Book Review: Lessons on Leadership by Former Coca-Cola & Revlon CEO, Jack Stahl

14 08 2007

leadership training

The last time I checked, there are more than 52,000 business books in print on the subject of leadership. It is reasonable to ask, “Why another?” Jack Stahl provides his answer in this book, based on his extensive real-world experience as a senior level executive, notably as president of Coca-Cola and then, until recently, CEO of Revlon. True, both are major corporations. However, Stahl asserts - and I wholeheartedly agree - that “organizational dynamics are often similar in different environments, and most of the important leadership skills and techniques presented here will apply across diverse organizations large and small, and to various management roles. The frameworks are guidelines that I know have helped me.”

Specifically, Stahl focuses on seven “frameworks” and devotes a separate chapter to each, with “Key Points” and “Leadership Insights” featured:

1. Leadership and Management: “A modest view of your future brings modest results and rewards. Think big and give people the opportunity to win big.” This is what Jim Collins calls a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG).

2. Creating a high-capability organization: “People focus on those skills and behaviors that leaders say count.” Also, what they reward.

3. Developing people: “And important oversight technique for major projects is to schedule frequent project updates, and be sure that when someone says something is done, it is totally complete.”

4. Brand positioning with consumers, clients, customers, etc.: “A `brand’ represents a promise to consumers of what to expect from a product or service. Brand positioning is the process of establishing that promise in the minds of the reader.”

5. Customer relationship management (CRM): “Asking questions and listening patiently and carefully - in order to understand your customer’s business, where they want to take it, and how well you are serving it - is the foundation of great service.”

6. Financial strategy and management: “As the leader, you must help make clear to your people the link between their actions and the creation of value for your company.” Also, and at least as important, the creation of value for each customer.

7. Influencing people: “I have presented six frameworks for creating leadership success. The seventh is a linchpin for them all because success in any leadership role will depend upon your ability to effectively influence people to take actions to achieve success.”

As these excerpts correctly indicate, Stahl provides no head-snapping revelations in this book, nor does he make any such claim. Rather, he shares everything he has learned (thus far) about what works…and what doesn’t…in the seven basic business areas. To his credit, after briefly identifying the “what” of effective leadership, he devotes most of his attention to the “how” and “why” for those who wish to strengthen their leadership and management skills. I especially appreciate his effective use of various checklists for appropriate and effective action, such as the key building blocks for creating a high-capability organization (Page 31), seven basic techniques for leaders that are critical to successful people development (Page 64), customer relationship skills that focus on what is most important (Pages 109-110), and four important elements of an effective control and reporting system (Pages 153-154). These and other checklists facilitate, indeed expedite periodic review of Stahl’s key points.

I commend Jack Stahl for his pragmatic approach as he shares a wealth of lessons he learned while occupying a series of progressively more demanding executive positions. His insights will be of special value to those now preparing for or have only recently embarked on a business career. I also recommend it supervisors in need of their own improvement in one or more of the seven areas on which Stahl focuses. Ultimately, however, it is the responsibility of each reader to absorb and digest the material provided, and then apply it effectively. Because Stahl is a pragmatist with a bias for results, he would presumably agree with Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton’s admonition to beware of the “knowing-doing” and “doing-knowing” gaps. Or as former Texas football coach Darrell Royal once observed, “potential” means “you ain’t done it yet.”

Those who share my high regard for this book are urged to check out Bill George’s Authentic Leadership and then True North (co-authored with Peter Sims) as well as Ram Charan’s Know-How, Dean Spitzer’s Transforming Performance Measurement, Paul Spiegelman’s Why Is Everyone Smiling?, Thomas H. Davenport and Jeanne G. Harris’ Competing on Analytics, James P. Andrew’s Payback, Richard Ogle’s Smart World, and Matthew May’s The Elegant Solution.

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2 responses to “Book Review: Lessons on Leadership by Former Coca-Cola & Revlon CEO, Jack Stahl”

18 08 2007
Bianca (18:09:07) :

hi i enjoyed the read

4 09 2007
» Podcast interview, Former President, CFO & COO of Coca-Cola and former CEO of Revlon, Jack Stahl · Leadership Training · Personal Development 2.0 Blog, Podcast, and Portal | Cultivate Greatness | Leadership Blog | (23:35:23) :

[…] talking with the former President of Cola-Cola, Jack Stahl, and ask him questions about his book, Lessons on Leadership:The 7 Fundamental Management Skills for Leaders at All Levels. This book review was done a few weeks ago, but having the opportunity to talk with him and to […]

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