Tuesday, October 18, 2005

2 Books on Culture and Leadership

Favorite Books
By Moje Ramos-Aquino, FPM

TEAM BUSH: Leadership lessons from the Bush White House
By Donald F. Kettl

By Donald N. Sull
(Harvard Business School Press)

I am not an admirer of George W. Bush, the first MBA (Harvard) president of the USA, but here’s an interesting insight into his leadership style and the culture of goal orientation, discipline and teamwork he installed at the White House. According to the author, Bush did run the Oval Office by the Harvard casebook. Kettl wrote: “He got busy running the country by crafting a business plan for the transition (as Governor of Texas) and his initial months in the Whitehouse even while the outcome of the election was still in doubt. In less than three weeks he completed the task of naming his cabinet. He then made ten-year tax cut his top policy priority. Following the tax vote, which won with a large and quick margin, he focused on his education agenda. He was promoting this phase of his strategy, in fact, when he visited a Florida classroom on the morning of September 1. Finally, Bush envisioned a foreign policy initiative, especially to deal with Iraq and his belief that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

“Beyond the business plan was a set of basic rules to guide how the White House staff worked and behaved.” He stuck to these rules consistently: Attire—suit and tie required, brevity is a must, be punctual, treat everyone with respect and develop healthy work habits.

Bush quickly worked his way through the basic options and made his strategic decisions. He preferred oral briefings, short background memos, and quick decisions.” Bush is a strong “people person” as he likes people and connects easily and informally with them.

Kettle continues: “Bush builds his approach to the president on teamwork, especially his West Wing staff. He builds a clear strategy and a business plan for implementing it. He insists on tough discipline among his staffers, with a tightly controlled flow of information in and out. He relished the MBWA (management by walking around) approach. He focuses on the big decisions and delegates to subordinates the job of carrying them out.

On dealing with the press, Kettl wrote: “One sign of how successful the Bush administration has been in managing the message is its skill in creating news events. The disciplined message starts with Bush himself. He defines a message, repeats it and relentlessly hammers it home.”

Finally, from W himself: “Governments should be results-oriented. Where we find success, we should repeat it, share it, and make it the standard. And where we find failure, we must call it by its name. Government action that fails in its purpose must be transformed or ended.” Paging Madame Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo!

I still don’t have a hint of admiration for W, but author Kettl wrote a compelling case for Dubya’s winning leadership style.

Along the same theme, author Donald Sull asserts that despite differences in personal attributes, great managers all excel in the making, honoring and remaking of commitments. “Managerial commitments take many forms, from capital investments to personnel decisions to public statements, but each exerts both immediate and enduring influence on a company. A leader’s commitments shape a business’s identity, define its strengths and weaknesses, establishes its opportunities and limitations, and set its direction.

“Defining commitments determine an organization’s course and identity well into the future—but hamper later change efforts. To make the right commitment, ask, ‘Is this a decision we can live with in the long run?’ Don’t define commitments hastily if you don’t have to.

“Reinforcing commitments include daily actions such as customer contract renewals, and occasional big bets like a major acquisition. This build efficiency, sharpen focus, temper risk and attract employees, customers and partners who fit the company’s identity.

“Finally, when disruptive changes strikes, pressure to make even more reinforcing commitments mounts. Instead, force your firm out of the status quo—with new, transforming commitments such as selecting new strategic frames or revamped process; make clear credible courageous commitments that leave no room for retreat; and reconfigure remaining frames, processes, resources and relationships to support your new direction.”

Shull refers to commitment as any action taken in the present that binds an organization to a future course of action. Commitments are essential to management. They secure the resources necessary for the company’s survival, induce potential partners and investors to play ball, provide employees with a clear sense of focus and help them prioritize and coordinate their actions. Commitments come at a cost—it limits a company’s flexibility.

W, like many successful leaders, thrives on managing by commitments. It is a truism that the leadership defines the culture of the organization and signs up everybody for the long haul. What really makes a great manager great?


TEMPERED RADICALS: How people use difference to inspire change at work
By Debra E. Meyerson
(Harvard Business School Press)

TIME MASTERY: How temporal intelligence will make you a stronger, more effective leader.
By John K. Clemens and Scott Dalrymple

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