There are plenty of books on management and leadership. I read as many as I can but too often find some to be lacking in meaningful insight and practicality. That definitely isn't the case, however, with a new book, The Leadership Engine-How Winning Companies Build Leaders at Every Level (HarperBusiness) by Noel M. Tichy with Eli Cohen. Tichy, also co-author of Control Your Destiny or Someone Else Will, is a professor at the University of Michigan Business School specializing in leadership and organizational transformation. He's been a consultant to General Electric since 1982 and for two years ran GE's Crotonville executive development center. As a senior partner in Action Learning Associates he has consulted with some of the top corporations worldwide such as Royal Dutch/Shell, Coca-Cola, Mercedes-Benz, Ameritech, NEC and Royal Bank of Canada. Not since I first read Max DePree's Leadership is an Art have I been so energized by a book on leadership.
As a matter of fact, in my March 2 "Publisher's Letter" I talked about many of the points Tichy covers but failed to mention his book about talented leaders and highly effective organizations. To make his case, Tichy not only includes vignettes about well-known executives in corporate America but also discusses inspirational leaders like Phil Jackson, head coach of the Chicago Bulls, and military leaders like General Wayne Downing, former head of U.S. Special Forces, and Rear Admiral Ray Smith, a former Navy SEAL. Tichy holds the highest regard for those leaders who are willing to develop a culture of mentoring at all levels. It's a point he drove home at a recent luncheon presentation at the Economic Club of Chicago he shared with Bill Pollard, chairman of ServiceMaster. The audience of some 400 top movers and shakers was mesmerized by their messages.
For instance, Tichy says quality leaders draw from their pasts, explaining how events early in life became lessons they've used time and again. They consciously capture these lessons and use them as guides. At the Economic Club presentation, Tichy showed a dramatic video clip of Bob Knowling, a former vice president of Ameritech who now runs U S West's telephone network, talking about an incident when he was 7 years old that served as the basis for his determination of values and ideals. The story is retold in Tichy's book: "Knowling, an African-American, was one of 13 children. He had gone to the welfare office with his mother to get food stamps. When she asked if she could use the stamps to buy more peanut butter and less of something else, the woman behind the counter told her: `You wouldn't be here asking for more peanut butter if you had thought twice about having all those kids.' " At that moment, Knowling says: "I witnessed the transformation of my mother, and my own began as well. She took my hand, and as we walked out of the office, she declared, `I am off welfare for good.' " As Knowling's mother strived to make good on her promise, she also taught her children they must forever take responsibility for their own lives.
In a chapter titled "Edge-The Courage to See Reality and Act on It," I read something, under the subheading "Truth and Courage" that I strongly believe in. I'll quote: "One way to tell if a leader has edge is if he or she is willing to publicly admit his or her mistakes. It's easy to overlook this telltale sign because it usually doesn't cause pain for anyone except the leader. But for the leader, it's the ultimate test of reality, the reality he or she was wrong. It is also a positive sign that the leader will accept the honest mistakes of others as well." In an age when so many people are quick to blame others for their own mistakes, one of the things that will never go out of style is when a leader shows character and candor by admitting he or she is just like everyone else-human.
Truth is power,
Charles S. Lauer