Lessons start-ups can teach all of us

As with most sayings there’s a good deal of truth to the truism—history is written by the victors. And rarely do such histories dwell on the mistakes or, worse yet, atrocities committed by the victors. While modern historians have attempted people’s histories or stories of the subaltern, as academics are fond of calling it, it’s pretty certain most histories are not exactly balanced reporting.

Cover of "Founders at Work: Stories of St...

Cover via Amazon

Stories of entrepreneurial journeys in many ways are not that different from histories written by the victors. Many of them are only slightly better than hagiographic biographies written by adoring admirers. Baskar Subramanian, one of the co-founders of my first start-up is fond of pointing out that once an entrepreneur is successful, he can write the story of his journey in any manner he deems fit. So if a start-up saga contains few mistakes, almost no accidents or lucky breaks, and where every major decision was the result of great strategic thought, you know you are reading a history by the victor. So a bucket of salt may be required when you read such a history or seek to learn from it.

Even when an entrepreneur is clearly successful and well thought of on matters of integrity, such as Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart, or for someone closer to home, J.R.D. Tata, the matter of relevance, particularly to a fledgling start-up, becomes important. A reader is at best able to draw only general lessons about perseverance or passion. India and the world are a significantly different place today than when these men built their businesses. So, how practical are their insights for an entrepreneur to apply today? Inspiration is critical and these tomes offer them, certainly, but entrepreneurs need more than inspiration. They need practical and proven insights that can be both internalized and implemented with ease. Do books of even recent entrepreneurial success, pertain only to a market segment—modern retail or generic drugs—or can their lessons be applied to any entrepreneur starting up?

With the advent of blogs, particularly those professing advice for entrepreneurs, a number of interview series, and subsequently, books of interviews of entrepreneurs have emerged. These overcome the shortcomings of a single subject or company book and are often stories of recent or still-running businesses, which the readers not only relate to but also are likely to encounter in their lives. Yet, not each of these are written (or worse yet edited) in a manner that makes them as palatable and useful as one would like.

The first challenge when trying to learn from the lessons of others is figuring out which lessons are relevant to your own situation. Once you identify the problems that are similar, if not identical, to your own, you’d have to figure out whether the solution is germane to your own situation. Hiring for a software product start-up may be just as difficult in Bangalore as it is in Mountain View or New York—however, the solution may be altogether different.

Founders at Work: Stories of Startups’ Early Days by Jessica Livingston stands head and shoulders above most other compilations of founder stories. While largely confined to Silicon Valley founders (whose origins are as varied as Brazil, China, India and Russia—and more interestingly the lesser-heralded towns of US states such as Nebraska and Iowa) and what would be termed as “tech” start-ups in India, many of the lessons are broadly applicable to start-ups anywhere.

The 32 stories in Founders at Work are set in Q&A form, with mercifully short questions. The entrepreneurs’ answers are delivered in direct and often in an unflatteringly candid manner. The book, which I’d avoided reading for a long time, gripped me from the first page. The book works because it keeps its focus on the earliest days of the start-ups—whether they subsequently grew into today’s Apple or self-destructed like ArsDigita or were acquired like Hotmail or TripAdvisor. This is one book of start-up stories that you cannot do without, even if you never intend to start something on your own. You’ll do better at your job as will your company if you read this book and take its lessons to heart.

This article originally appeared in the Book Beginnings column in Mint.

Getting your people to take ownership

This last week I made a mistake for a second time and paid for it dearly. A friend had offered to book a hotel for me and feeling lazier than usual I’d agreed. And when she sent me an email with the reservation I actually felt good, because she’d booked me in a fancy downtown hotel at bargain rates. Of course, only when I showed up at the registration desk did I realize that I’d confused my drachmas for dirhams. So the good deal in a downtown hotel, for what I thought was $100 a night, turned out to be nearly $400. But by then it was too late not just with the non-refundable booking but also on a long day after a long flight with the family in tow. I reckoned might as well have a good time. But I was in for yet another shock. The lady behind the desk had a most snarky attitude. “No! Breakfast is not included with your room. It is $30 per person.” “No, there’s no free wi-fi—$7 for an hour or $15 for a day. By the way that’s per device.”

A Stake in the Outcome ; Jack Stack & Bo Burlingham; Double Day, October 2003.

None of this rankled as much as her attitude that she clearly didn’t care how I felt and she absolutely felt no need to be even remotely polite. In contrast, the hotels that I’d stayed at the night before and the two nights afterwards, each cost well below $100 per night and offered free breakfast and free wi-fi (in only the lobby in one case and all over the hotel in the other). More importantly, both had extremely friendly folks at the front desk—who were happy to let us check in early, check out late and went out of their way to help us have a good time. And these were employees, who certainly were paid a whole lot less than my snarky host at the $400 a night hotel. My little one asked in the puzzled tone she uses when she doesn’t understand something, “Why did that lady have such a bad attitude dad?” And, of course, answered herself quickly, “Maybe she had a fight with her boyfriend!” What was evident to my 13-year-old was clearly not evident to the owners of this fancy hotel —not the boyfriend part but the fact that attitude matters. This lady with her snarky attitude did not only prevent us from enjoying our stay at $400 a night but made sure that we’d not go back there.

“I can’t just get them to take ownership.” How many times have we heard this refrain from managers or entrepreneurs? And how often have we voiced this sentiment ourselves? It seems like we all run into folks who can’t look at what they do to be anything more than a job. Something they do to make a living—put food on the table, pay the bills—and they can’t wait for 5 o’clock or the end of their shift, so that they can get back to their real lives. Sure we may use other words or expressions—“Doesn’t he have any pride in what he does?” and “I can’t seem to make them care about the company or customers.”

In his book, A Stake in the Outcome, Jack Stack, CEO of SRC Holdings Corp., talks about building a culture of ownership among the people who run a business and the critical role it plays in the long-term success of a business. The book builds on his own experience of taking the original Springfield ReManufacturing Corp. where he was a manager, from the verge of failure to a major financial success. The original $0.10 stock in 1983 when Jack and his 12 manager colleagues took over the business was worth $81.60 in 2001—for a return of 816,000% in 18 years! But that’s not the story. It is how all 727 employees own shares—not just some shares, the 722 newest shareholders own 64% of the business valued at $23 million in 2002. I’d run out and get this book for everyone on your team to not just learn how Jack and has team achieved this but to repeat it with your business.

Enhanced by ZemantaThis article originally appeared in the Book Beginnings column in Mint.

Put Employees First to Win More Customers

Hal F. Rosenbluth

Hal F. Rosenbluth (Photo credit: pennstatenews)

Waiters at French restaurants— maybe only at upscale French restaurants in the US—have a legendary reputation as unfriendly and at times downright disdainful. Of course, waiters across the social spectrum in India could easily teach their French cousins a thing or two about treating customers shoddily. And these are folks in the service business, where how you treat the customer is supposed to affect your business directly. Yet each of us can easily recount horror tales of poor customer service—be it with airlines, banks, call centres, retail outlets or telecom services—in practically every sphere of our personal lives. To be fair, customer service in India has come a long way since the early days of liberalization. The sheer choice of suppliers and healthy competition in the marketplace has done wonders to improve the manners of most frontline employees of service providers.

However, old habits die hard. A recent popular advertisement for a mobile service provider features a cantankerous old man who is bent upon ignoring, irritating or ill-treating his customers. And, as the Indian economy slows, the impact on businesses shows up first in the fraying edges of their customer interface. India is by no means alone in the decline. From the time of the Roman markets to the gleaming retail outlets of a resurgent Asia and gloomy malls of North America, customer service—good, consistent, delightful—has been a challenge.

Growing up in Chennai, I recall that nearly any retail store I went to had a small sign with a quote from Mahatma Gandhi. “A customer is the most important visitor on our premises. He is doing us a favour by giving us an opportunity to do so.” As with many other signs that dot the Indian landscape, such as No Entry—One Way Street or Do Not Spit or Cause Nuisance, Gandhi’s exhortation is “more honour’d in the breach than the observance”.

The service mindset has to begin at home. Indians, much like the Chinese and Japanese, like to pride themselves on being respectful to their elders. However, from our daytime soaps on TV to our overcrowded roads, thoughtlessness and rudeness, particularly towards elders, seems the rule. This behaviour just as easily spills into our malls and stores. If you’ve ever seen a parent admonish or worse yet slap their child at the supermarket, doesn’t it make you wonder how much worse they’d treat that child at home? Similarly, when you receive poor service from any professional service provider, you wonder—if this is how they treat their customers, how badly must they treat their employees?

Again, we needn’t wonder too long. Managers, at supermarkets certainly or even banks, don’t hesitate to dress down their employees right in front of the public. Many large Indian businesses, even when publicly listed, are often run as though they are proprietary firms where employee empowerment is largely absent. Multinational firms have succumbed to an Indian version of the Borgia families where politics and intrigue take much more of a manager’s time than advancing the business cause. However, as with every challenge that we face in India—and they are not only innumerable but often large—this itself presents an opportunity. An opportunity to provide exceptional service—to delight customers, differentiate a business and thereby thrive even in these difficult times.

The secret to achieve such exceptional service forms the very core of Hal Rosenbluth’s The Customer Comes Second. Co-authored with Diane McFerrin Peters, who works with Rosenbluth’s eponymous travel firm. His formula for creating an organization that provides exceptional service is to put your employees first and your customers second. Before we dismiss this as simplistic, it’s worth noting that Rosenbluth Travel has clocked more than $6 billion in annual revenue and has better than 98% customer retention. So clearly they must be doing something right. For the hard-nosed, what-can-I-actionize reader, the book offers specific tips and tools starting from finding the right people and training them all the way to using technology. Any book that talks unabashedly about culture and happiness in the workplace as this one does is a keeper and you should steal it from your nearest library.

This article originally appeared in the Book Beginnings column in Mint.

 

Enhanced by Zemanta

Learning leadership from business & politics

Cover of

Cover of On Becoming a Leader

There are few things that have been written so much about and yet not understood well as leadership – okay possibly parenting, but that’s for another place and day. Stop the next six people you encounter today and ask them about their favorite leader and what it is that makes them a great leader. You are likely to get at last six different answers, possibly more. If we dig a little deeper we’ll also discover people expect different things from different leaders – as in what constitutes a great statesman, a successful business leader, a politician or a community or social leader. Whilst all this is natural and not unexpected, it is of little help for those of us looking to role models and to answer the question how do I become a leader and what should I do as a leader.

There is the common perception, quite widely held even in business circles, of an awe-inspiring, charismatic leader – gimlet eyed, firm jawed capable of making rapid decisions – sort of Churchill sans the cigar. Jack Welch of General Electric and Henry Nicholas, former CEO of Broadcom fall into this category of leader models. At the other extreme we have Bill Gates one of the most successful entrepreneurs of all time, who till a few years back was underwhelming at best in his public presentations. Yet the leaders we meet everyday – even the few that we admire seem to be cut from as many different types of cloth as there are men and women.

Closer home, few Indian business leaders have gotten the same measure of public exposure or attention that Bollywood, cricket or politics gets, for us to easily draw definitive stands on leadership styles. Politics by virtue of its very nature, throws up a large share of leaders, at least ones that get a disproportionate share of air time. Interestingly Indian politics, especially recently, has thrown up a wide and varied share of leaders – particularly women leaders – J. Jayalalitha, Mamta Bannerjee, Mayawati and of course Sonia Gandhi. Fewer groups could be as dissimilar as these four women and yet they command respect with vast swathes of people and wield considerable power. Their styles are as varied as the regions the cuisines of India are. Similarly, for the first time since Independence, men and women such as Aruna Irani, Kiran Bedi and Anna Hazare, who are not politicians, movie stars or cricketers have captured our attention and imagination. Their use of social and new media in combination with old style street activism, itself offers some interesting lessons in both leading change and leadership styles.

The challenge of course in formulating our leadership lessons from politicians and business leaders, whether in India or overseas, particularly from what is written about them is in separating the myth from reality. The natural question is that how much of this is business, culture or country specific and should we look to Indian business leaders to draw lessons for ourselves? Unfortunately a good deal of writing about business leaders in India has been panegyric limiting their usefulness as lessons in leadership. Fortunately much of what has been written about business leaders overseas, even when not scholarly, has been done so in mostly an objective manner and occasionally in an outright critical manner.

Warren Bennis’ “On Becoming a Leader” was inspired in his own words “by the gap between theory and practice, the difference between what one thinks and teaches and what one does.” By covering 28 specific individuals – men and women, all American, across a variety of professions, helps identify the critical ingredients for leadership success. More importantly he outlines a way to grow those qualities in us and in the people we will lead. As he states up front in his introduction, in his first book “Leaders” he covered the “Whats” and in this book, he covers the “Hows.” In the mold of Tom Peters and Peter Drucker, Warren Bennis has carved himself a seminal role in business through his research on Leadership. This book of his, rooted as it is in the real world of practicing leaders can help each of us become the leader we are fully capable of being.

This article originally appeared in the Book Beginnings column in Mint.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Tales tall and short for every occasion

Bill Bryson book cover

Photo: livemint

All of us who’ve children have encountered questions such as “Dad, what’s Avogadro’s number?” or “What makes diamond and graphite different, if they are both made of carbon?” Besides the obvious answer that people seem to prefer to pay a whole lot more for the diamond form of carbon than graphite, our own schooling seems to have prepared us reasonably well to field such questions. Failing which we can always resort to “Go ask your mom” as I am often prone to do. However, as an up and coming professional you can rarely resort to such an answer, when at the company party, the chief financial officer asks you an actual question about online video-based learning and how it’s going to impact your business. Sure you can try to bluff your way through, but that may be a path?fraught with risks.

One of the most commonly told stories about Steve Jobs, the visionary leader of Apple, was how his engineers feared being caught in an elevator with him. While Jobs would ride in silence often, he’d just as likely ask the engineer how his project was going. Michael Dhuey, a former engineer at Apple recounts: “If you got on at the 4th floor, you’d better have captivated him by the time you got off on the 1st. Jobs remembered you when you had a great story to tell. He also remembered when you didn’t.” So it would appear it’s not just your kid who likes a good story. I hear you saying, just as not everybody can paint or sing, not everyone can tell a good story. Even if you can’t tell a story quite the way you’ve seen it done in your favourite TED talk, you need to be able to carry on a decent conversation, particularly with strangers you need to network or often with someone in your professional life.

Yet much as we read about how public speaking is one of the greatest fears most adults hold—in fact it even tops the fear of death—we hear little about the inability to make meaningful small talk in a professional setting. The funny thing is that Indian parents, might be less so today, are obsessed with their children gaining general knowledge. In fact legions of young people preparing for the Indian government civil service exams can be seen boning up on a wide variety of arcane facts. Even the US, for a couple of decades back in the 1980s, was swept up in the tantalizing game of Trivial Pursuit. You’d think armed with these strange facts, about animals from armadillos to zebus or the national flags of Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, our young ones would be able to scintillate any audience. Yet conversations at business mixers, conferences or just plain old parties seem to be confined to sports (football or basketball in America and good old cricket in India), movies and eventually politics if enough libations have flown.

Sure we’ve all run into at least one interminable bore, who can’t stop talking about their favourite topic—be it last month’s sales figures, real estate or the real reason the stock market is not doing well. The fact that this world is getting smaller (and flatter, if you believe some people) complicates the art of conversation, as cultural and gender sensitivities seem to have made making small talk akin to crossing a minefield. So you know what it is that you don’t want to be doing, but how do you figure what is the best way to be interesting and entertaining enough to be memorable and sound smart enough to be invited again at the very least or sought after at best?

Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything offers an answer. Not only is it a ripping good read, but is probably the best written history of science. Science is not only full of fascinating factoids, but thanks to Bryson’s unique style, sharing of these in the right tone with a trace of humour will make you appear not only smart but nearly human. So if you want to make?it?to the corner?office?or at least to the best mixers in town you’d run out and get your own copy.

This article first appeared in the Mint in February 2012

Playing Corporate Snakes & Ladders

The General ManagersThe popular television serial Bones features a female protagonist Dr Temperance “Bones” Brennan, a forensic anthropologist. An immensely intelligent woman capable of formidable physical action, Bones is unbelievably literal and socially inept. While this helps underpin the humour in an otherwise serious criminal investigation series, it also causes much hurt and heartache for the people around her.  We’ve all met people like that—incredibly smart, at the top of their game, even good-looking, but utterly lacking in empathy. Yet without these smart people, empathetic or not, it would be difficult to get much of our business or work done.

As managers, how do we deal with such folks? Is it possible to get them to develop empathy—for their co-workers and customers at the very least? Historically, the most common method that people have recommended to build empathy has been “walking in the other person’s shoes”. Nothing opens up our eyes, and hopefully our minds, as experiencing what Mischelle goes through every day or what Rajagopal deals with on a daily basis. And in the India of the early 21st century, there is somewhat of a unique challenge.

Companies, both multinationals already here and those entering each day, are jockeying with growing Indian companies and India-origin multinationals for middle and senior managers. Despite the promise of India’s vaunted demographic dividend, the reality today is one of far too many opportunities chasing far too few suitable candidates. Matters probably haven’t helped in the past few years, when fast-rising managers in Indian multinationals have been promoted to run their businesses elsewhere. In many ways, the downturn has been a positive step forward as growth of companies and white collar jobs in India have continued, while most of the rest of the world has stagnated.

In specific specialized fields, such as airline pilots, we’ve had no option but to go overseas and hire expatriate pilots. Retail, automotive initially began on a similar route, but have largely transitioned to hiring in India or poaching senior folks from other Indian or multinational companies in India. This has led to an interesting dynamic, evident to even a casual browser of LinkedIn or the business appointment announcements—the rapid rise of individuals into executive positions. The days of my dad working his way up a single organization over 20-odd years appear downright quaint in today’s India. Even in the early 2000s when the big four IT companies were making names for themselves as high-growth global businesses, they had their share of blue, green or other colour badges (signifying 10, 15 or even 20 years of service) in senior positions.

A quick and unscientific survey of the managing directors or India heads of technology firms, for instance, reveals folks who have moved on average four-six jobs over a period of 10-12 years. This is definitely a great time of opportunity for individuals themselves, but one of challenges for companies. It also begs the question: has the business world or India indeed changed and is this the new normal? And, more importantly, does this serve the companies, individuals and the nation well? Will Parkinson’s law kick in and can these leaders, indeed, lead without the experience that staying in one industry, even if not in one company, will bring them?

The good news is that this question has risen before and been examined in great detail. The General Managers by John Kotter of the Harvard Business School set out to answer this very question of “professional managers” who can step into any business and run it well. Kotter took an empathetic approach of walking in the footsteps of 15 general managers across a variety of industries over a year. His key finding was successful managers are domain specialists having spent most or all of their career in one industry. This enabled them to establish cooperative working relationships and wide informal networks that he attributes to their success. In what should give pause to all of us, he finds outsiders rarely do as well—as probably John Sculley and others found at Apple.

This article originally appeared in the Book Beginnings column in Mint.

Design for Dummies, Mummies & Others

“How do I get the word count on this document? In the past when I selected a paragraph, I’d get a count of the words in it, right here at the bottom left.” A colleague was struggling to get Microsoft Word to do what she wanted.

Design of Every Day Things

Photo credit: livemint.com

The next time you take a short trip on an aeroplane, take a look around yourself. It’s almost certain that anyone who’s travelling for business and working on a laptop is using a spreadsheet or working on a presentation in PowerPoint or Keynote. With these tools playing such an integral part of our everyday lives, you’d think they’d be easy to use. Yet people, including the colleague I wrote of earlier, have to call on their co-workers, spouses and nephews of neighbours to get some specific function done, often one they’d used before. If this were a matter of software alone or particularly inept computer users, we’d likely be able to deal with it a whole lot easily. But, alas, this lack of usability or user-friendliness is not confined to software or even computers alone.

The Design of Everyday Things
Even the simplest of office equipment, starting with the copier, overhead projector or network printer (poor you, if it includes a scanner) require instructions to operate, as evidenced by hand-scribbled notes and printed instructions from other users, stuck on and around them. When all that fails, we then rely on the admin expert to make these do what we’d like them to. Before you figure that I’m an inept luddite, these usability problems are by no means unique to electronic equipment.

From the faucets in airport toilets to the glass doors in our office, you can see fellow travellers struggling to operate them, often requiring multiple attempts before getting water to flow (lift, press or twist) or doors to open (push, pull or slide).
In a world that deified Steve Jobs even when he was alive and the name of Jonathan Ive is known to more folks than you’d think is possible, why is good design so hard to come by? Before we try to answer that question, let’s do an experiment.

Try this at work today. Get four of your colleagues, hand them a piece of paper and ask them to make aeroplanes. After 10 minutes of flying those aeroplanes, give them a blank piece of paper and ask them to write a six- or eight-step process to make paper aeroplanes without illustrations. Now hand these instructions to other colleagues or use them yourself to see if you can make an aeroplane at all, let alone one that flies. Now why is it that folks, even ones that have multiple college degrees, who almost without thought can make pretty darn good paper planes, can’t write a set of easy-to-follow instructions on how to build such a plane?

In his book The Design of Everyday Things, cognitive psychologist Donald A Norman answers these and a whole lot of other questions about why design—particularly user-friendly design—is not easy. Norman, whom Newsweek called “The Guru of Workable Technology”, begins with how people interact with everyday things. The three critical elements to using things successfully are, in his words, visibility, appropriate clues and feedback of one’s actions. So whether a hot and cold water faucet or the turn signals in your car, if they are visible so you can locate them easily (in front of you rather than by your foot), provide visible clues or affordances (lift, press or turn) and provide feedback (flowing water, blinking direction indicator) upon being operated, we have the makings of usable design.
Norman also provides numerous examples of good and excellent user-centred design, whether in felt pens or floppy drives, and explains why many of them never get a chance to go through the five or six attempts required to get a design right.
Businesses and each of us individuals will find our lives more productive and a whole lot less stressful if we understand the psychology of everyday things. So, the next time you see a handwritten instruction sign resolve to evangelizing user-centred design.

This article originally appeared in the Book Beginnings column in Mint in Dec 2011

The Only Business Book You’d Ever Have to Read

A quick glance at a typical entrepreneurs’ nightstand will show at least two or three books piled up waiting to be read. Despite their best intentions, entrepreneurs and other business folks often don’t get around to reading all the books they plan to. The fact that they are frequently gifted many “must-read” books only adds to the problem. If you thought things were bad before, our friends and sundry experts on Twitter and Facebook who’ve begun showering all of us with even more recommendations are making matters worse.

Effective Executive image (c) MintLast night when the pile of books on my bedside table tumbled over, I was finally spurred to action. I set out on a quest – to find that one book that must be read – after which it wouldn’t matter if I read any  others. I’d have to admit that my thus-far forbearing spouse probably had as much to do with my wanting just one book on my nightstand. It is this journey I share with you in this week’s column.

The preamble of the US Declaration of Independence, first adopted on July 4, 1776, states “We hold these truths to be self-evident.”  Scholars agree that the authors of the Declaration of Independence were greatly influenced by the work of English philosopher John Locke (1632 – 1704). That his ideas have held sway for over three hundred years speaks to the foresight and genius of John Locke. If there is such a philosopher in business, who has not only  influenced multiple generations of business leaders but continues to stay relevant today, it is Peter Drucker.

Whether you are a new employee starting out on your first job or an experienced CEO and particularly if are an entrepreneur, Peter Drucker has something of lasting value to impart to you. The challenge in getting acquainted with Peter Drucker and his work is the sheer prodigiousness of his written output. He’s Shakespearean in the number of volumes (nearly forty) he has authored and the breadth of subjects he’s covered. The utter clarity of thought and simplicity of his communication style have earned Drucker, in my opinion, the right to be termed the Bard of Business.

And much like getting acquainted with the Bard of Stratford-on-Avon through a Minerva or Cliff Notes guide, the first time reader might wish there was a quick and easy guide to Drucker. Luckily Drucker’s own “The Effective Executive” first published in 1966 (subsequently revised as The Effective Executive Revised in 2002 and The Effective Executive in Action in 2005) is such a guide.  The book distills the wisdom needed for a professional lifetime in Drucker’s trademark lucid style within its slim 174 pages. It is the volume I’d choose, if I had to pick only one of his books.

The charm of the book lies in Drucker’s simple assertion that effectiveness can be learned. Never one to mince words, he asserts in the very first chapter,“Intelligence, imagination, and knowledge are essential resources, but only effectiveness converts them into results.” He then quickly spells out five simple steps to learn and practice effectiveness.

Drucker’s frequent use of compelling anecdotes from his own wide-ranging consulting career and history makes reading the book not only pleasurable but memorable as well.  My own favorite story is the one about President Abraham Lincoln’s response when he’s told about his new commander-in-chief’ General Grant’s fondness for the bottle. “If I knew his brand, I’d send a barrel or so to some other generals.” Drucker goes on to say, Grant’s appointment was effective because he was chosen for his strength of winning battles and “not for his sobriety, that is, for the absence of a weakness.”

My roommate in college would read the Bible each night before he went to bed. Many a times, as brash 18-year-olds are wont to do, I’d ask him “Haven’t you read it before? How come you are reading it again?” To his credit he never lost his cool and would mostly give me an indulgent smile before returning to his book. It was only much later that I came to appreciate the value of returning to a book I’d read many times and discovering new things each time. The Effective Executive is such a book, one that I find myself returning to each year and it has never disappointed.

Get yourself a copy today and you wouldn’t even have to clear out any space, given the slim volume it is.

Summary

Effective executives

  • Manage their time through explicit choices about what’s important
  • Focus on what they can contribute themselves
  • Build on people’s strengths rather than try to mitigate their weaknesses
  • Set and drive the long-term business priorities
  • Understand and make effective decisions and
  • Know that effectiveness can be learned

 

An edited version of this article first appeared in my Book Beginnings column in the Mint.