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Howard's Gift: Uncommon Wisdom to…
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Howard's Gift: Uncommon Wisdom to Inspire Your Life's Work

by Eric Sinoway

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The shelf of management guru books is sagging and overburdened with repetitive dross, but room should definitely be made
for Howard's Gift, a definite cut above. It's the informally collected thoughts of a Harvard Business School professor who is well
respected, well loved, and who walks the walk as well as talking the talk.
The book is structured as a series of life lessons, usually beginning with a quote from Howard, and ending with a profile of a
former student or successful executive who exhibits that point. As such, it is filled with pithy quotables and the only way to review
it is to highlight some of them that appeal most.
-From his wealth of experience, he tells us that focusing on our own weaknesses is a losing proposition - focus on what works.
That will get you farther faster, and be much more satisfying to you and your game plan (if you can afford one).
-Similarly, there's the Hard Work Fallacy - that "determined effort will always overcome an enduring shortcoming". It's what all
parents instill in their children. And it's wrong.
-And watch out for the "Magnifiers: folks who shoot arrows at a blank target then draw a bull's eye around the spots they hit".
Companies are filled with them. And Howard nails them.
Howard Stevenson lives in a parallel universe of super bright Harvard students who are pretty much all destined to become
captains of industry and multimillionaires. So his theses are not tested on a control group of mere mortals. Nonetheless, there
are clear lessons for all to be gleaned from passages throughout the book.
I was particularly enamored of the section on corporate culture and how to evaluate it. There are five questions to answer, and
the results should determine how you might or might not fit in, thus saving long months or years of stress and recriminations as
you try to survive in the swamp. Unfortunately, few of us get to evaluate corporate cultures from the outside; we consider
ourselves massively lucky to be offered a job at all. When we interview, it's with a 26 year old HR manager who has no analysis
of culture to share, and the next level is a line director on his/her best behavior. No interviewer is going to admit that the owner
is a megalomaniac and that the place makes Glengarry Glen Ross look like Pleasantville. Asking these quite intrusive
questions about culture is a surefire trip off the short list.
But he redeems himself with his simple analogy of management styles: "A-level managers hire A-level staff and B-level
managers hire C-level staff. C-level managers force their teams to be C-level." So extraordinarily true and to the point. Howard
is nothing if not perceptive and concise.
-He spends a good deal of time on how companies evaluate their most important assets: "When an organization evaluates and
rewards people based primarily on results, not performance, they're reducing predictability and transparency. That isn't a good
thing....that's a formula for failure." Would that America's results fetishists could read and understand that sentence alone!
-Similarly the advice on stepping back to gain more experience rings a bit hollow, as everywhere you turn for such experience
rejects you for being overqualified.
Ageism is another evil that goes untreated, as Howard and Eric's contacts all accede to the top of the heap and can do
anything they want anywhere they want, whether they're 35 or 70. Not so for us mortals.
So as with anything else, you pick the examples can work with. The bottom line, which recurs throughout is this: "We are
happiest when we live life forward and unimpeded by regret." If you have the luck to be able to live that way, life will be most
satisfying. Take it from Howard, as thousands of students have. He's right. ( )
  DavidWineberg | Sep 14, 2012 |
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The author, former student, colleague and friend of Howard Stevenson from Harvard Business School here shares Stevenson's thirteen strategies for personal and professional success that encompass such practices as recognizing and acting on opportunities, developing one's skill set, and making careful decisions about long-term goals. These strategies can be applied to professional decisions on any scale. Full of personal and professional insight, the author focuses not just on business success, but on deep personal satisfaction through self-defined benchmarks for development and accomplishment.… (more)

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