Leadership Lessons from... Robert Morris

Robert Morris is a 'Top 50' Amazon reviewer. His writing style is beautiful - almost poetic - which is a rarity among business writers. He was kind enough to offer this insightful review of Toy Box Leadership:

"When thinking about purchasing a book, don't be deterred by a book's title (initially, I was about this one) and don't base the decision solely on testimonials by an impressive list of business thinkers (although in this instance, their praise is justified). Rather, check out as many reviews as you can, especially Customer Reviews. Others have their own reasons for commending Ron Hunter and Michael Waddell on what they achieve in Toy Box Leadership. Here are two of mine.

First, they create a context for the creation and subsequent popularity of ten toys (i.e. LEGO® Bricks, Slinky® Dog, Play-Doh®, the yo-yo, Mr. Potato Head® and Rubik's Cube®, the rocking horse, little green plastic army men, Lite-Brite®, and Weebles®) and then, devoting a separate chapter to each of the ten, share thought-provoking insights on leadership lessons to be learned from each. I played with many of these toys as a child and then purchased them for four children and more recently for ten grandchildren. Frankly, the connections that Hunter and Waddell make never occurred to me. Once again, I am reminded of the "invisibility of the obvious." Consider these representative comments from the narrative:

LEGO® bricks "teach us that each individual [connection between and among a company's people] is interdependent on the next connection for success. The properly placed brick within a structure provides strength and substance and adds to the overall structure. Placing each person so he or she connects properly results in the healthy utilization of human resources."

"Being a Play-Doh® person does not mean you are weak, gullible, or even wishy-washy, but rather that you have determined to be molded in positive ways that are essential to their development." Such people are shaped the way they are because they are receptive to change and being changed, yet have "durable" character because their exact ingredients (i.e. humility, teachability, and desire to improve) allow the substance to have consistent integrity.

"The leadership lesson from the Mr. Potato Head® toy is that you must choose the right face for the right place when communicating." The face "is the courier of the message," an extension of one's emotions, and an interpreter of one's intent. According to hundreds of research studies in which millions of respondents participated, with statistics varying only slightly among the studies, the impact of face-to-face contact is determined as follows: body language about 50-55%, tone of voice about 30-35%, what is actually spoken no more than 15-20%. All great leaders have "presence" and that is largely the result of their physicality amidst those around them. Hunter and Waddell identify and then discuss "the eight faces that every leader must pack" and then be able to call upon, depending on what the given situation requires such as empathetic concern, a show of confidence, intensity of conviction, great disappointment, or sheer delight. "Remember, it's your first expression that makes the first impression."

"The qualities of the Rubik's Cube® puzzle that make it so intriguing are the same qualities that make it such a good example of ethics...The cube's color, depth, and dimensions represent the complexity of your ethics. As you solve the problems of life, this toy teaches the importance of making the right turns." As I read Hunter and Waddell's comments, I was immediately reminded of Jim Collins' admonition in Good to Great to "get the right people on the bus, get the wrong people off the bus, with everyone in the right seats." Proper alignment of resources with work to be done is indeed one of the greatest challenges all managers face.

"Weebles® toys teach durability, a mandatory characteristic for any successful leader. They teach you that staying down is not an option." (Years ago, Jack Dempsey said that champions "get up when they can't.") "A leader is never more closely watched than in the moments following a failure. When leaders fail, you immediately wonder what their next move will be." Leaders with endurance understand that falling down" is inevitable so they anticipate it, learn from it, and do all they can to avoid making the same mistake(s) again. Like Weebles® toys, effective leaders also have a center of balance. Theirs combines both internal factors (e.g. determination, resilience, and purpose) and external factors (e.g. support of colleagues, mentors, and prior experience). Being able to bounce back from adversity often tends to discourage one's opponents.

I also admire the skill by which Hunter and Waddell enable their reader to complete a process of discovery and reflection so that as the final chapter approaches, she or has accumulated the basic components of principled, results-driven leadership and can then assemble them as if they were (yes) individual LEGO® Bricks or parts of Mr. Potato. In this instance, I am reminded of what a French Romantic poet once said in response to an inquiry about how to write a poem. (I think it was Baudelaire but I'm not certain.) In so many words, he said, "First you draw a birdcage with its door open, then you wait and wait and wait and wait...until a bird flies in the door. Then you erase the cage." This is what Hunter and Waddell seem to have in mind when suggesting that "When you lay this book down and put away these toys, remember the lessons."

Congratulations to them on a brilliant achievement!"

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