In a soon-to-be-published biography and remembrance of the late Marvin Bower, the high priest of McKinsey & Co., there’s a wonderful memo that should be tacked on the wall of every leader everywhere. Bower writes of admiring “first-class brains” and “good citizens in communities” but also of despising and abhorring (his words) “toadies who suck up to their bosses” and “buck-passers and people who don’t tell the truth.”
The book, by Elizabeth Haas Edersheim, is as much a loving tribute to Bower as it is an insightful biography on Bower’s contributions to consulting and to leadership. Bower was a remarkable man and an exceptional leader. Elizabeth, a former McKinsey partner, worked with him for more than a year, completing her manuscript before his death in January of 2003. There is no one alive who knows more about Bower than Elizabeth, and she used that knowledge wisely in crafting a book that should be read by everyone who deeply cares about leadership.
The Bower memo, on blue paper, was written by the long-time managing director of McKinsey in 1961. You’ll find some of the words somewhat dated (especially the rather dated term “subordinates”), but the thoughts and ideas are as pertinent today as ever. You’ll find yourself smiling as you read some of the words in this incredible communication, and you’ll immediately recognize how special this man was.
Before I turn to the future, I would like to preach my perennial sermon on the subject of behavior. I want the newcomers to know what kind of behavior we admire, and what kind of behavior we deplore:
- First, we admire people who work hard. We dislike passengers who don’t pull their weight in the boat.
- We admire people with first-class brains, because you cannot run a great (organization) without brainy people.
- We admire people who avoid politics — office politics, I mean.
- We despise toadied who suck up to their bosses; they are generally the same people who bully their subordinates.
- We admire the great professionals, the craftsmen who do their jobs with superlative excellence. We notice that these people always respect the professional expertise of their colleagues in other departments.
- We admire people who hire subordinates who are good enough to succeed them. We pity people who are so insecure that they feel compelled to hire inferior specimens as their subordinates.
- We admire people who build up and develop their subordinates, because this is the only way we can promote from within the ranks. We detest having to go outside to fill important jobs, and I look forward to the day when that will never be necessary.
- We admire people who practice delegation. The more you delegate, the more responsibility will be loaded upon you.
- We admire kindly people with gentle manners who treat other people as human beings — particularly the people who sell things to us. We abhor quarrelsome people. We abhor people who wage paper warfare. We abhor buck passers and people who don’t tell the truth.
- We admire well-organized people who keep their offices ship-shape, and deliver their work on time.
- We admire people who are good citizens in their communities — people who work for their local hospitals, their church, the PTA, the Community Chest, and so on. In this connection, I am proud of the example set by some of my colleagues during the year.