THE LEADER WITHIN: An Empowering Path of Self-Discovery By Howard G. Haas with Bob Tamarkin, HarperBusiness, 247 pp., $13.
By Robert L. Dilenschneider, HarperBusiness, 248 pp., $25.
Books on leadership are plentiful enough to comprise a nuisance, with complementary copies gathering dust in editorial office corners when no one has the heart to throw them away. Everyone claims to have the inside scoop on how to run a company in three easy steps. The problem is, most of these self-styled gurus are pedestrian management consultants, and few of them actually have done so. Exceptions to this rule are Howard Haas, former president and CEO of the Sealy bedding firm, and Bob Dilenschneider, former president and CEO of public relations giant Hill & Knowlton, now head of The Dilenschneider Group. Both have conceived books mulling the driving force behind organizations and the people who lead them. While thematically similar, however, the books are somewhat different in approach, execution, readability, and utility.
Haas and Bob Tamarkin, author of “The Merc,” on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, have created a work that is at once authentic and homespun. In seeking simply to describe the commitment needed to lead, they uncover insight after insight-the soft-cover book itself is a journey of discovery. Packed with anecdotes and metaphors, it hammers away at a single theme: “Business is overmanaged and underled. See it big, and keep it simple.” To do that, senior executives must take stock of their strengths and make a commitment to business and personal renewal. Drawing on interviews with 150 CEOs, including Brunswick‘s Jack Reichert, Quaker Oats’ William Smithburg, AT&T’s Bob Allen, PepsiCo’s Wayne Calloway, Motorola’s Bob Galvin, and ITT’s Harold Geneen, Haas weaves what he describes as “the tapestry of leadership.”
Early on, Haas spins a parable about hidebound thinking related to him by George H. Conrades, IBM senior vice president. Two hunters who had been flown into a remote region of Alaska bagged four elk, but the plane to take them home could only hold two. When the hunters protested, noting an identical plane had carried out four carcasses the year before, the pilot relented, loaded the cargo bay, took to the air-and promptly crashed. As the hunters stumbled away from the wreckage, one asked, “Do you know where we are?” The other replied, “About a mile from where we crashed last year.”
Haas, who teaches leadership and business strategy at the University of Chicago’s Graduate School of Business, takes readers on a whistle-stop tour of Western intellectual history, combining observations and sources that include Woody Allen, King Arthur, Pablo Casals, Charles Darwin, Herman Hesse, George Patton, Wolfgang Mozart, Martin Scorsese, Socrates, and Ronald Reagan. Perhaps his most important contribution is that he represents modern business and leadership strategy as an organic development and a direct, linear descendent of the Western tradition, not something outside it-or worse, counteracting its most creative tendencies. Business’ contribution to culture, Haas implies, is far more important than patronage of a museum or sponsorship of a foundation.
Hard-liners may find. Haas’ book alternately pious, heavy on pop psychology, or a bit too warm and fuzzy. For example, he likens the executive growth process to being “twice born,” a notion conceived by the English scholar, Francis W. Newman, and expounded on at length by William James in his €. landmark psychological treatise, “The Varieties of Religious Experience.” In a chapter that might have been called “When Bad Things Happen to Good CEOs,” Haas posits that the leadership learning curve is stacked with painful personal and business experiences. “From these emotionally wrenching events-death, sickness, poverty, parental separation, and immigration the leader undergoes a transformation deep within the psyche,” he writes.
Perhaps most troubling, Haas falls in line with the questionable inclination of Western medicine and hip self-help groups to diagnose all difficulty as an addiction or malaise. Many CEOs, he says, have a “disease…characterized by isolation, self-importance, fuzzy thinking, and a lack of relevance.” The cure, he says-not surprisingly, considering his current academic moorings-is for the CEO to refine his role as an educator inside and outside the organization.
In contrast to Haas’ modest aspirations, Bob Dilenschneider set as his target “creating a book that would really deal with power in its conceptual aspects.” Jacket notes liken the work’s “theoretical sophistication” to Clausewitz’s “On War.” In an introduction, Dilenschneider cites as his intellectual predecessors the noted “power theorists” Aristotle (who tutored Alexander the Great), Machiavelli (who helped guide the Medicis), and the German philosopher Hegel. If the aim is to fashion a weltanschauung or to capture zeitgeist in a bottle, “On Power” falls a tad short.
That’s not to say the Dilenschneider hook isn’t a workmanlike effort or a worthy successor to his 1990 book, “Power and Influence: Mastering the Art of Persuasion.” As a broad historical overview, it’s right on target. Better still, if a more modest aim outlined in the introduction is the criterion of success-that of seeking to “document what advisers to the powerful tell their clients”-then Dilenschneider plays from his considerable strengths. In an illustrious career, he has played spin doctor on such diverse events as the contamination of shipments of Chilean grapes to the U.S., and the introduction of Gatorade. He knows well the various mechanisms used to sway public opinion and grasps the potential of the modern media to expand power exponentially.
Venturing outside the corporate realm, Dilenschneider also prompts consideration about whether power is morally blind: New York-gay rights activist Tim McFeeley, drug kingpin Pablo Escobar, and Mother Teresa all find a place on his listing of the powerful. Too, Dilenschneider marshals considerable evidence of the misuses of power. In Poland, he notes, after the end of communism in the 1990s, “entrepreneurs” set up $1,500-a-day seminars on how to steal automobiles in Germany.
But Dilenschneider misses in trivializing the “situational” power of certain people and groups, including athletes and entertainers. If these professionals don’t wield power, why the public concern over rapper Ice-T’s admonition that his listeners should take to the streets and shoot the police? Perhaps he misses the mark on occasion simply because he tries too hard to compete with the masters, calling into question their sagacity. Is Machiavelli’s advice on clandestine court politics outdated, and “about as useful as Castiglione’s tips on manners and chivalry?” Ask the protagonists of cloakand-dagger regimes in the Middle East, Bosnia and Herzegovina, or even (gasp) members of the ruling PRI in Mexico.
“Every culture’s interpretation of power,” Dilenschneider says, “rests on its fundamental rules of survival.” There, the author stands on firmer ground. Ultimately, the powerful including Haas’ leaders-are evaluated through the filters of utility, subjectivity, and prevailing social norms. Reality, as Albert Einstein observed, is strictly relative.