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A lot of meat and a little bull ...
on January 28, 2007
I saw a review of "Run With The Bulls without Getting Trampled," and immediately ordered a copy. I am glad that I did. Paraphrasing one of Tim Irwin's running themes, this book is easy-to-read, but it is not a simple book.
One of the things that makes "Run With The Bulls" so interesting is the author's use of stories, and particularly the way that he weaves his nontraditional metaphors into personal, daily workplace context. A few examples include opening chapters with lessons learned from an awkward and (unnecessarily) expensive sidetrip to Portugal, a well planned overnight hike up Mt. Hood, a complicated and unnerving trip to the mountains of Peru made possible only through significant contingency planning, and of course, his running with the bulls in Pamplona. These stories, and many others, seamlessly lead into discussions of personal values, priority setting and behavior - essentially choices that ultimately add up to seven critical success factors that lead to the development of a significant life.
For people who have been around the workplace for a while, Irwin's descriptors make it impossible not to identify similar successes and failures of people they know, or to recognize the good and bad traits of managers for whom they have worked, or to capture the positive attributes of leaders from whom they have learned. The real challenge, however, is to understand the broader meaning of the easy metaphors, and how to incorporate them into your own life and circumstances.
This is the hard part because Irvin is very clear about the need to adapt, to change and to understand why you must, and the commitment that is required. In fact, one of the quotations, used to lead each chapter, comes from Max DePree, former CEO of Herman Miller, "It is important to remember that we cannot become what we need to be by remaining what we are." Amen to that!
However, here is where I have to take an exception with the author. One of his chapter introducing stories is about his son Jim, the same young man who created the inspiration to run with the bulls. In this particular story, Jim, a successful athlete, fares badly in his Little League tryout and is embarrassingly relegated to a team of younger boys. In fact, it is such an embarrassment that he is ready to quit playing. The author acknowledged that Jim's failure was a big surprise, caused at least in part by his failure to help him prepare for his tryout like other fathers had done. He "grieves for his disappointment and the crisis for the whole family," but you get the distinct impression that this event was not even on the author's radar radar screen while he was busy working ("pouring himself") on HIS life of significance.
And here's the point - several paragraphs later we are reading about a sensitively astute manager, a nurturer, who reaches out to Jim and helps him develop the skills that lead to his baseball enjoyment and success. It's a nice story, but it also raises a question. Is it OK for you to successfully run with the bulls if the people dependent on you are getting trampled? The message regarding responsibility seemed mixed, made better by the effectiveness of an volunteer parent who (fortunately) makes things right. But, what if the coach had been a minimalist volunteer primarily consumed by the development of his own child? Is it simply enough to say that you "grieve" for the failures of those connected to you, or must you add that there is an accountability ultimately relating back to you for their failures?
That point notwithstanding, there is a lot to think about, and appreciate, in "Run With The Bulls." There is even a website to log into post-completion to watch the actual running of the bulls and to take an attitude test. This was a unique feature for me.