Saturday, June 05, 2010


Book Review: Charlene Li - Open Leadership

A book review is sometimes either over-amplified or tainted by the life experiences of the reviewer, so I figured I write this review and acknowledge my own biases along the way...

I am an Enterprise Architect for a Fortune 100 enterprise who along with my peers needed an intervention as we were fundamentally broken. Many of us thought of leadership as something that comes from above while not acknowledging that leadership starts from within. Sure, I am a leader, after all I have lots of followers. The bigger question was whether I was being a leader 100% of the time or was this a part-time activity done only when convenient.

I along with 200 other colleagues attended a four-day training event on leadership with CruxPoint Consulting. Most leadership courses are nothing but pep rally sessions that float you so high up that you have no choice but to come down. This training was different in that I walked away with a feeling of disgust targeted at myself and my peers. It took something profound for me to realize that our culture was fundamentally busted and I needed to do my part to help make things better. The cliche of redoubling ones efforts most certainly applies here.

Part of being a leader is to spend time gaining insights from others and there is no better person than Charlene Li. The book arrived last week Friday and I felt compelled to stay up all night reading as much as I could. Even though I have never met Charlene, I felt that she was not only talking to me personally, but that we were lifelong friends. Her writing style is most certainly not the dry PhD humorless monotone repeat after me hype that is found elsewhere. This book is highly conversational and written in the tone used by humans.

The case studies aren't saved for the back of the book but instead are presented in a contextual manner. She provides solutions for every scenario possible and even I couldn't blow holes in her thinking. Using her words, I am the consummate transparent evangelist and her suggestions for improvement are spot-on.

Few leaders talk openly about their failures and even fewer learn from them. Charlene provides insight into building the trust that comes from failure by using herself as an example. She also provides much needed guidance on separating the person from the failure. Too often, the careers of good people are ruined by clueless, cowardly executives who fire people instead of taking personal accountability. She helps people understand that you didn't fail, the project did.

I started to smile when she started to discuss passive-aggressive behaviors as I didn't even know what it was till several weeks ago. Nothing destroys morale faster. I found myself being turned into a cheerleader and gave a rebel yell when she stated that the whole idea of never going to your boss without a solution to a problem is nonsense.

Many people will make the mistake and think that this book is only about implementing social media in a leadership way. This book is 100% relevant to being a leader even if you worked for the most technology adverse company on the planet.

If I had to choose my most favorite part, it would have to be the guidance on establishing sandbox covenants. These are the rules organizations set up to determine what sorts of limits and conventions there are on openness. One thing worth noting is that Charlene even broke tradition from the usual style of collecting references. She provided commentary on this as well.

In conclusion, this book is absolutely one of the best books I have read this century and encourage every Enterprise Architect I know to not only purchase a copy for themselves, but to consider purchasing a few for those above you in the organization chart. This is money and time well spent...

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