Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Mametian perspective

Figuring it would cut the holiday saccharinity, I picked up David Mamet's meditation on the movie business, the essay collection Bambi vs. Godzilla. And it did, of course; Mamet's take on labor, management, and business is as tough as it gets. I particularly enjoyed this passage on the development path of producers, which if you substitute the word "customer" for "audience," should give every manager pause:

...the young bureaucrat-in-training, as he progresses in the bureaucratic hierarchy, will discover - some quickly; others, their eventual lackeys, with less speed - that success comes not from pleasing the audience but from placating his superiors until that time it is reasoned effective to betray them.

He learns in short to bide his time.

And as time goes by, this suborned young person becomes each day less capable of first uttering and then framing a non-bureaucratic thought.

Impulses of joy, of wonder, indeed, of rage and grief are repressed until they are no longer consciously felt.

This is called "growing savvy."

This person, like a member of a sexless marriage, ceases to feel affection, lust, desire for the permitted object, and, as in that marriage, this energy is diverted into (inter alia) depression, abuse, and treachery.

The successfully matriculated executive, marginally concerned wth art and diminishingly concerned even with "product," devotes his new wisdom and increased leisure to opportunities for trickery, greed, stock manipulation, and merger, as in any business.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Five rules for successful leadership

No matter what the economic climate, there are always plenty of leadership books in the business section of the bookstore. In fact, there are so many leadership titles that it's difficult to parse them to get down to the basics. Into the breach step Dave Ulrich, Norm Smallwood, and Kate Sweetman, who are themselves partly responsible for the crowded shelves.

In their new book, The Leadership Code (Harvard Business Press), the trio, all principles at The RBL Group, seek to boil successful leadership down to five rules. I'm not vouching for the scientific accuracy of the results -- the basis for the five rules is a survey of "hundreds of studies, frameworks, and tools," as well as the expert opinions of 15 leading leadership thinkers and the authors' best judgements. But the rules sound right. Here's the list direct from HBP:
Rule 1: Shape the Future – Strategic leaders answer the question, “Where are we going?” They figure out what direction the organization must take to succeed. They test their ideas pragmatically against current resources and they work with others to determine how to get from the present to the desired future.

Rule 2: Make Things Happen – The “executor”dimension focuses on the question, “How will we make sure we get to where we are going?” Executors translate strategy into action. They understand how to make change happen, how to assign accountability, and how to make sure that teams work well together.

Rule 3: Engage Today’s Talent – Leaders who optimize talent today answer the question, “Who goes with us on our business journey?” Talent managers know how to identify, build, and engage people to get results now. They generate intense personal, professional, and organizational loyalty.

Rule 4: Build the Next Generation – Leaders who are human capital developers answer the question, “Who stays and sustains the organization for the next generation?” Talent managers ensure shorter-term results through people, while human capital developers ensure that the organization has the longer-term competencies required for future strategic success.

Rule 5: Invest in Yourself – At the heart of the leadership code is personal proficiency. Effective leaders learn from success, failure, assignments, books, classes, people, and life itself. Leaders who demonstrate personal proficiency follow rules about developing and increasing personal insight so that they model the change they want to see in others.