Saturday, July 28, 2007

Renaissance Men and Women in the Corner Office – What CEO’s Keep in Their Libraries

My friend, David Gebben, a graduate student in Michigan, was kind enough to make me aware of an article that he knew I would appreciate – along with readers of The White Rhino Report. Harriet Rubin wrote a piece that appeared in the July 21 editions of The New York Times: “C.E.O. Libraries Reveal Keys to Success.”

I have always been of the opinion that the best leaders are also the best readers, and this article buttresses that argument. One of the most gratifying questions anyone can ask me is: “Can you recommend some books that I should be reading?” I have had several individuals about to deploy to Iraq ask me that question, as well as a number of people who have finished with their formal school but wish to maintain a stance of life-long learning.

A couple of years ago I reviewed a book written by a well-known author. Subsequent to my reviewing his book, he was planning on being in Boston, so we scheduled a day to meet face-to-face for the first time. In the interval between my publishing the review of his book and the author’s trip to Boston, he took the time to read several other reviews that I had posted on The White Rhino Report. His opening statement when we met was something like: “I have been reading your Blog. I need to be reading the kinds of books you are reading and reviewing. Would you mind sharing with me your reading list?”

If I want a quick “read” on a person I have just met, I frequently will ask them: “Tell me what you are reading right now for pleasure. What books – fiction and non-fiction – have had the greatest impact on who you are as a human being?” I know of no better way to plumb the depths of a person’s thought processes, decision-making processes and value system than by carefully listening to them respond to these queries. If you are someone who does a lot of interviewing, I challenge you to depart from the usual interview script and interject questions along these lines. It is a far more effective way to reveal "strengths and weaknesses" than resorting to the old chestnut: "Tell me about your greatest strength and your greatest weakness" - a question that everyone has "rehearsed" answering. Whether or not the candidate is currently reading for pleasure and the insight they offer in talking about what they have read and why allows you to discern strengths and weaknesses in real time. Do you really want to hire someone who does not read?

Here are some quotations from Ms. Rubin’s article that grabbed me. A link follows to the entire article.

“If there is a C.E.O. canon, its rule is this: ‘Don’t follow your mentors, follow your mentors’ mentors,’ suggests David Leach, chief executive of the American Medical Association’s accreditation division. Mr. Leach has stocked his cabin in the woods of North Carolina with the collected works of Aristotle.”

“Poetry speaks to many C.E.O.’s. ‘I used to tell my senior staff to get me poets as managers,’ says Sidney Harman, founder of Harman Industries, a $3 billion producer of sound systems for luxury cars, theaters and airports. Mr. Harman maintains a library in each of his three homes, in Washington, Los Angeles and Aspen, Colo. ‘Poets are our original systems thinkers,’ he said. ‘They look at our most complex environments and they reduce the complexity to something they begin to understand.’



1 comment:

rick said...

al awesome post. I too discovered that most of the successful people I respect have large libraries and no TV.

A lesson for all of us.