By Barry Stern Ph.D.
In Rolling Stone last month, I encountered Yoko One quoting one of my favorite John Lennon lines, “life is what happens when you are busy making other plans”. And so it goes with my reading. To me, books are irresistible, bright shiny objects. What I end up reading is borne out of my life’s chaos, a function of ephemeral passions du jour stoked by discussions with business colleagues, friends, family, late night infomercials, and whether I have finished watching the full 6 years of the Sopranos on my iPad. Whether it’s a bunch of post-its on my desk, an Outlook task list category labeled “books,” a sky high pile of ugly unread periodicals on top of my file cabinet, or scribbled napkin notes stuffed disgustingly in my wallet, my reach always overextends my grasp.
Yes, I am Barry and I suffer from ADBD (Attention Deficit Book Disorder). My new Kindle and iPad life provides an interesting chronology of my pathetic condition. Currently, I have 36 free “Samples” on my Kindle. I have read them all feverishly and, sadly, they all look equally terrific to me. I would be the worst critic in the world – a one man universal hype machine. Amazon’s cloud presents me with a ready list of the 22 books I read in 2010. I won’t even attempt to comment on them all, but if you have hit the hyperlink you have already peeked into my disturbed literary state.
Herewith presented, if only as personal therapy and delusion, are some leadership lessons I’ve taken from these books:
- Continue to develop weaker elements of an individual’s “success profile” regardless of the height of towering strengths. In the tome, The King and Dr. Nick: What Really Happened to Elvis and Me, Dr. Nichopoulos points out our first lesson. Elvis Presleys’ demons were evident to all, but too many were willing to turn a blind eye to the weaknesses that robbed him of his talent, and ultimately, his life.
- A superior performer does not an engaged employee make. In his autobiography Open, tennis superhero Andre Agassi describes how he learned to hate the game. Absurd, unbelievable, and true. So while I thoroughly enjoy the excellence of the many talented people around me, this book contains a major caveat – they might not be nearly enjoying themselves as much as me. And one day they may well be gone.
- Augment your leadership approach with an appeal to the intrinsic characteristics of motivation, particularly for more complex endeavors. I struggled with this one for a while, being a classically trained behavioral psychologist, however in Drive, Daniel Pink eventually convinced me that I must take more leadership action based on the power of what he terms autonomy, mastery, and purpose. If you’ve got the time, click here for an engaging 11 minute summary of his work.
- Treat people with “total respect and total honesty." Lizbeth Salander and Liesel Meminger (central characters in, respectively The “Dragon Tattoo” Trilogy [Larsson], and The Book Thief [Zusak]) survived unspeakable atrocities. Yet, they demonstrated the remarkable spark, preciousness, and resilience of the human condition. I left these ladies inspired to honor the humanity in all our employees, and to give my courageous best to each as they continue their development journeys.
- Finally, in the post-Christmas spirit, Yes Virginia, there really is a place for leadership vision. You see it in the remarkable work of Jack Rakove, Revolutionaries: A New History of the Invention of America, which profoundly reshaped my understanding of the formation of the USA. In a world where blimps represented the technology of the future, brilliant minds and passionate foot soldiers created a reality which still resonates for those of us in the US today. And I have had the audacity to look askance at a 5 year plan? How narrow.
Well there you have it. My secrets are exposed. What leadership lessons did you draw from unlikely places over the last year? I’d be interested to know.