Book: eLeadership: Bold Solutions for the New Economy
Author: Susan Annunzio
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Book: E-Leader: Reinventing Leadership in a Connected Economy
Author: Robert Hargrove
Publisher: Perseus Books Group
E-gad! Here we are, only a few short years into this new-economy thing, and already we've run the poor letter "e" into the ground. Email, a simple enough application in the beginning, has been e-viscerated by the e-mergence of e-commerce, which is part of e-business, conducted by e-companies that have e-strategies. This e-nables them to compete in the e-revolution that is going on in the e-world. The composite e-ffect is e-nough to turn e-veryone into Sesame Street's Oscar the Grouch and announce that "The next e-leven years of the new e-conomy will be brought to you be the letter 'e.' " E-nough!
The previous eruption was prompted by the emergence of two books with essentially the same title: eLeadership: Bold Solutions for the New Economy, by Susan Annunzio, and E-Leader: Reinventing Leadership in a Connected Economy, by Robert Hargrove. It's not that the authors don't know their stuff. Annunzio is a consultant, Hargrove is a writer and consultant, and both have mastered the art of combining entertaining anecdotes and self-administered evaluations. Both also offer more than enough smart, helpful, and insightful points to earn praise for their useful and challenging books.
It's just that their dreaded e-word marketing ploys are the equivalent of fingernails on a blackboard. What, exactly, makes an e-leader all that different from a leader? Not much, it seems, other than a general recognition that the new economy turns almost everything upside down, including our traditional definitions of leadership.
To Susan Annunzio's credit, she knows exactly who her target audience is, what they're up against, and what they need: baby boomers in large corporations, trying to make sense out of all of the changes that are going on in the new economy, and the tools to help them be leaders in it. "My goal is to prove to you that the opportunity of a lifetime may be sitting right in front of you," she states early on. "The opportunity to transform your company into a player in the eRevolution while winning the hearts and minds of your workforce."
Annunzio then gets down to the serious work of talking about the mind flips that leaders have to make just to survive, never mind flourish, in business today. If traditional leaders were tough old birds who issued orders and maintained control, she says, then new leaders share a very different list of qualities: honesty, including the ability to admit mistakes; responsiveness, particularly to employee suggestions; a willingness to learn (and relearn); a sense of adventure; and altruism, a desire to make a difference. "You have a choice," she writes. "You can keep your big corner office and settle for what you've got. You can jump ship to one of the exciting new dotcom companies — many leaders disillusioned with corporate America are doing so. But you can also stay put at your 'traditional' business but change the rules. In the process, you might change the world — or at least leave it a better place."
In one of her best chapters, Annunzio focuses on the ongoing struggle between baby boomers and the X and Y generations. Her solution is unequivocal: If leadership today is all about attracting and retaining talent and guiding and coaching collaboration, boomers in older companies have to come to terms with the legitimate aspirations of younger employees and adopt new approaches to keeping them engaged and productive.
Annunzio ends each chapter with coaching tips, diagnostics, and other tools. The take-aways are useful, but the message is even more important: If you want to become a leader in the new economy, the first transformation you have to effect is your own.
Which also happens to be Robert Hargrove's fundamental message. Like Annunzio, Hargrove gets off to an e-xceedingly e-xasperating start. Writing of AOL's TimeWarner acquisition, he observes, "To me, this was a historic moment in that it represented a single event in which the new eEconomy, based on electronic connections, trumped the old iEconomy based on physical mass." All I can say is, if we're going to spend the next 20 years putting little vowels in front of all of the words that describe the new economy, it's going to be a long 20 years.
But Hargrove soon tells us what he thinks is different about leadership today: It's a potent mixture of new-economy business practices — leaders acting as entrepreneurs rather than as caretakers — and New Age personal-growth exercises — "declaring the future" rather than just accepting whatever happens.
In one of his best chapters, Hargrove lays out his "seven immutable laws of ePowerBranding" and then plots an action agenda that encourages readers to make the declarations that will lead to personal change. It is a terrifically fun performance — a mix of entertainment, education, and inspiration.
In fact, Hargrove's book is a genuine hybrid that follows that tidy recipe. But the overall effect is oddly disconcerting. Part of the problem is that, to anyone who is familiar with the best business writing of the past five years, Hargrove's work reads like a very skillful cut-and-paste job. Seth Godin's books on permission marketing and idea viruses; Chris Argyris's work on double-loop learning; Fast Company's profiles of Avram Miller and David Siegel — Hargrove has read them all, it seems. The result is a bit like an intellectual Easter-egg hunt. Each page holds the promise of another hidden treasure, deftly positioned by Hargrove in his collection of anecdotes, principles, and leadership techniques. But the book also suggests that the ultimate definition of an eLeader is, first and foremost, someone who is an avid eReader.
A version of this article appeared in the February 2001 issue of Fast Company magazine.