May 26, 2009

News & Opinion: "[A]ll of us read too many business books."

By: Dylan Schleicher @ 1:56 PM – Filed under: Leadership & Strategy

Eduardo Castro-Wright, vice chairman of Wal-Mart Stores was the subject of the Corner Office column in Sunday's New York Times.
The question that caught our attention was:
Q. So you find that people make business more complicated than it is?
A. No doubt about it. I think that all of us read far too many business books. I’ve worked 30 years now in management roles, and a number of times I’ve seen a new C.E.O. come in, and the first act is typically to get the leadership team to an offsite. And you get a consultant - because you can’t do it without a consultant - and the consultant then helps the team design a vision. And then you’ve got all these words, and several thousand dollars and a couple of days of golf later, you go back to the company to actually try to communicate that vision throughout the organization. So you hire another consultant to do that. It shouldn’t be like that.
What's interesting to me is that Castro-Wright blames one thing, when the problem is something all together different. Reading business books can cause people to hire their authors, but the inability to implement a vision/strategy/plan falls back on the leader.
Later in the Q&A, Castro-Wright was asked about what he would change in business school education. He laments that everyone with an MBA has taken classes in accounting, operations, and strategy, and have had no exposure to the skills needed to lead and manage people. “How do you talk with the person who comes to your office late at night to tell you that her daughter is sick and she might not be able to come in the following day?,” he asks. Here is an example where business books do a great job of supplementing the knowledge of new leaders. Books like Quiet Leadership, 12, and Growing Great Employees are perfect for the task.
So, I am not sure this was really about business books, and if it was, then the problem is seeing business books in the right context: they deliver knowledge, not results.

About Dylan Schleicher

Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.