Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance? (book review)

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Just as I was beginning my business career, Louis Gerstner was at the top of his career. Mr. Gerstner stepped in as the CEO of IBM when Big Blue was at a perilous time: This massive company was on the brink of either crumbling or soaring. Gerstner unpacks the impressive turnaround story in his book Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance? 

When I was in my teenage years, several family members were encouraging me to consider IBM for my career path. They explained that a job at IBM would become a lucrative, influential, and lifelong position. Indeed, since its founding in the early twentieth century, it had grown into a worldwide behemoth of technology. You could tell IBM employees by their distinct dress, confidence, and loyalty to Big Blue. 

But adhering to the rigid principles that both Thomas Watson Sr. and Thomas Watson Jr. had preached turned into inflexible practices that were losing the true soul of this once-great company. By the early 1990s, IBM was floundering, hemorrhaging cash, and about to experience one of the most epic collapses any organization had ever seen. 

Enter Louis Gerstner. He had developed a stellar reputation at American Express and RJR Nabisco, and was highly sought as the CEO of IBM. Except Mr. Gerstner initially didn’t want to take on this challenge. He knew how difficult it would be to lead change in an organization that was so entrenched in its nearly 100-year-old ways. 

Eventually, he did agree to step into this role, and over the next decade led one of the most comprehensive and impressive turnarounds in business history. IBM shook off stodgy practices while returning to its founding principles, refocused on customers’ needs, and as a result, regained its dominance in the technology field. 

Any organization—whether for-profit or non-profit—can get stuck in a rut. Its once-beneficial principles can morph into practices which are merely attempting to keep the machinery running, but are no longer meaningful for either team members or other stakeholders. 

Mr. Gerstner’s refocusing of the elephant-sized IBM will give any leader some invaluable insights into how to keep their organization from sliding into ineffectiveness and irrelevance. I would highly recommend this book to all leaders. 

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The Art Of War (book review)

You don’t have to be a military officer to appreciate some of the timeless and widely applicable lessons in the classic text from Sun Tzu called The Art Of War.

The Art Of War was written in roughly the fifth century BC in China. Just by knowing those brief facts, many people might dismiss the book from their potential reading list because it doesn’t appear to “fit” where they are. Granted, Sun Tzu’s thrust is to help military generals win the battles against their enemies, but I found many of his strategies and observations helpful to other areas of life. 

    • … business leaders can glean strategies for marketing victories 
    • … sports coaches can learn how to motivate their teams during training
    • … pastors can see spiritual warfare tactics
    • … teachers could learn the best times and ways to motivate students for academic success
    • … even those who want to be lifelong learners can discover how to self-motivate and organize their daily lives

The Art Of War is a fairly short read, and each of the chapters are presented in bite-size verses (almost like the biblical book of Proverbs), so it is a book you can read in short bursts in between other tasks. 

If you really want to “shake up” your regular reading routines, this little classic might be just the thing for you! 

Book Reviews From 2016

Our Iceberg Is Melting (book review)

Our Iceberg Is MeltingI have gleaned so much wisdom from John Kotter’s scholarly writing over the years, and I also enjoy when someone can tell a compelling fable. In Our Iceberg Is Melting, I got the best of both of these!

John Kotter has written and taught extensively from Harvard Business School. His work on corporate culture, especially the area of changing corporate culture, is always spot-on. But sometimes people find academics a bit too “dry” to even read their work. So Dr. Kotter collaborated with Holger Rathgeber to create a fable that anyone can read.

In Our Iceberg Is Melting, we meet some penguins living on an iceberg that is about to break apart. Only one penguin recognizes the imminent danger at first, but this begins a series of conversations about the changes the penguin colony must confront. As you might imagine, there are some naysayers, some go-getters without a lot of information, some academics with a lot of information but not much drive, and a bunch of penguins who are totally apathetic. All in all, this accurately describes for too many organizations!

Buried in this fable is a treasure-trove of helpful ideas for how to successfully navigate change in whatever organization you may be involved. If you are a part of a leadership team, reading this book together will, I am certain, open the door for some meaningful and productive conversations. It’s a book that can be read in just an afternoon, but the conversations and treasure mining will take weeks!

I highly recommend this book for anyone wanting to stay ahead of needed corporate changes.

11 Quotes From “Liquid Leadership”

Liquid LeadershipLiquid Leadership by Brad Szollose was a bit “light” on leadership development content for my tastes, but I still found a few good quotes to share with you. Check out my review of this book by clicking here.

“Baby boomers tend to isolate themselves from younger people and treat them as expendable kids, while Gen Yers to undervalue the experience of Boomers and ignore them. Either attitude is a mistake and insulting.”

“Innovation cannot thrive in environments where anxiety is too high; but in environments where anxiety is low, creativity is high. Fragile thoughts need time to survive and thrive.”

“Something remarkable took place over the past twenty-five years: People stop worshipping the companies they work for and begin instead to see themselves as value added to the bottom line, partners in success. Today’s workforce has amazingly high self-esteem and won’t look up to you just because you’ve ‘earned’ the corner office.”

“It is easy to be a leader when times are good. But when times are tough, these are the moments that make a leader great.”

“Leaders who are more involved in the day-to-day process can easily see what is creating the status quo environment, which enables them to change it. And when they make changes, they can make them organically, because they are viewed as a trusted ally instead of an intruder.”

“Your job is to be the best shepherd possible of ideas and implementation.”

“In an environment that allows truth telling, you must make sure each team member understands how to present a sticky subject without destroying a fellow colleague’s contribution. In other words, speak properly and respectfully when critiquing. Speaking the truth should not be used as a way to get even or to make a coworker look bad. Making someone feel as if they are under attack leaves angry feelings and creates a hostile environment. But when everyone is supportive and nurturing, people feel safe to admit their weaknesses. The common goal is to get better.”

“When people have a sense of purpose built into what they do, you don’t just get an employee—you get a person’s talent, passion, and full attention. … But real engagement—real, 100 percent commitment—requires a workplace that isn’t just making stuff but, in someway, changing the world.”

“Make sure each and every member of your organization understands the company’s mission, where the company is going, and how it plans on getting there. Try to make the vision exciting for everyone. Team members need to be crystal clear as to goals, purposes, and intentions for the group. Keep the mission of each team front and center, and they’ll stay on target, and your employees will understand how to earn their place on the team. High standards will guarantee greater output.”

“You never change the existing reality by fighting it. Instead, create a new model that makes the old one obsolete.” —Buckminster Fuller

“I am going to share with you the key to success in any business: the secret, in a word, is ‘heart-power.’ Capture the heart, and you’ve captured the person.” —Vince Lombardi

Promotion (book review)

PromotionFinding the right person to promote in your organization can be one of the most crucial decisions a leader has to make. It’s hard enough when the organization is a profit-driven one, but the stakes get elevated when a faith-based ministry is considering the eternal ramifications of its success. A book chock-full of helpful advice for making the right personnel decisions is Promotion by Rick Renner.

Rick is a successful pastor and ministry leader. He shares through his personal examples—both successful and not so successful—the principles he has learned. He is quick to point out that these principles are not because some people are more valuable than others, but because some people are ready for more responsibility and others are not. His list of promotion principles will help you, regardless of the type of organization you lead.

I found the scriptural principles Rick shared to be right on target, though I thought he tried to put too fine of a point on a few of them. In other words, some of his ideals are so high that hardly anyone may quality for promotion. I also found some of his personal stories to be a bit too much personal back-patting for my taste. Despite those two personal observations, I still found the material helpful.

A big thanks to my brother-in-love for putting this book in my hands.

Me, Myself & Bob (book review)

As a parent of young children, I really appreciated the biblical values delivered in a fun way through so many VeggieTales videos. Now I’m really appreciating the wisdom of VeggieTales creator Phil Vischer in his book Me, Myself & Bob.

Written in the same witty style that made the VeggieTales videos so engaging, Me, Myself & Bob leads us through the meteoric rise and sudden collapse of Big Idea Productions. We read about the passion that drove the start of this incredible vision, and how—as the Bible says—zeal without a foundation of wisdom is a  dangerous thing.

With such candor, Phil shares about the vision and talents God gave him to do something so groundbreaking, how others caught that vision and jumped on board to help, and then how the company sort of took on a life of its own and how corporate executives took this highly successful business in a direction Phil never imagined.

This book is more like a business strategy book told as Phil Vischer’s autobiography. From the business board room to the family living room, there are valuable lessons to be learned from the rise and fall of VeggieTales. So whether you’re a fan of Bob the Tomato & Larry the Cucumber, an entrepreneur, or a parent, you will find something to love about Me, Myself & Bob.

How The Mighty Fall (book review)

This is the third in the series of books from Dr. Jim Collins: Built To Last, Good To Great, and now How The Mighty Fall. This is a book that Dr. Collins wished he didn’t have to write, as he uncovers the markers that contributed to the failure of once-great companies.

If you are a frequent reader of my blog, you’re probably wondering why I’m reading/reviewing a business book. The answer is simple: the principles Jim Collins uncovers in his books are rock-solid principles of success and failure, regardless of the organization in which they are practiced or ignored. In all three of his books, I have mined so many great truths to apply to my personal life, as well as the organizations I lead.

In How The Mighty Fall we learn about the five stages of decline for once-great organizations. Working backward from his evidence, Dr. Collins then gives us “markers” to look for in our own organizations that would tip us off to the stages of decline.

Why study this? Because I want to lead a great church! This quote from the book especially resonates with me:

“The point of struggle is not just to survive, but to build an enterprise that makes such a distinctive impact on the world it touches, and does so with such superior performance, that it would leave a gaping hole — a hole that could not be easily filled by any other institution—if it ceased to exist.” (emphasis added)

If you are involved in the leadership of any organization (whether for-profit or non-profit), I would encourage you to devour all three of Jim Collins’ books.

Lead Like Ike (book review)

There is so much to like about Lead Like Ike by Geoff Loftus!

If you like military history, you will love the narrative of the strategies and implementation that Dwight D. Eisenhower (or “Ike”) oversaw. It is an amazing retelling of how Ike had to balance so many pressures from not only the Germans but within his own ranks as well, to lead the Allies to victory in Europe during World War II.

If you like business strategies, you will enjoy the way Loftus renames the military build-up in Europe during WWII “D-Day Inc.,” and assigns titles like Board of Directors, CEO, C-level staff, and competitors to the battles in Operation Torch, Operation Overlord, the Battle of the Bulge and others. You will see how Ike functioned as an effective CEO to lead D-Day Inc. in their head-to-head challenges with their German competition.

And if you like biographies about strong leaders, you will see the incredible leadership principles that Ike employed in his personal life and in his military career. You will see a man firmly fixed on his goal, but also a man who felt deeply about the individual soldier, sailor, and airman under his command.

Sprinkled throughout the book (and summed up nicely at the end of each chapter) are strategies for success, implementation plans, and tips for personnel management.

The only thing that disappointed me about this book was that it came to an end! I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I believe you will too. I give it five-out-of-five stars.

I am a Thomas Nelson book reviewer.

I’ll Make You An Offer You Can’t Refuse (Book Review)

I'll Make You An Offer You Can't RefuseOkay, I’ll be honest with you, the title of Michael Franzese’s latest book sounds like a cliché—I’ll Make You An Offer You Can’t Refuse. Sounds like a line right out of “The Godfather” or “Goodfellas,” right? But if you’re involved in the world of business, Mr. Franzese’s book is exactly that: an offer (book) you can’t refuse. From how to craft a business plan, to picking the right people, to learning how to negotiate the best deals, Mr. Franzese uses his years of wiseguy street-smarts to give you an advantage.

From the very first page, this book engaged me because I felt like I was having a conversation with the author. His style is very relaxed, and his stories about his business successes and failures are compelling. It’s not often that a business book reads like a novel, but I’ll Make You An Offer does just that.

Throughout all of his lessons, Mr. Franzese makes the contrast between the principles spelled out in the mobster’s bible (The Prince by Machiavelli) and principles articulated in the Holy Bible (specifically the writings of Solomon). Although he learned his strategies from his years in La Cosa Nostra (“this thing of ours” or the mob life), he makes a strong case his strategies will work in the legit life. The difference is the motivation that drives the strategies: Machiavellian or biblical.

“A dictionary definition of success says it’s ‘the favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors.’ … But dictionary definitions are like sausage casings. It all depends on what you stuff inside” (quote from page 144).

Whether you are just getting started in a new business venture, or whether you are not satisfied with the results of your current business venture, you will find invaluable strategies here to help you. This former mob boss truly does make you an offer you can’t refuse.

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