Kyle Zimmer (First Book) in “The Corner Office”

Photo credit: Librado Romero/NYT

Adam Bryant conducts interviews of senior-level executives that appear in his “Corner Office” column each week in the SundayBusiness section of The New York Times. Here are a few insights provided during an interview of Kyle Zimmer who is president, C.E.O. and co-founder of First Book, a nonprofit that provides books for children in need. To encourage initiative, she says, the organization occasionally bestows awards for promising ideas that somehow fail.

To read the complete interview as well as Bryant’s interviews of other executives, please click here.

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“So, Your Idea Hit a Brick Wall. Congratulations!”

Bryant: What were some early leadership lessons for you?

Zimmer: After I graduated from law school, I felt like I had something to prove. I remember thinking that if I was a bigger pit bull, that would somehow turn into a win. There are times when you have to do that. But it’s really unusual when that’s appropriate and even helpful. Over time, I learned that the best business deals are the ones that are brilliantly crafted so that everybody has a reason to play. I think it took me longer than it should have to figure that out.Bryant: What else did you learn early in your career?

Zimmer: I thought I had to have all the answers myself. I don’t think I had the humility or the perspective to understand that that’s never the game, and that reaching out to as many brilliant minds as you can find is where the real strength is. When I started First Book, I was learning about the publishing industry from the ground up. But by that time, I had learned that it really didn’t matter if I knew anything. What mattered is whether I could get people to the table who did, because you’re never going to know enough.

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Adam Bryant, deputy national editor of The New York Times, oversees coverage of education issues, military affairs, law, and works with reporters in many of the Times‘ domestic bureaus. He also conducts interviews with CEOs and other leaders for Corner Office, a weekly feature in the SundayBusiness section and on that he started in March 2009. In his book, The Corner Office: Indispensable and Unexpected Lessons from CEOs on How to Lead and Succeed, (Times Books), he analyzes the broader lessons that emerge from his interviews with more than 70 leaders. To read an excerpt, please click here. To contact him, please click here.

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