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February 10, 2012

Taking People With You - Book Review

"Leadership is the art of getting someone to do something you want done, because he wants to do it."

    - Dwight D. Eisenhower

I'm a business book junkie, so when my friends at Penguin (publishers of my book, Mastering the VC Game) told me I should meet with the author of Taking People With You, I jumped at the opportunity.  Author David Novak is Chairman and CEO of Yum! Brands (Taco Bell, KFC) and runs an organization of 1.4 million people, so I figured he'd know a little something about leadership.  Having Warren Buffet quoted on the front cover is a relatively positive signal as well.  The fact that Yum! is a member of the human capital leadership network of my portfolio company, i4cp, sealed the deal.

Two big surprises came out for me in reading the book and talking to David.  The first big surprise:  David is a very humble guy.  He talks alot about his personal failings, highs and lows, and even inserts his personal "timeline" chart.  He tells a great story of how horrible a speaker he was in the early days of his career, and how he was always trying to be something he wasn't.  Novak emphasizes this notion of authenticity throughout the book, pointing out (as many others have before him) that only by being brutally honest with yourself and being an authentic leader can you get others around you to follow.  He shares a terrific quote from GE Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt:

"I'm always searching for a certain kind of humility in our most senior leaders, people who don't think they know it all...You're fighting arrogance and bureaucracy every day, and if you have people that act that way, then it's never good." 

The second big surprise for me was that, despite being a "big company guy", David was very savvy about entrepreneurship and the translation of his leadership lessons to entrepreneurs.  He has some very practical advice about culture-building and making sure that entrepreneurs keep everyone around them involved ("no involvement, no commitment").  And he uses evocative phrases to emphasize how to be a change agent ("Shock the System" is one of my favorites.

The book reminded me of a lesson I learned early in my career as a young vice president at Open Market.  One of the older executive team members took me aside one day and encouraged me to stop pushing my version of "the answers" onto my team  Instead, he advised, hang back more and focus on communicating the vision and high-level business objectives, and then coach the team to develop the answers.  True alignment is the key to ownership and accountability, Novak writes, and if the team around you doesn't embrace the problem with the same passion that you do, they will never really be committed.

And, believe me, entrepreneurship requires 100% commitment.

Many people complain that great entrepreneurs do not necessarily make great leaders.  I would encourage entrepreneurs to take a page from folks like David Novak to exercise their leadership muscles.  

Even big company folks have something to teach the rest of us.


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I work with physicians (I'm in Health IT these days, mainly workflow related). "Humility" is not a trait I see much.

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