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Don’t follow your passion and know when to call it quits (book review)

The Algebra of Happiness: Notes on the Pursuit of Success, Love and Meaning

By Scott Galloway

Penguin Random House

$28

This review first ran in the July 20 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

algebraA special public service announcement for all freshly minted grads who were told during their convocation ceremonies to pursue their passion and never quit.

It’s lousy advice that may not lead you to a life well lived, warns Scott Galloway.

“People who speak at universities, especially at commencement, who tell you to follow your passion – or my favourite, to ‘never give up’ – are already rich,” says Galloway, a professor at New York University’s business school and author of The Algebra of Happiness.

“And most got there by starting waste treatment plants after failing at five other ventures – that is, they knew when to give up.”

Instead of pursuing your passion, figure out what you’re good at and then spend years getting better at it, whether that’s building treatment plants, practicing tax law or installing kitchen cabinets.

“The emotional and economic rewards that accompany being great at something will make you passionate about whatever that something is.”

Scott also has a reality check for 20-somethings who intend to maintain perfect work-life balance while stepping onto the bottom rung on the ladder of success.

That balance comes at a cost, says Galloway. “If balance is your priority in your youth, then you need to accept that, unless you are a genius, you may not reach the upper rungs of economic security.

“The slope of the trajectory of your career is (unfairly) set in the first five years post-graduation. If you want the trajectory to be steep, you’ll need to burn a lot of fuel. The world is not yours for the taking, but for the trying. Try hard, really hard.”

To maintain a steep trajectory, you need to get the easy stuff right. For Galloway, that means showing up early, having good manners and always following up.

Galloway also has advice for those of us in the back half of our careers. “The number one piece of advice seniors would give to their younger selves is that they wish they’d been less hard on themselves. Your limited time here mandates that you hold yourself accountable. But also be ready to forgive yourself so you can get on with the important business of life.”

And our most important decision is not what credential to earn, what career to pursue or what investments to make but deciding who to spend our life with. Choose wisely, says Galloway.

“Who you marry is meaningful; who you have kids with is profound. Raising kids with someone who is kind and competent and who you enjoy being with is a series of joyous moments smothered in comfort and reward.

“Raising kids with someone you don’t like, or who isn’t competent, is moments of joy smothered in anxiety and disappointment. Sharing your life with someone who’s unstable or has contempt for you is never being able to catch your breath long enough to relax and enjoy your blessings.”

Galloway’s book expands on the final and most popular lecture in his brand strategy course. So, if like Galloway’s students, you’re wrestling with life strategies around what career to choose and how to set yourself up for success, reconcile ambition with personal growth and live without regrets, you’ll find some proven formulas in the Algebra of Happiness.

Jay Robb serves as communications manager at McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

 

Get on the bus when a mandate driven leader’s behind the wheel (review)

Who do you want driving your organization?

A leader who won’t start boarding the bus until everyone’s had their say on where to go and reached consensus on what route to take?

Or a leader who’s already behind the wheel, revving the engine, telling everyone to buckle up and vowing to toss anyone who tries to slow, stop or steer the bus in a different direction?

Hitch your career to the second leader. It won’t be an easy or smooth ride. But there’s no guarantee the first leader will ever pull the bus away from the curb or go take your organization anywhere other than mediocrity or into a ditch.

“While consensus-based decision making is very popular and does tend to make people feel good, it is not necessarily the best approach,” says Scott Stawski, a senior executive with DXC Technology and author of The Power of Mandate.

“Too many senior leaders practice consensus management in a business environment that demands a different approach. Companies using harmony of decision making can be on a fast track to failure for the simple reason that consensus is not necessarily about what is best for the company. Nor is it about establishing and moving toward a vision that lifts everyone’s performance. It is about finding the outcome that is least objectionable to everyone involved. Comfortable organizations rarely change the world.”

Scott Stawski's The Power of Mandate

Mandate driven leadership can be your organization’s best strategy for world-changing disruption and strongest defense against feel-good group think.

Mandate driven leaders do a masterful job of continually communicating a clear and compelling vision for a better future. You may not agree with that vision but at least you’ll know what it is so you can make an informed decision about whether to get on or off the bus.

Mandate driven leaders drive to the outcome instead of following established processes. “The outcome is survival and mandate driven leaders often break what many believe to be the established rules of business processes to get there. The ride may be bumpy but if you are on the bus the destination is phenomenal.”

Mandate driven leaders also possess an unrelenting focus and determination to reach their ultimate destination. They won’t take no for an answer. They don’t accept excuses and they hold everyone accountable and to a higher standard of performance. Under their watch, organizations stand a far better chance of not only surviving but thriving.

Mandate driven leaders don’t care if you agree with them or like them. They’re not out to win popularity contests. They also know that crowds aren’t always wise.

“We need leaders who can push organizations in directions they may not want to go, in part because they don’t realize they need to,” says Stawski.

“These leaders have a vision, and they command the organization to take a certain course of action to achieve that vision. These visionary leaders have a belief, idea, strategy or tactic that is so compelling that they do not accept no for an answer. Through mandate, they drive the vision from concept to implementation. Through this leadership willpower, organizations are propelled toward the vision.”

So how do you become a mandate driven leader? Take responsibility for your continual leadership development, says Stawski. Establish a network of formal and informal mentors and start reading everything you can find about leadership and what’s on the horizon for your organization and industry.

“I’ve known and studied quite a few leaders over the course of my career and the single most common denominator seems to be a voracious thirst for knowledge. Not just about leadership per say, but about any and every topic that they could apply to the teams they are trying to lead.”

Despite profiling only billionaire white guys from the world of tech, Stawski makes a strong case for why we should hand the keys over to mandate driven leaders and rethink the reflexive need for consensus management.

This review first ran in the July 6 edition of the Hamilton Spectator.

Jay Robb serves as communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.