• 07.24.08

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:

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

“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

“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

Congratulations to them on a brilliant achievement!”