How and why leaders transform themselves so that they will be more effective transforming their organizations
Each year, the average tenure of a new CEO becomes shorter and is about 36 months as I begin this brief commentary. One of several major reasons for this is the fact that change really is – and will continue to be – the only constant in the global business world as it occurs faster and in greater number, requiring business leaders and their organizations to respond faster and with greater effectiveness. In this context, the title of one of Marshall Goldsmith’s most valuable books is especially relevant, asserting that “what got you here won’t get you there.” In fact, I’m convinced that what got you here won’t even allow you to remain here (wherever and whatever “here” is). Continuous improvement has become constant improvement and that can only be achieved by organizational transformation. Once again, I am reminded of Pogo the possum’s epiphany: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
All this is by way of introducing material in a book co-authored by Jeffrey Fox and Robert Reiss in which they feature 44 CEOs who share the “impact lessons” they learned while leading initiatives to achieve organizational transformation. These are real executives in real companies who candidly discuss real-world crises, perils, and opportunities. It is accurate to call them game-changers only if it is clearly understood that the “game” was played in their heads and hearts (and yes, guts) as well as in the C-suite, throughout the given enterprise, and within the given industry.
There are 33 brief chapters, focusing on major business challenges, to each of which several CEOs contribute insights and experiences as well as thoughts and feelings, in collaboration with Fox and Reiss. The reference to ”impact” earlier includes one’s self, one’s colleagues, and one’s organization. As you can well imagine, the two co-authors and the 44 CEO contributors are able to draw upon a wealth of invaluable experience, especially with crises, setbacks, and even major failures. As most of the book’s chapter titles correctly indicate, their collective focus is on what works, what doesn’t, and why.
For example, Chapters 3-9 explain how to turn a company around, protect or change a company culture, put culture first, hire to the given culture, perform while transforming, serve a higher purpose, and give back in response to deserving need.
In Chapter 11 and then in Chapters 14-15, the reader is provided with information, insights, and wisdom that will help to prepare her or him to take prudent risks, innovate at all kevels and in all areas (to varying degrees of scale), make everything “Better! Better! Better!”, defend ideas and the process by which they are generated, and “lead with love” (i.e. with emotional intelligence that appreciates and protects as well as nourishes human dignity).
It is important to keep in mind what this book’s sources are. First, several dozen CEOs: results-driven empiricists who are world-class pragmatists, each possessing what Ernest Hemingway once characterized as a “built-in, shock-proof crap detector.” Then there are hundreds of other executives that Reiss interviewed for “The CEO Show.” Add to all that what Fox and Reiss have learned from their own wide and deep involvement in the business world during the last several decades.
I highly recommend this book to all C-level executives, whatever the size and nature of their organization may be. Also, to middle managers who aspire to provide effective leadership at that level. Finally, especially at this time of the year, I think this would be a terrific gift to those who are preparing for a career in business or have only recently begun one. Many of those who read it will also be transformed. I hope they realize that transformation should be a process that never ends. The “bad news” is that it can be very difficult to achieve and even more difficult to sustain. As this book so compellingly reveals, the “good news” is that personal transformation and professional growth will accomplish almost anything the human mind can imagine. Helen Keller said it quite well: “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”
Brian Doyle is one of my favorite contemporary writers. Just as certain books can be “magic carpets” to exciting new intellectual and emotional adventures, so can writers and Doyle is among the best of them. Here is a brief excerpt from an article featured online at the website of The American Scholar magazine, the venerable but lively quarterly magazine of public affairs, literature, science, history, and culture published by the Phi Beta Kappa Society since 1932.
In recent years the magazine has won four National Magazine Awards, the industry’s highest honor, and many of its essays and articles have been selected for the yearly Best American anthologies. In 2006, The American Scholar began to publish fiction by such writers as Alice Munro, Ann Beattie, Steven Millhauser, Dennis McFarland, Louis Begley, and David Leavitt. Essays, articles, criticism, and poetry have been mainstays of the magazine for 75 years.
Inspired by Ralph Waldo Emerson’s famous speech, “The American Scholar,” delivered to the Phi Beta Kappa Society at Harvard College in 1837, the magazine aspires to Emerson’s ideals of independent thinking, self-knowledge, and a commitment to the affairs of the world as well as to books, history, and science. To read the complete Doyle article, check out other resources, and obtain subscription information, please click here.
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Consider the hummingbird for a long moment. A hummingbird’s heart beats ten times a second. A hummingbird’s heart is the size of a pencil eraser. A hummingbird’s heart is a lot of the hummingbird. Joyas volardores, flying jewels, the first white explorers in the Americas called them, and the white men had never seen such creatures, for hummingbirds came into the world only in the Americas, nowhere else in the universe, more than three hundred species of them whirring and zooming and nectaring in hummer time zones nine times removed from ours, their hearts hammering faster than we could clearly hear if we pressed our elephantine ears to their infinitesimal chests.
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To read the complete article about “flying jewels,” please click here.
Brian Doyle is the editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland. He is the author most recently of the novel Mink River.
(Hint: read all the way to the end to get the point of this blog post – about expertise and experience).
The book The Goal is a “business classic” we somehow have missed at the First Friday Book Synopsis. I am rectifying this, and will present this book at the August First Friday Book Synopsis. How could I have missed this?:
“The most read management book ever” – The Economist
“The 9th best selling business book of all time” – Amazon.com
“The only business book that has been read cover to cover by more people than have purchased it!”
I have heard about the book through the years, but it was this article in Slate.com that made me decide, “I’ve got to read and present this book”: The Goal: Eli Goldratt’s Gripping Thriller about Operations Theory (“Then Why Did We Buy the NCX-10?” An oddly gripping thriller about how to manage a factory). The book is a fictional account of a man who has to find just what is holding things up, in his factory, and in his life. The article describes this moment in the book when “the eureka moment” comes. From the article:
When I began to gather information for this Slate series on operations management, I asked a few business-school professors to recommend books I might read on the topic. I expected I’d be pointed toward textbooks and manuals—perhaps written by the professors themselves, or by celebrity CEOs. Instead, I was urged to read a novel by a dead Israeli physicist…
The eureka moment comes not in a conference room, but on a hiking trail, as Alex leads his son’s scout troop on an overnight trip. Alex notices that the single-file line of scouts never manages to maintain consistent spacing. Instead it always spreads out, with the speedy kid at the front zooming out of sight. I found myself shouting in my living room, “The fat kid is the bottleneck! The fat kid is the bottleneck!” And indeed, once Alex realizes this, he sees that the group as a whole can only move as fast as poor little Herbie, the chubby scout who’s clogging things up in the middle of the line.
Sure, the quick scout at the front might get to the campsite in a jiffy, but the pack as a whole hasn’t met its goal until all the scouts have safely arrived (just as a factory hasn’t met its goal until the product is fully assembled—no matter how fast individual components might zoom through the assembly line). So Alex puts porky Herbie at the front of the line and distributes everything in Herbie’s backpack to the other kids, lightening his load. The faster kids behind have no problem keeping up with leader Herbie, which means they won’t pant and run out of steam while hustling to maintain the pace.
This illustration, so incredibly simple to grasp, helped me realize just why we need to spend a fair amount of time always observing and asking: “where is my bottleneck? And, how do I get it unstopped?” And, apparently, the book reminds us that when we clear up the current worst bottleneck, there will be another one then to find. We keep identifying bottlenecks, clear them up one at a time, and the end result is increasing efficiency.
So, I have been presenting the riddle of the “fat kid” who is holding up the pace of the hike to people in casual conversation. The solution is one of those that many (most) people do not know until they hear it, and then they say, “well, duh, of course…” But recently I told it to one friend who happens to be a serious trail hiker. He takes trips, plans outings, tackling numbers of hiking trails. He immediately knew the answer. The first words out of his mouth were “You redistribute the slow kid’s pack.” I was kind of amazed. No one else I had run it by came up with the solution. I certainly did not.
So… I started thinking. There really is a value – a great value – to expertise and experience. This man knew hiking – he was an “expert.” And because of his expertise, he knew the answer to that particular bottleneck immediately.
In our collaborative, “wisdom of crowds” world, maybe we need an occasional reminder that we need to make sure that some of those folks in our collaborative circle, some of those people in our “crowd,” need to know what they are talking about. An expert really can see things that the rest of us miss because of our lack of expertise.
Now, this does not negate all of the ideas about how “outsiders” play a major role in creating breakthroughs. But sometimes, the expert’s quick advice saves a ton of time, makes absolute sense, works!, and therefore is worth paying careful attention to.