Three leadership books ‘favorited’ by executive business students in Miami

July 23, 2014

Miami July 2014 003

A group of executive MBA students in Miami selected three books as having influenced their personal leadership thinking and actions

The books add to results in a data base of books nominated by executive students around the world in upwards of 200 workshops conducted each year.

Long walk to freedom by Nelson Mandela

This classic has been frequently nominated for our data base. It was chosen by the student team for its insights into ‘a moral and unique leader…..the book has inspired me by encompassing all aspects of moral leadership

The servant by James Hunter

This is a book on servant leadership. ‘The essence of leadership is serving the needs of others’. Leadership is characterized as authority through intention plus action. The book was chosen ‘because it worked for me..

Creativity Inc by Ed Catmull

The third selection was Creativity Inc, by Ed Catmull, head of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation. It is the account of leadership in Pixar, one of the world’s creative organizations and pioneer of screen animation with Disney. The nomination was for its suggestions for ‘leadership encouraging the best from others’

Great Partnerships: But was Michael Eisner ever a team player?

October 4, 2010

Working Together:Why Great Partnerships Succeed
By Michael D. Eisner with Aaron Cohen, Harper Business

Almost still asleep, I woke up to a radio interview with Michael Eisner, one of the all-time big beasts in the Disney jungle. [BBC five live: Wake up to money, October 4th] But was I still dreaming? Eisner was talking about great partnerships in business and marriage. Don’t know much about Mr Eisner’s marriage, but team player he wasn’t.

Eisner was talking about, and plugging, a book he had written. But was this a public confessional? I had always associated him with a style of management found in the animal kingdom. Listening to the interview I thought thet he sounded more like a convert to Monty Roberts and trust-based teamwork.

I couldn’t help thinking of the power relationships in many leadership teams, illustrated recently in the film The The Damned United. This examined one of the great sporting partnerships of all time, between Brian Clough and Peter Taylor. The film suggested that Clough, for all his leadership talent, was utterly dependent on his ‘assistant’ Peter Taylor. The wider message is that of the great man theory of leadership and the repeated evidence of the largely unackowledged role of the great life partner. Was Eisner really getting into such territory? Maybe in the less-than-convincing way in which Tony Blair describes in his memoires his love and gratitude for his ‘partner’ Gordon Brown?

Perhaps not

Perhaps not. A reviewer from business week had picked up on the same theme as myself.

Eisner’s profound deafness to irony will provide readers with laughs… Eisner was indisputably half of the duo that reinvigorated Disney in the late 1980s. According to Eisner, the decade he spent working alongside Frank Wells—who died in a 1994 helicopter accident—was a wonderful partnership. Inspired by that experience, Eisner interviewed members of other successful working relationships to find out exactly what makes them click, clearly gunning for heartwarming tales of people working side by side, sharing risks and building empires. Yet what he discovers is the messy reality of alpha males and their butting egos, which he attempts to gloss over with all the Mickey Mouse enthusiasm he can muster.

The article goes on to outline how Eisner repeatedly undermines his own thesis:

While Eisner seems genuinely interested in talking up the benefits of working together, he appears blissfully clueless of the ways in which his own anecdotes undermine his thesis..  The entertainment lawyer Stanley Gold proposed a deal in which Eisner and Wells would become co-chief executive officers of Disney. Eisner rejected the offer on the spot, demanding that he alone be named CEO over the older and more experienced Wells..Wells acquiesced and became Eisner’s second-in-command. While some might see this as an example of running from the elephant ego in the room, to Eisner it’s the beauty of teamwork. When it comes to complimenting his partner of a decade, Eisner’s praise is, shall we say, nuanced. He recounts how, on their first day together at Disney, Wells was under the naive impression they might share the office where Walt himself once worked. Having none of that, Eisner made his desire for privacy perfectly clear, and his No. 2 obediently jumped up and took the office next door.

The Allen Principle

Colleague and leadership tutor Dr David Allen is a long-time journal editor and book reviewer. He says that a good review of a bad book can save others a great deal of time in not having to read the original. I think I’ll be following the Allen principle on this one.

Diamond Bob bags bumper bonus

April 3, 2008


Bob Diamond, head of Barclay’s investment banking division, earned £21m ($42m) in pay and bonuses last year. His basic salary was about 1% of this. Tim Harford shows how rational expectations theory can be used to explain the process

In the popular reports, Bob Diamond’s recent remuneration has been contrasted with Barclay’s drop in profitability. However, as President of Barclays PLC, and Chief Executive of Investment Banking and Investment Management, which was the most profitable part of the company, Diamond Bob can make a case for being its highest earner, if not the highest among executives in the FTSE 100 this year.

Where’s the logic of it?

Don’t ask me. Rather, take a look at Tim Harford’s analysis in The Logic of Life. The intrepid Undercover Economist is, as ever, elegantly pungent. Particularly relevant is the chapter entitled Why your boss is overpaid

According to expectation theory, It’s partly a matter of the cost of hard-to-obtain information. In business life

…it is hard to pay people as much or as little as they deserve [p89] …

Added to which is the assumption that the human inclination for players within any system is to achieve stated criteria in order to maximize personal reward. This is an inconvenient point for remuneration specialists.

He illustrates how very large leadership rewards can be explained ‘rationally’. He takes the case of Michael Eisner and his $800 million acquired in his thirteen years as CEO of Walt Disney. Was is a good deal for Disney?

According to Harford, the golden carrot might not have been one open to precise calculation, but it might still have been cost-effective, assuming the Company had been unable to find merit in seeking a lower CEO compensation deal.

He outlines the incentivisation arguments for linking the CEO’s pay to share price, and therefore to monster stock-options. The deal he secured did not need even to motivate Eisner directly.

‘ …if Eisner’s pay motivated his underlings to add more than the $ 800 million [of value], then it would have [still] been rational for Disney’s shareholders to pay Eisner …to spend all day with his feet up on his desk watching Tom and Jerry’.

The ingenious Mr Harford goes on to outline how competition, so beloved an element in economic theory, can lead to game-playing directed against internal rivals. So Watching Tom and Jerry, and acting as a figure head, are rational things for a CEO to do.

Harford draws on high-profile intellectual bodyguards to provide him with further sophistications (‘suspicious aspects’ [p106]] of reward schemes. He concludes (more gloomily than elsewhere in his lively book) that there is great encouragement for boards of directors to pay up, as long as they ‘avoid provoking shareholders too severely’ [p108].

[M]ost CEOs are “paid for luck”, skimming hefty bonuses that are due not to their own efforts but to external factors.

It’s a hard life at the top

Meanwhile, Diamond Bob has to suffer whatever discomfort he receives from criticisms of his compensation package, comforted only by the hundred-fold bonus to his basic salary.

Note: See Tim Harford’s website for more about the celebrity journalist and his latest work.

For an earlier analysis of rational expectations and much more beside, see Matthew 25:14-30.