There are so many management books out there that it's hard to choose. A lot of them are just a string of cliches or testaments to the egos of top executives, but I have a few gems that I make reference to from time to time, many of them well-thumbed. I have also written about them on this page.
It isn't often that I come across a new one, but last month I received a copy of a booklet by William Swanson, chairman and chief executive officer of Raytheon Corp., containing a lot of common sense and real-world advice for corporate leaders.
Swanson's Unwritten Rules of Management only takes about 15 minutes to read and is simplicity itself. From my point of view, it is well worth reading. (You can order it at the company's Web site, raytheon.com.) It appears that Raytheon is a great place to work, because it's led by someone who has the right attitude and who values his people.
Swanson's 33 rules run the gamut of business behavior. Here are a few of my favorites and my comments on them.
* Rule 1: "Learn how to say, `I don't know.' " Pretending in a meeting that you know something you clearly don't is a recipe for embarrassment and disaster. It reveals something worse about your character than not knowing whatever it is you are supposed to know.
If you are in a business situation, it is far better to admit ignorance of something but to immediately promise to find out and get back to the other person with the answer. People respect honesty and effort, not dissembling. If you are in a deal, not being upfront with someone may result in losing the other's trust. Once lost, it is difficult to recover.
* Rule 3: "If you are not criticized, you may not be doing much." People are afraid of taking risks in large part because they hate appearing foolish and being rejected. When they get promoted, many people want to keep their status and react by playing it safe.
Many years ago when I joined Look magazine as assistant drug merchandising manager, I had a colleague who always seemed to come up with new ideas. A number of his colleagues used to make fun of him because he was always on the move and sometimes even made a fool out of himself in meetings by coming up with ideas that made no sense at all. But one day while having lunch with my boss, I was surprised to hear his assessment of our enterprising colleague. "You know, nine times out of 10, Robin comes up with ideas that are unworkable, but there is always that one he comes up with that does work, and it usually pays off big. I wish I had 20 of his kind who were always thinking about new promotions and ideas."
* Rule 14: "Strive for brevity and clarity in oral and written reports." Most people are stretched for time these days, especially leaders. Communicating quickly and succinctly is a valued skill. But some people simply can't do it. They'll talk on and on or write long, tedious memos, boring to tears the very people they need to finish a project. There's no excuse for it in today's business climate.
* Rule 16: "Don't overlook the fact that you are working for a boss. Keep him or her informed. Whatever the boss wants, within the bounds of integrity, takes top priority." The road to failure is paved with people who didn't keep their bosses informed. To my way of thinking, it is a form of sedition.
The boss is the boss, and he or she runs the show. Sometimes you may think the boss is wrong, but it is important for your career to learn how to follow orders. No organization succeeds with people working at cross-purposes, and leaders, whatever their faults, are the ones running the show.
* Rule 26: "Treat the name of your company as if it were your own." Even in this day and age when switching jobs is far more common and companies don't always show loyalty to employees, you should take pride in working for a company. If you don't feel that way, you should leave because you are wasting your time and that of your colleagues. When loyalty is a scarce commodity, a company or organization is lacking substance and will eventually fail. Leaders look for loyal employees and promote them. It is as simple as that.
* Rule 32: "A person who is nice to you but rude to the waiter-or to others-is not a nice person." I couldn't agree more. I have always believed that nothing reveals more about someone's true character than observing them out in the world, interacting with people with whom they aren't obliged to be courteous.
When such people treat others like underlings, you can tell what they are really like. These are the people to avoid working for or having them work for you. They're jerks. Swanson's book reminds all of us that working well with others is still the essential component in quality leadership.
This book is short and simple, but I believe it is also smart and shrewd.