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Leading Matters: A book review by Bob Morris

Leading Matters: Lessons from My Journey
John L. Hennessy
Stanford University Press (September 2018)

Valuable lessons to be learned and shared from a 25-year leadership journey…thus far

As I began to read this thoughtful and thought-provoking book, I was again reminded of the fast that most high-impact leaders view the life they have lived as a “journey” and that is certainly true of John Hennessy. He was a highly respected president at Stanford (2000-2015) who now continues his commitment to knowledge leadership by serving as Alphabet’s chairman of the board as well as director of the Knight-Hennessy Scholars Program for International Students at Stanford University.

Why did he write Leading Matters? “I wrote this book partly to share my discoveries with you, and with the coming generations of Knight-Hennessy Scholars, including those who arrive after I’ve gone. First though, I wrote this book for myself, to organize my own (sometimes painfully) acquired wisdom about leadership, and to take another look at key events from my career from a different, more removed perspective. Most of all, I wrote it to begin a conversation about the changing nature of leadership in the 21st century — a conversation that will, in some way, help inform the curriculum of the Knight-Hennessy Scholars Program.”

He has served in a number of leadership positions and shares in his latest book several of the lessons he has learned thus far. His insights have been formulated within ten concepts:

1. Humility
2. Authenticity and Trust
3. Leadership as Service
4. Empathy
5. Courage
6. Collaboration and Teamwork
7. Innovation
8. Intellectual Curiosity
9. Storytelling
10. Legacy

None is a head-snapper. All are basic but admirable and clearly relevant. Those who aspire to become a high-impact leader would be well-advised to rate themselves (perhaps on a 0-10 or 1-10 scale, with 10 being “Outstanding”) and focus on how to improve attributes self-rated no better than a 5. Here’s another exercise to consider: Come up with your own list of ten and rate yourself, using the same scale.

I hope this book is required reading for those selected to participate in the Knight-Hennessy Scholars Program for International Students at Stanford University. Perhaps they will be asked to rate themselves according to Hennessy’s ten attributes and/or asked to formulate their own list for a self-assessment. The fact remains, all organizations need high-impact leadership at all levels and in all areas of the given enterprise. I commend John Hennessy on this book and on the journey that guided and informed its creation.

Perhaps in a few years he will write another, this time sharing what he has learned from his interaction with the Knight-Hennessy Scholars. There is also so much for them and others to learn from him. Meanwhile, his journey continues. In this context,

I am again reminded of the conclusion of Albert Lord Tennyson’s Ulysses:

“Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

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