The Virtual Executive: A book review by Bob Morris

The Virtual Executive: How to Act Like a CEO Online and OffLineD.A. Benron
McGraw-Hill (2012)

In the “real” world, real people have real impact – or don’t – and the same is often true of those in the virtual world, also.

Some of those who have read Plato’s “The Allegory of the Cave” within his classic, The Republic (Book VII (514a–520a), may share my amusement when encountering discussions of what is “real” and what is “virtual” in the current age of electronic hyperconnectivity. I was certainly curious to know what Debra Benton has to say about a business world in which 76% of a workforce “works in a virtual fashion of some sort.”

In this volume, she shares a wealth of information, insights and advice based on her decades of experience with online and offline interactions between and among others. The material provided responds to several important questions such as these: “How do you differentiate yourself from others in a cyberworld? How do you craft a masterful message to establish a unique executive brand? How do you take that up a notch? What are the little things that make people think of you? How do you make them remember you for the right reasons? How do you put your best foot forward in the virtual business space? And how important is it really to take the physical experience and replace it with s virtual one?”

To help her reader answer these and other leading questions, Benton discusses several subjects and related issues that include:

o  Four Actions of s Dynamic Virtual Presence (Pages 12-14)
o  How to Prepare Before You Meet, Talk, or Click (16-19)
o  Stories Help People Remember You — and for the Right Reasons (50-52)
o  How and Why Physical Appearances Really Matter (78-88)
o  The Power and Impact of Continuous Learning That Can Be Shared (102-105)
o  Why and Why to Develop Authentic but “Quiet” Self-Confidence (145-149)
o  How and Why to Get Actively and Effectively Involved with Social Networking (184-189)

Benton makes several especially important points in the final chapter. For example, “The technology we have today – as well as the yet unimagined advancements in the world – is still a tool. Not a lifestyle. Learn and utilize every device available to the extent it helps, not interfere, with your goals. But never let the gadget get in the way of the human factor. Know how and when to turn on and off; gear up and gear down. All it takes is a walk down the hall, so to speak, to correct the wrong that an electronic transmission did.”

The subtitle of this book suggests that the material provided will help those who read it to “act like a CEO online and offline.” Actually, both in this book and in an earlier one (How to Act Like a CEO), the assertion and its implications overstate the case. Few who read Debra Benton’s books (or anyone else’s, for that matter) have been – or will be — entrusted with the executive duties and fiduciary responsibilities of a CEO.  However, all executives can continuously strengthen their leadership and management skills, then apply them much more effectively both online and off.

In The Future of Management, written with Bill Breen and published by Harvard Business Review Press (September 10, 2007), this is what Gary Hamel has in mind, when observing, “New problems demand new principles. Put bluntly, there’s simply no way to build tomorrow’s essential organizational capabilities – resilience, innovation, and employee engagement – atop the scaffolding of 20th century principle.” He goes on to suggest, “In an age of wrenching change and hyper-competition, the most valuable human capabilities are precisely those that are least manageable.”

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