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The Common Sense of a Giant II

More wisdom from the new book on legendary McKinsey & Co. creator Marvin Bower. Written by Elizabeth Haas Edersheim, McKinsey’s Marvin Bower is chock full of leadership insight. Marvin, for example, insisted on the precise use of language because he knew how powerful the right words can be. From a 1953 (the year I was born!) presentation, Marvin said:

More wisdom from the new book on legendary McKinsey & Co. creator Marvin Bower. Written by Elizabeth Haas Edersheim, McKinsey’s Marvin Bower is chock full of leadership insight. Marvin, for example, insisted on the precise use of language because he knew how powerful the right words can be.

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From a 1953 (the year I was born!) presentation, Marvin said:

“We are what we speak–it defines us–it is our image. We don’t have customers, we have clients. We don’t serve within an industry, we are a profession. We are not a company, we are not a business. We are a firm. We don’t have employes, we have firm members and colleagues who have individual dignity. We don’t have business plans, we have aspirations. We don’t have rules, we have values. We are management consultants only. We are not managers, promoters, or constructors.”

Bower, who invented “management consulting” as we know it, built McKinsey into a powerhouse of consulting by insisting that every employee at the firm adhere to a strict code of ethics and values. Author Edersheim breaks them down into six sets of characteristics that could serve as a template for any business:

  • Put the client’s interests first and separate yourself from the job.
  • Be consistent yet open-minded. Writes Edersheim, “Marvin was consistent in his values, in culture, in mission, and in the respect he accorded others. He knew who he was, what he believed in, and what he could or could not accomplish. (He was) a man who never told people what he thought they wanted to hear and who ignored ephemeral management fads and fashions.”
  • Center problem solving on the facts and on the front line. Marvin wisely knew that the most knowledgeable people in any organization are those on the front line who have access to most of the information. If you want to solve business problems, you get to capture those opinions and bring them to the top.
  • View problems and decisions in the context of the whole and in terms of the immediate actions to be taken. “Although Marvin valued the importance of facts,” writes author Edersheim, “he also believed that isolated facts do not lead to solutions; rather, having imagination and context to see where the facts lead creates solutions and paths…The inventor of this profession was committed to making sure action did happen–action that was consistent with the mission of the company and that had fast payback both emotionally and financially.”
  • Inspire and require people to be their best. Marvin, adds Edersheim, “managed to make the firm and its work extremely important to each member. It became, for most, the largest, most important thing in their working lives.”
  • Communicate the values of the company over and over again to ensure that people in the firm will understand them, embrace them, and translate them into action.
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