Triple Crown Leadership: A book review by Bob Morris

Posted on: July 11th, 2012 by bobmorris

Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations
Bob Vanourek and Gregg Vanourek
McGraw-Hill (2012)

“Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence.”  Vince Lombardi

The Lombardi remarks help to explain why Bob Vanourek and Greg Vanourek urge all leaders as well as those who aspire to become one to “chase perfection” at a time when “we live in a world that is overmanaged and underled.”

By the way, this is precisely what J. Keith Murnighan has in mind, in Do Nothing!: How to Stop Overmanaging and Become a Great Leader, when observing,  “Things [begin italics] are [end italics] simpler when other people are in charge and you don’t have to make big decisions. Taking over as a leader means that you must depart from the comfort of the status quo, and the anxiety, fear, and uncertainty that accompany your excitement really are noxious. To avoid these feelings, people naturally fall back on what’s familiar and certain – that is, what they know how to do. Unfortunately, this can be truly counterproductive.”

The Vanoureks skillfully invoke metaphors that suggest correlations with thoroughbred racing, notably the Triple Crown (i.e. Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont) last won by Affirmed in 1978.  In the global business world, many candidates for historical greatness are “called to the post” but few earn what the Vanoureks view as a “triple crown”: Excellent (“Achieving exceptional results that have significant, positive impacts on stakeholders”), Ethical (“Acting with integrity, paying attention to how results are achieved”), and Enduring (“Standing the test of time and operating sustainably”). Moreover, “Triple crown leadership is not about a charismatic hero or happy-talk collaboration…[It] requires a group performance from many leaders…[and also] develops and protects a culture of character.”

Readers will appreciate the abundance of information, insights, and counsel that the Vanoureks provide, much of it based their wide and deep experience with C-level leadership worldwide as well as their interviews of leaders at 61 quite different organizations based in 11 countries. These organizations include Cisco, eBay, Google, KIPP, Xerox, and Zappos.  Readers will also appreciate the provision of “Practical Applications,” an end-of-chapter section that suggests options for implementation relevant material, Chapters 1-10.

Here are some of the several dozen passages that caught my eye:

o  Chapter Road Map (Pages 13-16)
o  Benefits of Triple Crown Leadership (36-37)
o  Chapter [2] Supplment: Interviewing for Heart (59-60)
o  Getting  Beyond [One’s] Natural Leadership Style (90-92)
o  Personal Breakdowns and Organizational Breakdowns (151-152 & 152-154)
o  Turnaround Adaptations (176-184)
o  TripleCrown Social Impact (218-226)

No brief commentary such as this can do full justice to the nature and extent of invaluable material that the Vanoureks provide in this volume. They strike me as being world-class pragmatists who have an insatiable curiosity to understand — insofar as great leadership is concerned — what works, what doesn’t, and why. They are eager, indeed obsessed to share what they have learned with as many principled, results-driven executives as they can.  They immediately establish a direct and personal rapport with their reader. In fact, most of those who read this book will feel — as I did — that the book was written specifically for them.

Presumably Bob and Greg Vanourek agree with me that it would be a fool’s errand to attempt to apply everything learned. Although the core values remain the same for all organizations (i.e. Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring), it remains for each reader to select material that is most appropriate to the needs, interests, resources, and values of the given organization.

Long ago, Oscar Wilde offered excellent personal advice: “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.” The same is true of organizations and especially true of companies such as Cisco, eBay, Google, KIPP, Xerox, Zappos…and yours.

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