Category Archives: Books

The art of listening can be the art of leading

In celebrating both the 500th anniversary of The Prince, by Niccolo Machiavelli, and the life of Claudio Abbado, legendary conductor of La Scala, we celebrate leadership.

Image

THE ECONOMIST used “the art of listening” to draw a picture of Abbado for readers, connecting the young musician’s ability to hear and memorize music in his head with the professional orchestras he would lead and ultimately, the listening audience he invited into the music before he died.  For Booz&Co, James O’Toole takes us through what he believes we must understand about Machiavelli’s legacy — the situational leadership model taught in most business schools — and he leaves us with the questions Machiavelli’s work must provoke in each of us as we work.

Image

We can find one thing in common between these two diverse leadership cases:  whether the leader is making music or making money, he or she is creating an experience.

When a leader had all the power, he got to decide what the experience was going to be.  Today, however, she doesn’t have all the power — just a portion of it and maybe for not a very long time.  The one thing we can make consistent in an era some are already calling “the age of experience” is the experience we provide from our end of the exchange.  Besides quality and what the customer wants, how does the customer feel?  Does the skilled employee want to stay and help create the experience?  Do the suppliers want to be part of the experience, too?  Whatever our role in a transaction, we’re in a relationship — and our ability to transmit respect, trust and even authority can keep our “customers” coming back.

A Child's Machiavelli book cover

It’s better than the alternative.  As Claudia Hart reminds us in A Child‘s Machiavelli, A Primer on Power, her translation of The Prince, “Never be afraid to beat someone up if you have to.  First, try to talk ’em into listening, but just in case, you know what to do!”

Advertisements

It’s in these stitches

What a nice evening:  the good fortune to visit the wellspring of the great Anne Lamott’s perspective. Funny and profound. As drawn in a lively conversation by the wonderful Fran Moreland Johns, who does a bit of remarkable writing herself.

Anne has a new book: Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair. The theme resounds on so many levels, not the least of which is the sewing. Two generations of our family made a living stitching. In Big Stone Gap, where I grew up, quilters create stitched wonders. And in another bit of serendipity, Anne’s editor at Riverhead Books is none other than Jake Morrissey, friend of Adriana Trigiani and the family and a major writing talent himself.

As it says on this gem’s cover flap, “It’s in these stitches that the quilt of life begins, and embedded in them are strength, warmth, humor and humanity.

Image
Stitching

 

The seven business books I believe are right for right now

These books, which I've read or am reading, are works whose content can inform business life. 

The Power of Pull:  How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in MotionJohn Hagel III, John Seely Brown, Lang Davison.  Aptly describes the change that is afoot and how anyone — and any business — can sustain relevance and connection.

Team of Rivals:  The Political Genius of Abraham LincolnDoris Kearns Goodwin.  Shows how competitors can collaborate when their leader is clear about the objective and recognizes how their motives can help reach the goal.  [Side benefit:  I found the description of the actions of biased journalists soothing.  If this country survived a civil war and those reporters, it can survive anything.]

The Divine ComedyDante Alighieri [The John Ciardi Translation].  Amazing that despite every other kind of growth, the human character really never changes.  Very useful.

I Hate People:  Kick Loose from the Overbearing and Underhanded Jerks at Work and Get What You Want Out of Your JobJonathan Littman, Mark Hershon.  The authors do an outstanding job of categorizing every personality you can encounter in the workplace.  The psychology and the comedy of pathological behavior.

Delivering Happiness:  A Path to Profits, Passion and PurposeTony Hsieh.  Sometimes nice works. Here's how to do it and prosper without becoming a patsy.

Power:  Why Some People Have It — and Others Don'tJeffrey Pfeffer.  How to get comfortable with power and decide whether you want it.

Overlook Much, Correct a Little:  99 Sayings by John XXIIIHans-Peter Rothlin, editor.  The musings of an enlightened mind, these thoughts inspire action that benefits every stakeholder in an organization — most especially, oneself.

 

 

 

Linwood Holton: How to make politics personal

I grew up in a very small town in a remote corner of Virginia.  Big Stone Gap.

How we got there from an Italian-American enclave in northeast Pennsylvania is a long story.  When we got there, Virginia was dragging itself kicking and screaming into an age of enlightenment.  What I like to think of as an entire society understanding that being reasonable is a continuous learning process.

One of the lights of the age, and there were many, was a native of Big Stone Gap who became the state’s first Republican governor since Reconstruction.  As this article tells us, he now has an autobiography.

Its timing is excellent, as the brief interview in the article demonstrates.  For example.  Governor Holton’s son-in-law, Tim Kaine, is Virginia’s current governor.  And he’s a Democrat.  Both former and current governor have come out for Barack Obama.

Linwood Holton flies out of the pigeonholes that our society so often wants to use for labeling and digestion purposes.  He did it in 1970, and he’s doing it now.  His story reminds us that the most important things are ideas and actions, and in American politics, that the focus should be keeping our nation’s founding principles not just alive but relevant to our daily lives.  Whatever your political philosophy.

In this article, the writer recounts the story of how Governor and Mrs Holton made the decision to send their children to Richmond’s public schools during the big integration ruckus in the state at that time.

Those who knew the Holtons understood this to be neither a political olive branch nor a grandstand.  Like many Virginians, some of whom had to learn it the hard way, the Holtons understood that fairness is the hallmark of a healthy society.

Thumb_holtonAnd something else you should know:  in this famous photograph, Tayloe Holton is wearing a dress made by the people of Miss Virginia, Inc, a garment manufacturer in Big Stone Gap.  Where I worked a couple of summers in the finishing department.  A business my dad started and lost, but one that still managed to produce some winning moments.

Including having the governor of Virginia remember the folks back home as he made a point to a larger world.