Monday, December 28, 2009

Success book Reviews; Thomas Stanley "Stop acting Rich"

Thomas Stanley , best-selling author of The Millionaire Next Door has added a fascinating new work to his paradigm-shifting catalog of research on the wealthy. It is Stanley who taught us that the rich often live frugal lives, buying Sears suits instead of Armani, and driving Chevrolets instead of Bentley. He continues that superb research here. From watches to wines, the millionaires just don't fit "central casting". They buy inexpensive brands, drink inexpensive alcohol and live in inexpensive houses.

Stanley also introduces a "glittering rich" category . He suggests that many non-rich "aspirationals" spend their money imitating the extremely successful decamillionaires, who actually can afford the high-priced brands, which few "garden variety" millionaires would ever touch.

Over and over Stanley shows us how deluded we are in our consumption-oriented lifestyles. The people we are imitating are often laughing at us...all the way to the bank. Their bank, that is.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Success Videos: Jamie Dimon at Harvard

I've watched Jamie Dimon's career unfold for over a decade now and it is gratifying to notice the harmony between his articulated principles and the actual results he has achieved. This video is probably the most extensive exposition of his principles that I have found. I'll mention a few points of importance, but the video is well worth watching in full.

Lifted almost verbatim from Denton's "Executive Charisma" is the injunction to treat all employees, from clerk to CEO, equally. Now "equally" , for Dimon, means, with intellectual honesty, without politics, and with loyalty to a vibrant J.P. Morgan, not loyalty to a particular person's job, title, salary, etc.

Another key quality for the leader (and the organization) is lifelong learning. One key quality that emerges over and over in the stories of leaders such as Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Charlie Munger, and others is the central element of reading as a central activity for any successful person. I would say, in my observation of my fellow human beings, I have never seen any rule more frequently ignored. And they wake up at age 60 and wonder why their life's a mess.

A few other gems: Seek the best models, not the second-best. Continuous improvement. Seek relentlessly for the facts. Seek the full information. Get "the right people in the room"...i.e. the people who will be implementing or otherwise dealing with the results of your executive decisions.

I won't belabor my commentary, please watch this remarkable video.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Success Master Skills - More Passion, Less "Balance"?

Great post on work-life balance at Journey of a Serial Entrepreneur. Makes simlar points to a few of my own remarks in my review of Pete Peterson's new book. Usman Sheik is a startup founder and loves his work. Like many successful people, he sees the lines between work and "the rest of life" as blurred. There is work-as drudgery, and there is work-as-passion. And when work is your passion, there may not be as much need for "balance".

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Success Secrets: Reading and Thinking

Here is a short video by investor (and Warren buffett disciple) Monish Pabrai and a long video of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. In both videos it is clear that the key to these peoples' success is not hyperactivity, but reading and thinking. They spend huge parts of their days reading, and they rank it as their most important activity. Even Pabrai, already a Buffett admirer, was struc by how "empty" Buffett's schedule was. You don't look very busy when you're reading, but the results speak for themselves.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Success Book Reviews: Pete Peterson, American Dreamer

What a life. In The Education of an American Dreamer Pete Peterson, billionaire founder of the Blackstone group and one of the most successful leaders ever in business and government, has given us a fast-paced look at a dynamic career. Hugely successful at a young age, in both advertising and also as the very young CEO of Bell and Howell, he moved on to Washington (Secretary of Commerce), Lehman Brothers, and, eventually private equity firm Blackstone. Along the way he was tapped to run numerous foundations, and later set up several himself. The book moves quickly, and , as an autobiography, it is sometimes difficult to get beyond the surface to the “WHY”…how did such success came so easily to this individual? I picked up a few principles as I read, and was gratified to see that, at the end of the book, Peterson himself dubbed them to be part of his key success factors.

First, it is important to note a bit of what Peterson might call “dumb luck”. Like Warren Buffett and Alan Greenspan, Peterson was spared military service and as such got a head start in university environments that were somewhat depleted of competition. A lot of bright young males were busy fighting in WWII and Korea while Peterson, Greenspan, Buffett, and others were already finishing business school.

But there was a lot more than luck involved in Peterson’s career. Peterson developed two key success factors early, perhaps partially due to his MBA work at the University of Chicago: he had an analytical bent, and an interest in communicating his ideas. It is interesting to note that, around the time of his attendance at U of C, economics was undergoing a transformation from a more “literary” to a “quantitative” discipline. And, in his early work at McCann Erickson, the advertising agency, he did much the same: he became a champion of research, as well as an expert at making that research client-centric. As far as communicating, it is interesting to note that the young Alan Greenspan, while immersed in his studies of American business statistics, was, like Peterson, eager to communicate the ideas he was uncovering. Both men strove to reach a wider audience through speaking and writing articles. Buffett also strove to teach.

Another two success characteristics are, interestingly, also highlighted as success drivers in Thomas Scwheich’s informative book Staying Power : a relaxed attitude toward career “pre-planning”, and a willingness to lead an “un-balanced”, career-centric lifestyle. Schweich’s interviews with successful people echo what Peterson also claims to be a key principle: avoid a restrictive set of career goals: “follow your bliss”. As far as the consequences of imbalance are concerned, Peterson suffers two divorces , most likely related to his career focus. In my own life, I’d tend to agree with the “work ethic” approach: “work/life balance” is not conducive to high achievement. That’s just the way it is.

I won’t reveal all of Peterson’s “lessons learned”, but I will mention that Peterson appears to be quite comfortable among all sorts of people, something we introverts envy. As I think back and wonder how his interpersonal skills might have developed, I focus on his many years of working in his father’s café. I wonder if being around so many different types of people at such a young age perhaps enabled the development of self-confidence. It’s one thing to be a great student (which he was) , and altogether another thing to be at ease and unafraid among the mighty of the earth (Rockefeller, Kissinger, etc.). Perhaps it all started at his dad’s café in Nebraska.

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Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Success Book Reviews: Benton's "Executive Charisma" Part 2

This is Part 2 of my review of D. A. Benton’s Executive Charisma: Six Steps to Mastering the Art of Leadership. Part 1 is here.

Benton has enumerated “The Sacred Six” components of Executive Charisma:

1. Be the first to initiate
2. Expect and give acceptance to maintain self-esteem
3. Ask questions, and ask favors
4. Stand tall, straight, and smile
5. Be human, humorous, and hands on
6. Slow down, shut up and listen

A few personal reactions to her concepts follow.

Be the first to initiate
In my acquaintance with successful people, this was probably the very greatest difference between them and a typical person. I would go so far as to say that the more often you initiate, and the more significant the goals, the greater chance you will have in personal success. Successful people think in terms of big dreams. They go where they have to go, meet the people they have to meet, and take continuous action in the direction of their goals. They do not wait for others to approve. If they move one inch ahead of the pack every day, because of a propensity to initiate, that adds up to miles ahead over the years.

Be human, humorous, and hands-on
There were two or three great leaders I enjoyed being around in a crisis. They always knew how to lighten the emotional burden when things got tough. They never took a situation, or themselves, too seriously. By behaving in this way, they drew good people around them. Since people enjoyed their company, they got good advice, good mentoring, advance information that was helpful to the business, and, of course, were able to bring in a lot of business. Now, being an enjoyable person does not mean they were not, to use the rest of Benton’s phrase, “hands-on”. I remember several instances in my career as a music arranger and producer, when extremely high-ranking executives would work with me well into the night (or the next morning!!!) on a project, adjusting it down to the very finest details. These people were truly gifted: they are as hard-working as they were likable, and these qualities brought them outstanding (and much-deserved) success.

Expect and give acceptance to maintain self-esteem
I suspect that this point is the “secret ingredient” that underlies the success of so many truly outstanding people. In my work with some top people, I never felt I was being demeaned as a person, even if my work was being criticized. Also, I am astounded at how often these highly successful people used praise to initiate a meeting, and how often I was treated as a knowledgeable expert first, and as part of a results-oriented project second.. Not that I wasn’t an expert, but these people went out of their way to “put me in the room”. At the table. They knew that they needed great input from everyone around them, and the only way to get it was to make them feel comfortable, and on an equal footing.

The rest of Benton’s “Sacred Six” are equally important. Her book is loaded with examples and “how-to’s”. As I often do with inspiring books, I took the time to make an outline of the whole book so that I can refer to it easily in the future. And, speaking of the future, if you want to have one in business or in life, you should read this book.

Success Book Review: D. A. Benton "Executive Charisma"

D.A. Benton is an internationally recognized speaker, coach, author and consultant. She is an expert on executive skills, image, presentation, and effectiveness. Her wonderful book, Executive Charisma: Six Steps to Mastering the Art of Leadership is a cornucopia of secrets about successful leadership behavior. Although I am not now part of a large organization, I certainly wish I had read it during the years I was interfacing with executives at billion-dollar companies. As I think back to those who rose to great heights, and as I watch high-ranking leaders on television, the crucial principles that Benton elucidates in “Executive Charisma” leap out in strong relief. If one could master even one of her “Sacred Six” principles, it would probably make a huge positive change in their career. Master all six…and it’s a home run. But, there is no single moment of mastery. As Benton repeatedly reminds the reader: mastering her principles is a lifelong, vere-ending task.

Benton's "Sacred Six":
1. Be the first to initiate
2. Expect and give acceptance to maintain self-esteem
3. Ask questions, and ask favors
4. Stand tall, straight, and smile
5. Be human, humorous, and hands on
6. Slow down, shut up and listen

In my next post I will discuss a few of her concepts in more detail.