Monday, November 23, 2009

"Walk the Walk" named one of the best business books of 2009 by Strategy+Business

Thank you, Strategy+Business magazine, for naming "Walk the Walk' as one of the best business books of 2009 (and for publishing the review by Charles Handy, which called it "compelling reading.")

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Podcast interview on "Walk the Walk"

I'm interviewed about "Walk the Walk" on this podcast from Penguin books.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Slideshow on BusinessWeek website about who does and doesn't Walk the Walk

Check out this brief article and slideshow that I did for the BusinessWeek website about who does and doesn't "walk the walk" among prominent figures in business and national politics.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Great Article on Leadership by Swarthmore's Barry Schwartz

Read this terrific article on leadership by Barry Schwartz, a professor of psychology of Swarthmore College. The article (published by the National Internet) focuses on the "tyranny of the commons"--how to overcome the tough problem of individuals making everyday small choices that hurt the greater society over the longer run. How do you inspire people to change how their daily behaviors that harm the environment, for example? Schwartz looks at two themes that I write about at length in my new book Walk the Walk. In this passage he writes about the power of leading by example:

"The Obama vegetable garden by itself isn’t going to change how Americans eat. But many social phenomena are susceptible to what Duke economics and political science professor Timur Kuran describes as “informational cascades.” Someone out there who won’t take the lead in using cloth bags is almost ready to do so. Just one example will tip that person’s behavior. And once there are two adherents, other people, whose “tipping threshold” is a bit higher, will come on board. This will make it easier for others, and so on. Before you know it, plastic grocery bags will have gone the way of the rotary phone."

And here Prof. Schwartz underscores another important theme that I discuss in "Walk the Walk": the necessity of leaders sharing the struggle with the rest of us:

"As economist Robert Frank has observed, people, like states, care more about their relative position in a social or economic hierarchy than they do about their absolute position. Better to keep your thermostat at seventy-eight degrees in summer when others are doing the same than to keep it at seventy-four when others have theirs at seventy-two. Knowing that 'we’re all in the same boat' matters to people just as it does to states. And sacrifice must be shared in a way that is publicly verifiable because people, like states, care about fairness. They care enough to punish those who exploit power, even at a cost to themselves..."

There's much more rich detail and fascinating thinking in Prof. Schwartz's article. Check it out!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Profile of Apple's Steve Jobs in London's Sunday Times

Check out this uncommonly well-done profile of Apple's Steve Jobs in London's Sunday Times. The reporter, Bryan Appleyard, interviewed me for the story as well as some of the most insightful journalists who've covered Jobs and executives who worked with him closely over the years.

Friday, July 10, 2009

"Walk the Walk" Watch: Angelo Mozilo

The great business journalist Connie Bruck's fascinating article in the New Yorker magazine about the fallen king of home mortgage lending, Countrywide Financial's Angelo Mozilo ("Angelo's Ashes," June 29, 2009), shows the disastrous effects of powerful leadership that was focused on the wrong objective. Bruck writes that in 2002, when Countrywide had a market share of almost 10 percent, and none of its competitors had more than 13 percent, Mozilo decided to strive for unprecedented dominance of his industry: He set a goal of capturing at least 30 percent market share. As the co-founder and strong leader of Countrywide, Mozilo's overriding goal became the laser-like focus of his people, even after Mozilo himself largely stepped away from the company's day-to-day operations. In their effort to achieve his highest values--rapid growth and market dominance--they sacrificed other values that should have been important, such as creating relationships with their customers that would be mutually beneficially for the long-run.Countrywide was one of the biggest pushers of high-risk mortgages that led to countless people losing their homes--and the financial system nearly collapsing.

In my upcoming book "Walk the Walk," I write about how a real leader must constantly show the one or two values that are most important for the company. Mozilo did exactly that. The problem is that they've got to be the right values. Any time a company is focused on growth and dominance as its No. 1 objective, then the other things that get in the way, such as ethics and prudence, will likely be sacrificed. If Mozilo had enshrined the security and prosperity of Countrywide's customers as his top value, the outcome might have been very different. Instead, he wanted market dominance at whatever price--and that's exactly what he wound up achieving.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

"Walk the Walk" Watch: Michelle Obama

Further evidence that Michelle Obama is a leader reminiscent Eleanor Roosevelt, promoting the interests of social justice by her own constant presence and energy rather than her words alone:

"Away from the cameras, Michelle Obama is reaching out to DC's poor and neglected," writes Eleanor Clift on the Newsweek website. "Michelle Obama has made it a practice to almost every week visit some worthy non-profit..."

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

"Walk the Walk" Watch: Fast Food Chains

An article in today's Wall Street Journal looks at how national restaurant chains have been publishing misleading calorie-count figures for their menu items. ("Calorie Disclosures Fail to Weigh Whole Enchilada" by Carl Bialik). The Scripps television stations did some of its own testing and found, for example, that Taco Bell's steak taco actually had 297 calories, not 160 as the chain claimed, and that its bean burrito had 449 calories, not 330. Applebee's also looked pretty bad in the testing conducted by an independent lab.

No one is claiming that the restaurant chains are cheating: They're playing by the rules, but they're gaming the system: Carl Bialik, who's the Journal's "Numbers Guy" columnist, writes that "many chain restaurants send just one menu item to be tested for their published counts," even though it would be much more accurate to test many samples.

Personally, my guess is that those single submitted samples are probably prepared with a much lighter shmear of mayo, or similarly finessed quantities other high-cal ingredients, than typical servings in the real world. Who's going to flag whether it's a thin or thick layer of mayo, anyway?

In my view it would be so much wiser for the top executives at national restaurant chains to publish accurate calorie counts than to try to get away with intentionally misleading figures. If they walked the walk this way, it would show that they treated their customers with respect. When television stations and newspapers and bloggers exposed the deceptive practices of their rivals, these chains could claim rightly and loudly that they were honest with their patrons. Showing real concern for the health and well-being of their customers could be a way of standing apart in a business that's ruthlessly competitive on price, especially in a recessionary economy. Especially now that we've had some frightening outbreaks of health threats in the food system, often involving chain restaurants, it would be so valuable to build that relationship of trust.

In my surveys of many industries for my upcoming book, "Walk the Walk," I've found that usually only a single company in any business stands apart from the lemming-like behavior with real leadership, which simply involves living up to its words. In this case, the company that walks the walk appears to be Subway. The Journal story reports that the New York City health department surveyed 7,318 customers as they left 275 fast-food restaurants during weekday lunch hours. Although the city requires all fast-food restaurants to post calorie counts, only Subway revealed them "prominently," according to the Journal: "Nearly one-third of Subway's customers reported noticing the nutritional information, compared with fewer than 5% of customers at other chains. Among the Subway customers who spotted the numbers, more than one-third said it affected their orders--and those individuals' meals averaged 99 fewer calories."

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Natural Organization

My friend Robert Paterson, one of the most provocative thinkers I know, has been publishing a fascinating series of posts, "The Natural Organization," on his blog. If you've been influenced by the critiques of industrial agricultural by journalists such as Michael Pollan in "The Omnivore's Dilemma" or Eric Schlosser in "Fast Food Nation," then you should definitely read Rob's blog: He takes these ideas about our food system and uses them to help explain what does and doesn't work in all forms of human organization, especially when confronted by the need for dramatic change.

Monday, June 15, 2009

No Map, No Guide, No Limits

The website No Map, No Guide, No Limits is an outstanding resource for anyone interested in the subjects of change and innovation (as well as adventure, risk, and entrepreneurship). Its editor, Lane Wallace, also writes a thoughtful and provocative column on the Atlantic Monthly's website. Talk about someone who really "walks the walk" about embracing change: Twenty years ago Wallace left a successful corporate career to become a pilot and "adventure writer," and since then she has flown relief supplies in the Amazon jungle and to conflict areas in Africa.

Monday, June 8, 2009

"Does Apple Need Steve Jobs Anymore?"

I've recently started writing a more-or-less weekly column about business leadership for The Daily Beast, the website run by Tina Brown, the former top editor of The New Yorker and Vanity Fair magazines. The idea of the column is to take the ideas about leadership and change that I've developed in my research for my upcoming book, Walk the Walk, and to apply them to the personalities and issues that are making news right now. (My column today asks "Does Apple Need Steve Jobs Anymore?" given the company's fine performance during his leave of absence).

As a journalist who has spent the past two decades in the old media--as a writer for monthly or fortnightly print magazines such as Fortune and Fast Company and as a book author who has at least a full year to do research and hone his prose--writing "off-the-news" on a short deadline for a website is a new challenge for me. But it's already proving fun (and instructive) as a first-hand experience with the emerging media. It's gratifying to see an open discussion of your work from the moment that it's published, though that also means that your mistakes are publicly corrected and your opinions may be forcefully rebutted.

As an author who has extolled the importance of change and challenge throughout one's career, this is one of my own attempts to "walk the walk." I admit that it's not easy to go from having 21 years experience in the old media, and the expertise that come with that, to having hardly any experience with the new media, but it's surely worth trying.

Monday, June 1, 2009

"Change or Die" Watch: General Motors' bankruptcy

Anyone who's wondering how a company that it had so dominant in its field, as General Motors once was, could wind up declaring bankruptcy, as GM did today, might want to read the sections about GM in my book "Change or Die" (Collins, 2007). Here's one passage from the book describing the "denial" of GM's executives about their problems going back a half century:

In its heyday GM had been had been extraordinarily dominant in its business. It captured 60 percent of the U.S. car market in 1960, selling twice as many cars as Ford and Chrysler combined and six times as many as the imported brands. But GM's executives developed a superiority complex, and for decades they remained in denial about their cars' quality problems.

They had the facts from the beginning. In 1960 GM's engineers came up with a 100-point scale for comparing the quality of cars produced by the company's many factories. A perfect car would score one hundred. Every defect would knock off a point from the total. It turned out that many of GM's plants typically made cars with forty or more defects. They posted scores of sixty or below. That was embarrassing, since everyone remembered their own schools days, when a sixty was an F, a failing grade. They didn't improve the quality of the cars--they didn't know how. Besides, their cars weren't any worse than their competition's. Instead, they recalibrated the scale so 145 would represent a perfect score. This way, all of GM's plants would score one hundred or higher. A-plus! When a plant scored 130, employees would throw a celebration even though the cars still averaged fifteen defects. No customer would celebrate buying that car.

Of course GM ultimately closed the quality gap, but its top executives remained in denial about the crisis that confronted its industry beginning in the 1970s. Instead of learning lessons from the '70s oil shock, they went right back to relying on big gas-guzzling vehicles for their profits while Toyota got a crucial head start of several years in developing the technology and the market for fuel-efficient hybrids. GM has been in crisis since the '70s, but crisis does not actually inspire change, contrary to the conventional wisdom.

Faced for decades with a "change or die" scenario, GM didn't change.

Now Geneal Motors is going to survive only because of the federal government's role. But from what I hear, the Detroit auto executives are still in denial, even now. For months they've felt that U.S. has been ungrateful for everything they've done for this country, as evidenced by the feds' refusal to bail out Detroit to the extent that it bailed out Wall Street, instead forcing the automakers into bankruptcy and GM into nationalization.

Never underestimate the power of denial.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

"Walk the Walk" Watch: Laura Chenel

Even though my new book, Walk the Walk: The #1 Rule for Real Leaders, won't be published until September 17th, it's too late for me to add new material: the text is already edited and the advance copies ("galleys") have been printed and we've received endorsements (for the back cover) from some truly remarkable people. So of course I've been discovering even more examples of leaders who actually "walk the walk" and would have fit perfectly for the book.

One of those leaders is Laura Chenel, a pioneer in the delicious revolution in American food, who back in 1979 became the first person in the U.S. to make a real business out of producing goat cheese. I've enjoyed her cheese for the past two decades, but it was only recently that I understood why it was so good. I found a New York Times profile of Chenel (published October 18, 2006) that talked about how much love and attention she gives to her five hundred goats in Sonoma, California. She names every goat. She gets to know the goats so well that her business and life partner, John Van Dyke, said: "I know right where I stand. I am number 503, after her 500 goats and her two cats."

Now that's passion and commitment! The Times story was about Chenel, at age 57, selling her cheese business to a French company. But she would keep her 500 named goats and supply the new owners with the milk for the superb cheese that bears her own name, Laura Chenel Chevre.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

"Walk the Walk" Watch: Obama and the Rule of Law

"We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals."
--President Obama, inaugural address, January 20, 2009

"Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."
--President Obama, January 21, 2009

"President Obama's proposal for a new legal system in which terrorism suspects could be held in 'prolonged detention' inside the United States without trial would be a departure from the way the country sees itself, as a place where people in the grip of government either face criminal charges or walk free.
--The New York Times, page one, May 23, 2009

I still believe that President Obama has the potential and the historic opportunity to be a truly great leader, but he's got to walk the walk, especially when it comes to the highest values he has articulated for his administration. His detention plan as well as his move to block the release of the torture photos clearly undermine what he said would be the "touchstone" of his presidency.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Unsung Leaders in Every Organization

Last week I heard an intriguing presentation by Rob Cross, a professor of management at the University of Virginia, at a conference on "knowledge management." Professor Cross maps the informal but crucial social ties within companies: His research looks at which individuals seek out which other individuals when they need information and advice to get their work accomplished. He said that only 3 to 5 percent of people account for 25 to 30% of the "value-added ties," but half the time the company's official "leaders" don't know who these 3 to 5 percent actually are. And sometimes the official "leaders" are largely out of the loop themselves. The organization's real "leaders" are likely to be those people in the well-connected 3 to 5 percent, even if they're lower down in the organization chart. They're the ones who have real influence. Meanwhile, the reach of the nominal "leaders" is often remarkably limited. Professor Cross says that 60 to 70 percent of their ties go right back to the people in the fiefdom from which they've come. They usually fail to establish the vital ties that they need throughout every part of the organization.

I was also fascinated when Professor Cross said that only 1 to 3 percent of the population succeeds by building large social networks. These are the so-called "connectors" described in Malcolm Gladwell's famous "Six Degrees of Lois Weisberg" artice in the New Yorker magazine, later incorporated into his book "The Tipping Point." But Professor Cross says that most "high performers," the top 20 percent in an organization, build quality relationships rather than large social networks. They don't know everyone, but the people they know, they know very well, and they invest in relationships before they'll actually need them to get their work accomplished.

Professor Cross was only one of many thought-provoking speakers at the conference, which was sponsored by the APQC (formerly the American Productivity & Quality Center) in Houston.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Preview of "Walk the Walk," the book, is up on my website

An image of the cover of my upcoming book, "Walk the Walk: The #1 Rule for Real Leaders," is posted on the homepage of my newly redesigned website,, along with a brief preview of the book's contents. Check it out. The book will debut in stores on September 17, 2009.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The First 30 Days

Soon after publishing my book "Change or Die," I came across another writer who shares my passionate conviction that people are capable of making extraordinary changes in how they think, feel, and act, but that we need a better understanding of the underlying psychology of what creates change. She's Ariane de Bonvoisin, and her eminently useful book, The First 30 Days: Your Guide to Making Any Change Easier, has just been published in paperback. I particularly like Ariane's concept of the "change muscle"--the idea that we can develop a knack for change by doing it again and again in our lives. The idea comes from those brilliant neuroscientists, of course, but Ariane has her own knack for making ideas more memorable and vivid and thus more useful to us.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Leadership and emotional intelligence -- a new survey

Joshua Friedman at the Six Seconds consulting firm is an insightful analyst of the role of emotional intelligence in leadership. His organization is conducting an interesting survey about the bigguest issues that people perceive at work--and how they see emotional intelligence as part of the solution. You can take part in the survey by clicking here.

So far the results have been provocative. Here's what they show (based on rought calculations up to this point):

89% say employee’s feelings are “important” or “essential” to solving the issues the organization faces
91% report that “emotional intelligence” skills are “important” or “essential” to solving the issues the organization faces
The “people issues” are perceived to be about 63% more significant than “technical issues”

Only 9% report that they’ve received training to effectively deal with the issues they’re facing
And by about a 20% margin, “mentoring” is perceived as the most effective way for people to develop what they need.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Why's Jeff Bezos is a leader

In the current issue of Fast Company,'s CEO Jeff Bezos is asked how he justifies his company's big investment in its Kindle portable e-book reader even though it accounted for only $136 million of the company's $19 billion revenues last year. Bezos replies: "We want to plant seeds that grow into big trees, and that may take five to seven years. You also have to be willing to repeatedly fail -- and to be misunderstood for long periods of time."

At a time when so many major companies and even entire industries are collapsing because of the failure of their so-called leaders to invest in the long run, Amazon stands out as a rare exception.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

"Walk the Walk" Watch: Are bank CEOs investing their own money in the banks they run?

Are the chief executive officers of major banks investing their own money in their companies alongside the massive infusion of capital from the taxpayers? For the most part, they're not. In his Moneybox column today on, Daniel Gross writes about "the spectacle of eight bank CEOs filing into a House committee room on Wednesday to describe precisely what taxpayers are getting for the hundreds of billions of dollars they've pumped into the financial system...

"Rep. Gary Ackerman, D-N.Y., noting that the government had injected $165 billion into the eight banks represented at the hearing, asked how much each CEO had invested in his company in the past six months. 'And zero is a number,' he said. For five, zero was the number. JPMorgan Chase CEO James Dimon and Citi CEO Vikram Pandit noted that they had put $12 million and $8.4 million into their respective companies. Ken Lewis, CEO of Bank of America, recalled that he bought 400,000 shares but couldn't remember the dollar value of the purchase."

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Will Michelle Obama be more like Hillary Clinton as First Lady--or Eleanor Roosevelt?

A recent New York Times article on Michelle Obama looks at her emerging role as a close adviser to the president as well as a compelling public advocate for his proposed policies. While the article compares the new First Lady to one of her predecessors, Hillary Rodham Clinton, it already seems to me that a better comparison may be to Eleanor Roosevelt, who didn't hold an official policy-making position but nonetheless was a forceful and effective public presence, especially on issues involving compassion and caring for the less fortunate members of society.

I would't want to push the comparison between Michelle Obama and Eleanor Roosevelt too far, though. For one thing, ER's political positions were often much more progressive than FDR's, and ER didn't hesitate to oppose her husband's policies in her own articles, books, and speeches. The Obamas seem much more closely aligned politically, and Michelle's early role has been as loyal supporter. Also, ER had already raised her children by the time she was First Lady, while Michelle Obama's role as White House mother evokes images of the Kennedy era. Still, I suspect that Eleanor Roosevelt's highly effective role as public crusader and behind-the-scenes counsel will be the best model for how Michelle Obama will exert her influence in this administration.