Passion & Purpose: A book review by Bob Morris

Passion & Purpose: Stories from the Best and Brightest of Young Business Leaders
John Coleman, Daniel Gulati, and W. Oliver Segovia
Harvard Business Review Press (2012)

“Never doubt the power of a small group of people to change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Think about it. The quotation I selected for the title of this review, provided by the cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead, has been true for thousands of years. A “small group of people” launched each of what are now the world’s largest religious and corporations, for example, and also achieved freedom and independence for countless people throughout the world, including those in thirteen English colonies. However different these small groups may be in most respects, all of them had leaders driven by vision, passion, and purpose.

What we are offered in this volume are contributions from 26 of what the co-authors characterize as “the best and brightest young business leaders.” John Coleman, Daniel Gulati, and W. Oliver Segovia are not being facetious, as was David Halberstam in The Best of the Brightest (1993) when he castigates, for example, Robert McNamara and McGeorge Bundy. They admire and respect all of those featured, as will most readers after reading the personal accounts of what fuels the young leaders’ passion and enlightens their purpose.

Coleman, Gulati, and Segovia also include interviews of seven prominent leaders: David Gergen (adviser to four presidents and Director of Harvard’s Center for Public Leadership), Dominic Barton (Global Managing Director of McKinsey & Company), Deb Henretta (CEO, Procter & Gamble Asia), Carter Roberts (CEO, World Wildlife Fund), Joe Kennedy (CEO and President of Pandora), Rich Lyons (Dean, Haas Business School, University of California-Berkeley), and Nitin Nohria (Dean, Harvard Business School). Readers thus have 31 quite different sources of information, insights, and counsel when working their way through the lively and eloquent as well as informative narrative. To them should be added the results of a survey the co-authors conducted among more than 500 current and recent MBA students from Harvard business School, Stanford, Tuck, Wharton, MIT Sloan, and other business schools.

Here in Dallas, we have a Farmer’s Market near the downtown area at which several merchants offer complimentary slices of fresh fruit as exempla of their wares. In that spirit, I now provide a selection of brief excerpts from passages that caught my eye.

“In my experience with Project Poverty, Bankers Without Borders, and McKinsey, I’ve noticed a few patterns in the way managers and organizations have successfully executive [various] public service programs. A few of the key elements each program seems to contain are partnership with a first-class organization, easy and accessible options for involvement, senior leadership support, publicity of events and impact, and inclusion in a formal review process.” Kelli Wolf Moles, Founder and CEO of Project Spark (Pages 43-44)

It is highly desirable for leaders “to develop their `resilience muscle’ – there will surely be shocks, challenges, and failures along the way. We all need to get back up on our feet when (not if) we are knocked down – our research shows that more successful people and leaders actually experience more `bad luck’ than less successful people – and reach out for mire experiences, especially international ones!” Dominic Barton, Global Managing Director of McKinsey & Company (Page 93)

Note: This is precisely what Jack Dempsey had in mind when suggesting that “champions get up when they can’t.”

“There’s a growing feeling among young business leaders that current learning models are not enough…[Because] future careers look drastically different from those of the previous generation, young leaders are increasingly embracing newer and more diverse ways of learning. After all, they’re preparing themselves for jobs that probably haven’t been invented yet.” John Coleman, Daniel Gulati, and W. Oliver Segovia (Page 197)

Young business leaders are part of “a whole generation of people who have grown up very resourceful at getting ideas from any place, because they’ve grown up on the Internet and they’ve grown up with a view that whatever problem I want to solve, I have access to solving that problem in all kinds of ways…So most innovation is not actually inventing something new; instead its putting together existing things in new ways. This was Schumpeter’s greater insight…Most things are creative combinations” that result from what Schumpeter characterizes as “creative destruction.” Nitin Nohria, Dean of the Harvard Business School (Page 251)

Leaders in each generation face several challenges that are quite different from those that confronted leaders in earlier generations and are also quite different from those that leaders in future generations will encounter. It was ever thus and always will be true. That is one of several reasons why I think so highly of this book. What Coleman, Gulati, and Segovia provide in this volume enables their readers to share the thoughts and feelings as well as the concerns and goals of results-driven, values-driven young leaders who demonstrate the truth of Mead’s observation.

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