and Europe (French critics dubbed her “la Piaf Americaine”). There have been a slew of Garland biographies; Get Happy is the most dignified, the least prurient and the best-written.
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Stefan Kanfer is the author of several excellent biographies that include Groucho: The Life and Times of Julius Henry Marx, Ball of Fire: The Tumultuous Life and Comic Art of Lucille Ball, Somebody: The Reckless Life and Remarkable Career of Marlon Brando and most recently, Tough Without a Gun: The Life and Extraordinary Afterlife of Humphrey Bogart.
Here is another valuable Management Tip of the Day from Harvard Business Review. To sign up for a free subscription, to any/all HBR newsletters, please click here.
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When you’re working on large goals, days can easily blend together. Instead of thinking about what needs to happen today, you’re focusing on what needs to get done this week, month, or quarter. But, don’t lose sight of what’s in front of you: one day of work. By starting each day right, you’re more likely to do the work that leads to achievement of those bigger goals. When you begin your day, pause and ask yourself whether you are ready for what is to come.
Are you prepared for all your meetings?
Do you know what work you need to accomplish?
What risks can you anticipate and prepare for?
Answering these questions will help you make the most of each day and set you up for success in the long term.
To read the full post and join the discussion, please click here.
Jim Collins evokes a much-discussed metaphor in Good to Great when he suggests that business leaders get the wrong people off their (presumably built-to-last) “bus” and get the right people on it. He also expects the leaders to chart a proper itinerary and keep the “bus” headed in the right direction.
Because I share Collins’ fondness for metaphors, I now offer another: Burn-Out Boulevard. It is suggested by what Heike Bruch and Bernd Vogel have to say about avoiding or escaping from the corrosion trap in which organizational burn-out is certain to occur:
“Clearly, corrosive energy represents the most destructive way of using [abusing] a company’s potential. Yet it can be deceptive, since this trap manifests itself in an energetic way: an organization with corrosive energy will appear highly emotionally involved, creative, and active – but for all the wrong reasons and with a misguided focus, because these forces are invested largely in interpersonal aggression, infighting, and internal rivalries. You will need to act quickly when faced with short-term, corrosive energy.”
Here are the early warning signs of the corrosion trap in which an organization drifts father off course:
1. Polished communication rather than real dialog
2. Denial of rather than dealing with corrosive tendencies
3. Lack of alignment of personal goals with organizational objectives
4. Lack of mutual trust
5. Weak organizational identify
“To keep corrosive forces from eating away at the organizational fabric of trust, mutual support, and identify, [business leaders] need to have a clear picture of the company situation and its corrosive energy…Executive either overlook and neglect, or even consciously deny, the negative forces at work.”
What to do?
“First, as a leader you might not realize that people feel disconnected from the company or top management…To prevent such perception gaps, you should foster cultures that encourage feedback and other forms of extensive communication.
“Second, executives sometimes deny evidence of corrosive energy and do not want to see destructive dynamics, either because they aren’t sure that their past proven leadership can fox the problem or because they fear that acknowledging negative forces in the company will reflect badly on themselves, as a sign of personal weakness…That’s why [they] need to actively work to avoid sweeping negative energy under the carpet…Rather, actively seek for and confront this energy head-on.”
To read Heike Bruch and Bernd Vogel‘s brilliant analysis of all this, please check out Fully Charge: How Great Leaders Boost Their Organization’s Energy and Ignite High Performance.
Adam Bryant conducts interviews of senior-level executives that appear in his “Corner Office” column each week in the SundayBusiness section of The New York Times. Here are a few insights provided during an interview of Richard D. Fain, chairman and C.E.O. of Royal Caribbean Cruises. During the interview he observes, “I always find that you learn more by arguing with someone than by just agreeing.”
To read the complete interview and Bryant’s interviews of other executives, please click here.
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Want Clarity? Learn to Play Devil’s Advocate
Bryant: Do you remember the first time you were somebody’s boss?
Fain: Yes, I had just moved to a company called Gotaas-Larsen. I was treasurer. It was 1975, and I was 28 years old.
Bryant: And you were put in charge of a staff of how many?
Fain: Forty, so for me that was a big change.
Bryant: Was it an easy transition?
Fain: Actually, I didn’t find it a particularly difficult transition for me. In my job before that, I had had a fair amount of responsibility but no direct reports. That actually proved to be good training, because I got things done by working with others, and had to beg or cajole to get what I wanted, since I was dealing mostly with people who were either my peers or my superiors. Because I essentially had no line authority, it was a question of gaining people’s willingness to work with me in most cases. So that served me reasonably well when I actually found myself in a position of some authority.
Bryant: So what was your strategy for getting people to work with you before you had direct managerial responsibility?
Fain: I’ve always believed in communication. Everybody has their own style, but what’s worked for me is just to be quite open. If you have an objective, you try to get others to share that same objective. I probably communicate more than most, and I would try to be explicit about what I was hoping to accomplish, and I also listened to what they wanted. I think people are always surprised if you actually listen to what they say.
Bryant: You find that most people don’t listen?
Fain: I’m often shocked at people who will get a question and don’t answer the question that was asked. And usually there’s a very specific question. It’s very much “this is what I would like to know.” And people very often respond with something quite different — “What I think you really must have been asking,” as opposed to answering the actual question.
In grammar school, I did that assignment where you make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich at home, then write an essay on how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. And when we came to class the next day, the teacher had laid out peanut butter and jelly and bread and knives. “Now, exchange papers and follow the instructions.” And of course only about half the class was able to make a sandwich.
It was an interesting learning experience about how much you take for granted. So I listen carefully for exactly what people are saying, what they’re asking about, what their concern is, and I try to be direct when I answer them.
Bryant: What were the most important leadership lessons for you?
Fain: I’ll name a couple. I had been the chief financial officer at Gotaas-Larsen, and we were going through a bit of a transition. So for a period of time, I felt that I was really running the show. I didn’t have the title, but I really felt that I was making the key decisions. And then I was actually put in charge, and I thought, “Well, nothing is different.” And it was really quite shocking to me what a difference it made between being almost the boss and being the boss.
Bryant: And what was the difference?
Fain: There was a sense of responsibility, and the other thing was that everyone was looking to you not just for guidance but for responsibility. And so, when things go wrong, and they always do, you have to maintain your composure and not allow yourself to wallow in the problem. You have to show the confidence that gives everybody the sense that we’re all working to a conclusion and that there will be a good conclusion. And being able to convey a sense of confidence, even in difficult times, was quite a challenge.
One of the things that really brought this home to me had nothing to do with business. We took a group of bankers on a salmon fishing expedition to Laerdal, Norway, and Laerdal is just a magnificent place. It’s beautiful and the river is gorgeous.
But this summer was particularly cold and damp. There were no salmon in the river. It was drizzly and miserable. And my wife took me aside after the first day and said: “Richard, you’ve got to stop apologizing for this. This is a beautiful place. Life is good, and you’re bringing all of us down.” And she was right.
Bryant: What about mentors?
Fain: One of my mentors was Jay Pritzker [the Hyatt Hotels founder and a former director of Royal Caribbean Cruises]. Jay was an extraordinary man. In all the time I knew him, I don’t think he ever agreed with me on any subject, ever. When we would have an important decision at the board level, Jay would be my No. 1 antagonist, and he would argue vociferously against whatever I was proposing and question me in a highly skeptical tone. He was good at it, and he would ask the penetrating questions for exactly as long as it took for any other member of the board to agree with him. And the minute anybody else started to pick up the cudgel and continue along the same path that he had just been on, he would say, “You know, I think he’s crazy, but we’ve got to follow Richard on this.”
It was fascinating. He loved to play devil’s advocate. I love to play devil’s advocate, so we were on much the same wavelength. I always find that you learn more by arguing with someone than by just agreeing with them. And I also realized early on that having to explain something to someone is often the best way to make sure you understand it yourself.
And so part of my management style is to play devil’s advocate. There are people who think that I sometimes forget the second part of the term, but I do find that I learn by arguing with somebody. I learn more about whether somebody really believes their point of view and has thought it through, and it also helps me clarify in my own mind the direction I’m going.
Bryant: There’s an art to doing that, though. You have to make clear you’re challenging people, not criticizing them.
Fain: The first prerequisite is that the person you’re dealing with has to be good at their job and has to have confidence in what they know. I actually find that I will argue more strenuously with those whose judgment I respect more. I’m fortunate that the people I work with are really top of their league. They have the self-confidence to stand up for what they believe. And, in many cases, I’ve worked with them for a long time, and they understand that’s how I work. I do my homework, and I will be challenging.
But assuming they’re successful in presenting their case, they won’t have a stronger supporter, and so it’s worth it. They’ve also seen me switch sides, when it is necessary to provoke a dialogue on the other side.
Bryant: How has your leadership style evolved over the years?
Fain: I understand better now that people sometimes have to make their own mistakes. I’ve always been a bit of a perfectionist, but sometimes messing up is one of the best lessons. And so I’m perhaps less likely than I was 10, 20 years ago to jump in and fix something.
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To read the complete interview and others, please click here.
Adam Bryant, deputy national editor of The New York Times, oversees coverage of education issues, military affairs, law, and works with reporters in many of the Times‘ domestic bureaus. He also conducts interviews with CEOs and other leaders for Corner Office, a weekly feature in the SundayBusiness section and on nytimes.com that he started in March 2009. To contact him, please click here.