Buy this Book and Read it Now: The Leader as a Mensch (Book Review)

I have referred to business author Bruna Martinuzzi’s article Optimism: The Hidden Asset previously on this blog (here and also here) as a wise and pragmatic exploration of a positive character trait that tends to come in handy for anyone looking to succeed in marketing, anywhere in business… or at life itself. Optimism is just one of a wide array of highly desirable character traits, including humility, empathy and generosity, to name just a few.

Hopefully you have worked for a person who demonstrates these traits routinely; who communicates with openness and dignity, and leads by example with honor and integrity. If you have worked for such a person, as I luckily have, you have had the unique pleasure and personal enrichment that can only come from working for a mensch.

mensch (měnsh)  n.  Informal. A person having admirable characteristics, such as fortitude and firmness of purpose: “He radiates the kind of fundamental decency that has a name in Yiddish; he’s a mensch” (James Atlas).

Source: The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/mensch (accessed: July 21, 2009).

Take this quick survey: What one word best describes your boss…

Any organization that has a true mensch (or mensches!) as its leadership has a powerful competitive advantage. A mensch doesn’t others by means of persuasion (the carrot on the end of the stick) or through the power of positional authority (forget the carrot, just hit people with the stick). A mensch chooses instead to lead by example, through authentic character and unassuming integrity (not to be confused with the faux, two-dimensional charisma of a “celebrity CEO”). People want to work for, even rally around, a mensch leader. A mensch is selfless, builds up others around her, and is key to the sustained success of any organization.

I’ll go even further: for capitalism itself to be successful, it is essential for organizations to be led by mensch executives. There is a vast world of difference between the unassuming yet powerful culture of innovation nurtured by David Packard, held up as a mensch in Bruna Martinuzzi’s book, and the ruinous leadership of ethically-impaired celebrity CEO Carly Fiorina, eventually paid tens of millions just to leave HP alone.

Leader-as-a-Mensch-Review-mikeurbonas_com-80The good news from Bruna Martinuzzi is menches are born, not made – which is why I urge you to read her book, The Leader as a Mensch: Become the Kind of Person Others Want to Follow.

Bruna Martinuzzi explores the key character traits that make up a mensch through the metaphor of a tree: roots, the foundational mensch qualities (humility, authenticity, empathy); trunk, those qualities visible through everyday interaction with a mensch (accountability, optimism, mastery), and branches, those additional visible traits which help to build up other people, mentoring others to also become menches (positive mood, generosity, appreciation). The tree is a very apt metaphor, particularly when considering that one of the most infamous CEOs of recent history was nicknamed “Chainsaw Al” Dunlap – a polar opposite of a mensch, or unmensch, to be precise.

Each chapter is a supremely well-written vignette on each mensch trait, building lucid examples and research to verify compelling need for that trait in a leader. At the same time, Bruna Martinuzzi gently yet decisively challenges skeptical readers to reexamine why they might disagree with the value of that trait. In a typical example of her persuasive writing style, Bruna Martinuzzi wrote on the topic of how mood affects worker performance:

A participant in a recent leadership workshop made this heartfelt and realistic remark: “I can’t see how I am expected to be in a good mood four quarters in a row.” The point is well taken. But can you afford, as a leader, to even entertain this thought? All of employee research points to the contrary… (W)ealth, power and prestige go hand-in-hand with certain social responsibilities – in other words, with privilege comes duty. It is a privilege when we have the opportunity to lead a team of people. However, with this privilege comes many responsibilities, chief of which, leadership pundits would contend, is managing moods. (p. 65-66)

For an extended example of Bruna Martinuzzi’s pragmatic, persuasive writing style, please check out her previously noted article on optimism here on my blog. It is highly similar to her chapter on optimism (with more content appearing in her book).

Bruna Martinuzzi concludes each chapter with “leaves” of advice to help develop each mensch character trait, making this not just a book to read, but also act upon and refer back to. She also cites numerous resources to expand the reader’s efforts to develop a character trait, with a very useful recommended “mensch library” as just one of a number of useful appendices concluding the book.

Perhaps best of all, this book was not written just for people already in a high-profile management role. As Bruna Martinuzzi explains in her introduction, this book is for the “everyday leader” – from managers, supervisors, team leaders to community organizers, teachers, professionals, shopkeepers – anyone who aspires to be a mensch leader within their respective spheres, large or small. For that matter, the greatest personal brand one can aspire to is being a mensch, making this book a must read.

I also imagine this book and its slim but valuable 125 pages might be a bit hard to find in the book store, no doubt overwhelmed by pudgy books “written” by gaggles of celebrity CEOs. But do make an effort to seek out this book. To my earlier point, Bruna Martinuzzi concludes her introduction with a call for a return to menschdom in business:

Years ago, I read a line in a book which said, “When in doubt, act like the Chairman would.” Sadly, this phrase would now elicit derision when we ponder the moral depravity of leaders of companies like Enron, WorldCom and Arthur Andersen…This climate has certainly raised the bar for current and future leaders. People follow the footsteps of those they consider trustworthy. You cannot have effective leadership without credibility; and the quickest route to earn credibility is to act as a Mensch.

Further reading:

Don’t miss Guy Kawasaki’s interview with Bruna Martinuzzi.

Link to The Leader as a Mensch homepage.

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