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A flawed affirmation of having integrity with street smarts
on February 2, 2005
The Four Star rating indicates my respect for what Brandon and Seldman accomplish in this volume. However, I wish they had developed several of their core concepts in much greater depth and with tone and diction worthy of those insights. I groaned when encountering clunkers such as "Get off that river in Egypt -- De-Nile!" because Brandon and Seldman are not "teaching synchronized swimming in a shark tank!" Then "Merge into the Savvy Zone" while recognizing the importance of "Different Strokes for Different Folks." (I'm not making this stuff up. It's in the book.) That said, Brandon and Seldman generally succeed when recommending and then explaining "high integrity political tactics for career and company success."
When reflecting on his career, President Harry S Truman proudly described himself as a politician, reputedly claiming that politics "is the art of the possible." It should be added that throughout Truman's public service, his personal integrity was impeccable. Brandon and Seldman make two obvious but important points: Like it or not, politics are inevitable when two or more -- and especially when three or more -- people are involved, and, it is nonetheless possible to be (as was Truman) an effective politician without compromising one's integrity. In fact, as Jim O'Toole asserts in The Executive's Compass: Business and the Good Society as does David Maister in Practice What You Preach: What Managers Must Do to Create a High Achievement Culture, those whose lives are guided and informed by admirable values (e.g. honesty, loyalty, decency, trustworthiness) will achieve much greater success than will those whose lives aren't. Therefore, the "savvy" executive is one who combines high principles with street smarts. No news there.
What gives substantial value to this book is Brandon and Seldman's clever use of various devices with which their reader can conduct a self-audit. Long ago, after a substantial increase of tuition at Harvard, hostile parents confronted then president Derek Bok. His response: "If you think education is expensive, try ignorance." I thought of that comment as I examined the various self-diagnostic elements in this book. Two of the most damaging forms of ignorance are (a) not knowing what you need to know and (b) assuming what you think you know...but don't. To their credit, Brandon and Seldman make a rigorous effort to help their reader to reduce (if not eliminate) both forms of ignorance. Politicking, gossip, self-serving motives, back-stabbing, betrayals of confidence, etc. are harsh realities in almost any organization. Brandon and Seldman can help principled people to cope effectively with those realities. To me, that is this book's greatest benefit. Also, I strongly recommend that readers complete the comprehensive, self-scoring assessment tool and interpretative guide which Brandon and Seldman offer. How to obtain one? The authors explain on page 277.
As indicated earlier, I think the quality of thinking and (especially) the quality of writing in this book are too often a distraction from the quite important convictions and counsel which the authors share. Over-heated diction and under-developed ideas in combination with clichés prevent me from giving this book a higher rating.