There are a handful of people who truly make a difference in our lives. Our parents leave an indelible impression that lasts a lifetime and determines our initial outlook on life and our learned values. But as we grow and interact with hundreds upon hundreds of people over the course of an average lifespan, very few make a real difference in how we think and live. Yet those few, whether we meet them early or late in life, are remembered vividly. Somehow they touched us deeply and made a lasting impression. In most cases positively, unfortunately some negatively.
In the first three years of building my start-up management consulting firm, two individuals helped shape my business outlook, values and behaviours in very positive ways. The first was David Maister, known in business circles as the world’s most trusted advisor. I read his book, Managing the Professional Service Firm, and built my firm based on his principles of how to structure, organize and manage a professional services firm. David stressed principles of trust, respect, client-first, meritocracy and merit-based compensation that can be built into a consulting firm to provide a sustainable competitive advantage.
And I must say, it worked. We worked hard, learned a lot, had great fun, helped a lot of companies improve their culture and leadership, and made money. It was a great place to work thanks to the principles of David Maister and the hiring of people who fit those principles.
But perhaps the person who had the most impact on me personally as a business professional was Tom Peters. In 1982 Tom Peters and Robert Waterman wrote what is now called one of the 10 best management books ever. In Search of Excellence. Not only was it the first real business book to top the New York Times Bestseller list, but over the past 30+ years has sold nearly 10 million copies. Tom and Bob’s work brought to life the concept of corporate culture and his words of wisdom about how leaders need to nurture, lead, build and reshape culture have formed a large part of my work with CEOs and senior executive teams.
And even though the business environment now is very different from 1982 (more VUCA: volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) and technology has dramatically changed the world we live in and the speed at which we live, people haven’t changed. We are very much the same social primates we were several hundred thousand years ago.
The fact is, people are people are people. And the principles detailed in In Search of Excellence are still very relevant. Maybe even more so now that we seem to be getting away from human contact and relying more and more on big data!
I am fortunate to be here in Abu Dhabi speaking at the same conference as Tom Peters, who is now 73 years young, but just as passionate as ever about making organizations more human and more effective by focusing on employees first, and customers as second-first!
MBWA by the way is one of the key principles of effective leaders in highly effective organizations. MBWA = Management By Wandering Around. In other words, get out of your office and see what is really happening inside your organization and between employees and customers. Tom talks about Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, who religiously visits at least 25 different Starbucks stores a week, and not on a management road show, but just as a drop-in visit to see, smell and experience Starbucks in action.
A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world. John Le Carre
Thanks, Tom, for your continued inspiration, dedication to excellence, and constant prodding for leaders to really lead.
Written and Posted by: John R. Childress
Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid
John also writes thriller novels!