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How We Lead Matters
Author: Marilyn Carlson Nelson
Publisher: McGraw Hill
ISBN: Mick Yates
Summary:It is the personal side of this slim volume that stands out to make it eminently readable, as it does much to explain that the "how" of leadership is arguably more important than the "what".
This is a small book, and not a traditional "CEO volume". It is a collection of stories about events, some quite personal, which have helped Marilyn Carlson Nelson form her unique leadership style. She was,until quite recently, the CEO of Carlson, one of the largest privately held companies in the USA. Carlson is the parent company of Radisson, Wagon Lits and T.G.I Fridays, amongst other famous brands. the company was founded by her father in 1938, and she took over the CEO reins from him in 1998. When she left the CEO role, Carlson had 160,000 employees across the world, and revenues of almost $40 billion.
The stories are about business, about being a mother and grandmother, and on being an involved citizen. Carlson decided to write the book to help her grandson get to know her a little better, but the volume contains a wealth of thought-provoking anecdotes.
One story that appealed to me is from 1990, when her father was told by MBA students that they would not apply to work in his company because he did not truly value employees. We hear a lot about the "millennial employee" who brings different values to the work place than their predecessors - but facing the reality that no enterprise can survive if it undervalues its employees is a good lesson for everyone. There is another short essay about Teams (there is no "I" in Team), where Carlson makes the simple but powerful point that the greatest determinant of a breakthrough team is whether they care as much about each other's success as they care about their own.
She tells a story about hosting Gorbachev's security detail at her home because they were bored in the hotel - and the little bit of glasnost that happened after beer and vodka. And she tells stories about her grandson. Once, gazing from a plane across the sky, she asked if he thought that heaven would be like that. His reply? "Yes, but there would be more souls around".
Her view on women in business? When offering a senior job to the most appropriate candidate, who happened to be female, she was told "I'm honoured you'd think of me Marilyn, but I can't earn more than my husband". Carlson goes on to state her belief that the most successful organizations are those that choose the most talented people for the job, independent of sex.
Of course there are also comments about handling the CEO's role, "celebrity", globalisation and more. But it is the personal side of this slim volume that stands out to make it eminently readable. It does much to explain that the "how" of leadership is arguably more important than the "what".
Copyright 2008 Mick Yates