The other day I read an interesting blog post by a former client of mine, Anthony Bucci, former co-founder and CEO of Revzilla. He was an early client and I thoroughly enjoyed working with him as he scaled Revzilla into a powerhouse eCommerce business. He blossomed into an excellent CEO and monetized the company in a world class exit. Pay window.
His blog post which you can find here is excellent. He is taking a summer breather, focusing on his five bambinos.
Anthony, who I have never called “Fredo,” gives you a nice cross section of the current literary offerings and podcasts of those who are seeking knowledge at the inspirational C-suite level. All good books.
Here’s what I think about reading “craft” books — books that provide insights into your CEO level craftsmanship.
1. Know your author. A guy who has flown 1,000,000 miles in first class knows a lot about airports and flight attendants while knowing nothing about taking off and landing. Taking off and landing is where the real danger resides.
Be skeptical about the authenticity of the author.
2. Books are written by those with experience — we hope. Make sure that you know how deep the experience of your author is.
Somebody who has done something — being a CEO — for 20-30 years has a deeper authenticity and, likely, a less dogmatic view of things even though they may be renting you their experience.
The tuition for renting experience is always more reasonable than the full tuition of blundering into things.
3. In your life journey much of what you learn is held dormant in your brain for future use. Everything I ever needed to know as to how to run a company I learned as a platoon leader and a company commander in the US Army.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had blossomed into an effective leader as a young Army officer. My last command I had 600 soldiers — grossly more than my TOE (table of organization and equipment) authorized — 186 combat engineers — because a lot of them were awaiting discharge from the Army after the end of the Vietnam War
When I founded a company in the civilian world, I immediately fell back on what I knew. It took several years for me to need that knowledge, but it was always parked in a safe place for future reference.
The Army knew exactly what they were doing in bringing young officers along a continuum of increasing education, experience, and responsibility. The good ones got promoted faster than their peers.
One of the reasons I took Anthony Bucci on as a client was that his brother was a West Point grad and a Ranger serving with the Ranger Regiment. Deep end of the gene pool.
4. Do not believe everything you read. Most authors are writing their stories from the top of the mountain. They are telling you a tale of reflected glory. They are selling books. Be skeptical and evaluate things with a lens that recalls that this is the “good” story.
Some time ago, I read a book about the creation of a powerhouse brand. In it was the role of a venture capitalist I held in high regard. The book cast this VC in a very unflattering light.
I did some research and came away with the sense that the criticism leveled in the book — that went to integrity and straight dealing — was fair and grounded in fact. I was disappointed to learn this as I did hold this chap in high regard.
5. There are a lot of things you will not really understand at the time you read them. You may have to wait for a moment of future clarity to understand them fully. This is why when you finish a book it is useful to take a few minutes and ask yourself, “What is the theme, message, and the learning?”
It wouldn’t be a bad idea to take a few notes.
6. Many times there is more than one way to skin a cat. Don’t believe because you have read it that any bit of conjecture or advice is the sole answer to that challenge. It is often not. There are always good, better, best solutions that are constrained by other realities.
There is clarity and freedom in the following: “All you do as a leader is the best you can with what you’ve got, constrained by the reality of the situation.” If you do that, you can sleep at night.
7. Sometimes you will stumble on a flaw that indicts the rest of the learning. I urge you not to reject the entire story based on a single flaw.
A very prominent VC has written about the “wartime CEO,” an analogy that is totally wrong.
The norm for a CEO in a military setting is war. It is what they are trained for. Period.
The man doesn’t know anything about the military, is not a veteran, and totally blows the comparison. The rest of his writing is fine.
In a casual interchange, I pointed this out to him and he blushed a very attractive shade of red showing that he knew he had made a foot fault.
7. Know that anything you read and absorb has to be stirred into your own leadership style and your authentic leadership voice. What works for Herb Kelleher (died 3 January 2019) running Southwest Airlines may not work for your ten person startup though I do recommend you play the game like you will one day be Southwest Airlines.
8. Speaking of leadership, I enthusiastically recommend that you read books that have nothing to do with business and everything to do with leadership. I always find myself learning from biographies of men whose footprints were embedded in history: Geo Catlett Marshal, Winston Churchill, Washington, Hamilton, Grant, USMC Major General Oliver Prince Smith, Lieutenant General Troy H Middleton.
Middleton was the first Allied General who realized that the German attack in World War II through the Ardennes was not a head fake. He studied the map and put his finger on a little town at an important crossroads: Bastogne. He was the man who said the Allies had to deny the Germans that town. Eisenhower so trusted him that he based the entire defense in the Battle of the Bulge on one utterance, “Troy says he can hold Bastogne.” The entire plan was based on that one simple fact upon which Middleton delivered. He brilliantly threw the 101st ABN Div into Bastogne reasoning that paratroopers were used to fighting while surrounded, a brilliant bit of soldiering.
Gen Smith was the quintessential warrior philosopher who was considered the most intellectual Marine officer of his generation. Fox Conner, an early mentor to Eisenhower, was the Army equivalent. Smith went to the French version of the Command and General Staff College arriving not speaking French and learning the language at sufficient depth to go to the equivalent of grad school.
Smith attacked, with huge misgivings, up the road to the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea on a single cart track with the 25,000 man 1st Marine Division. He was a skeptic of the wisdom of this winter time attack and built supply bases, infrastructure, and landing strips as he headed north. When more than 250,000 Chinese “volunteers” jumped his Marines, he conducted the most brilliant fighting withdrawal in the history of arms — bringing out his unit with their combat integrity intact, all of their equipment, and all of their wounded. What saved the 1st Mar Div was the wisdom of this one man. His leadership style was competence over authoritarian style. A very insightful read.
So, dear reader, there you have it. Go over to anthonybucci.com and soak up some wisdom. He is an excellent writer and you will enjoy his work.
Allow me one last comment: “In the advice business, there is no shortage of bad advice. Be skeptical.”
But, hey, what the Hell do I really know anyway? I’m just a Big Red Car. Be well. Read how to tie this knot, the Monkeys Paw.