Tag Archives: If Aristotle Ran General Motors
Cheryl offers: I was driving down Northwest Highway the other day and saw a sign outside a Methodist church that read “No perfect people allowed.” I was struck by the simplicity of the message immediately. And then I remembered all the times I might have thought I qualified for that category of perfect people. Ouch! Over my lifetime, I would guess it’s happened more than I’d ever want to admit. And I must confess, it seemed to have happened at an early age. My mother loves to tell the story of my first day of school. When she asked how I liked it she swears I replied, “It was OK, but I’m not going back until all those other kids catch up with me.” I believe she was so astounded at my answer that it never occurred to her to teach me a much needed immediate lesson in humility.
I’ve read a lot of books over the years and most of them have been about leadership. I have learned the value of practicing humility regularly and to remind myself frequently that is it a necessary ingredient to a more peaceful and purposeful life. While the title of the book is somewhat ironic given their current economic woes, I’m reminded of the words from If Aristotle Ran General Motors by Tom Morris. “There is nothing noble in being superior to some other person. The true nobility is in being superior to your previous self.” Somewhere in this quote I get the sense this means there are no perfect human beings and being able to embrace that thought brings its own sense of nobility. I’d like to think so because it means there might be hope for me yet!
General Motors and Bluebonnets
Cheryl offers: My favorite flowers are blooming now; they are Texas bluebonnets. I’ve always favored them above all other wild flowers. One reason is blue is a fairly uncommon color in flowers, they grow wherever they are planted which is frequently in poor soil, and they endure without a lot of care. When I saw them this past week, I thought of Tom Morris’ book, If Aristotle Ran General Motors. Now if the title didn’t ring a little ironic, Tom’s background might. He was a professor of philosophy for 15 years at Notre Dame who came to believe we cannot solve today’s problems without the wisdom of the ancients. Tom’s book was written in 1997, long before GM’s current problems were apparent. The book contains some great advice for corporations based on 4 key values of human excellence: Truth, Beauty, Goodness and Unity. They are directly co-related to the 4 key dimensions of human experience: intellectual, aesthetic, moral and spiritual. My favorite quote from the book is “The beautiful is as useful as the useful. More so, perhaps.” from Victor Hugo. Morris does a great job in the book admonishing leaders to make sure they think about the aesthetics of work and business because they are important to people. Where do you feel most relaxed, creative, refreshed and alive? Looking at a beautiful sunrise, sunset, lake or checking out the carpet in your cubicle? Beauty is important to all of us. If only more leaders had appreciated and read this book, maybe GM wouldn’t be in the pickle they are in. For me, bluebonnets are an annual reminder to appreciate the beauty of excellent work, innovative ideas, and the look when someone says “Ah-ha!”
Communications is Key!
Sara says: Cheryl and I teach graduate students and we’ve discovered that many don’t write well. It’s a rampant problem and when we mention it, some students get a real “deer in the headlights” look. They don’t have a clue where to start. Now, this isn’t going to be a rant about today’s youth not being able to write. It’s about a leader’s responsibility to good communications. The quizzical look from our students, whether it means “I don’t know what you are talking about” or “I don’t know what to do about it” is not a sufficient response. A leader’s job – right up there with delivering results to the shareholder’s – is communicating. Leaders must always be on the lookout for 1) the most effective ways to communicate and 2) the number of ways they can deliver the message.
Lou Gerstner who wrote about the turnaround of IBM, wrote in his book, Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance?, “Personal leadership is about communication, openness, and willingness to speak often and honestly, and with respect for the intelligence of the reader or listener.” I heard Gerstner tell an audience of IBM executives that, “you cannot over communicate. You are responsible to communicate your vision in every memo, every conference call, every interview.” If change in a company fails, look first to the leader and their ability (and tenacity) in articulating the change.
Cheryl offers: Our friend and ally blogger, Bob Morse, posted this question only a few days earlier in June: Q #184: Has the ability to write well become obsolete? Bob’s answer was “No, and I am convinced it never will.” I agree with Bob and Sara. The responsibility to teach, practice, and role model good communications reside with leadership; be it the school system or in corporations. “Have you ever thought about the fact that the great philosopher Socrates had a student named Plato, and that Plato had a student named Aristotle?” This comes from the book, “If Aristotle Ran General Motors” by Tom Morris. Morris goes on to say, “Given the right context of intimate and sustained association, greatness gives rise to greatness.” If that doesn’t inspire a teacher or leader to invest the time to teach their students/employees the value of clear, concise, and grammatically correct communication, I’m not sure it can be done!