Author: Bill Leider

ISBN-10: 0985256605

EAN-13: 9780985256609

Sitting in a ballroom with 499 other professionals, watching a motivational speaker show slides, I daydreamed how the sum of five-hundred times $350 (the tuition) could have been better spent. I waited to exit until only a few people were left in the room. They weren’t surrounding the expert, asking questions. He was off in a corner alone, winding up the cords to his equipment, looking at his watch, and wiping his brow. This was 1992. Everyone’s time was valuable. Was this noisy, sweaty, traveling salesman with the bullet points really that much smarter than our CEOs? Then why weren’t they there, too?

Bill Leider, a strategic consultant with executive experience, goes to the heart of the matter in this extraordinary book, which demonstrates in a most engaging way that leaders in any organization have to learn to pool their insights and values to be more effective. Talented people see goals through different lenses, and resent colleagues who disagree. Leider uses techniques of fiction and a composite of real companies to present a typical situation. Joe Fenington, worried CEO at Kitchen Sculpture, is visited by a muse, Brandon Strong, who challenges him to involve his smart but territorial department heads in defining the “Brand” for their line of high-end appliances. They are brought together in a weekend retreat and encouraged to put their ideas and their emotional cards on the table.

Reading this book is an antidote to reading the comic strip Dilbert, which confirms our most negative feelings about organizational behavior. Leider proposes a humanistic way to break down silo walls, which inevitably go up when people are under stress. Time constraints and budget concerns have a lot to do with this, but so does linear thinking. He says the better approach is “holistic.” Everyone has skin in the game. They just need to play on the same team.

Leider’s scenario is credible because it presents intelligent arguments with realistic details and a sense of urgency to the discussion. Faced with the prospect of new resins that will enable competitors to copy the company’s leading designs and sell them at lower prices, the leaders have to deal first with integrating three smaller companies they’ve acquired; each has a unique culture -- and they don’t even understand their own. Attitudes have to change; e.g., the Marketing V.P. who is passive/aggressive “would say anything he needed to say in order to keep doing what he was doing and not change one iota.” The technology expert chides her colleagues for not adopting social media. She says she’s ashamed of the company website. The head of sales jumps in with the news that their retailers are only concerned about how fast things fly off their shelves, not what they look like. No one else there knows how hard it is to get SKUs. Techie suggests that a couple of low-salaried people be hired to listen to dealers and compose blog posts. The company needs customer input; there’s too much guessing. But first they have to sell the idea to the dealers, and that requires training their own sales people.

Adversaries begin to connect, but the drama builds around one team member who is resistant. I won’t tell you how matters get resolved, except to admit I had tears in my eyes. Besides, I want you to read this book! Defining Our Brand may not be the answer to every organizational problem. For example, Leider has not addressed rapid turnover, which leads to poor institutional memory. However, his pointing the discussion to personality, personal motivation, and obstructive behavior patterns might inspire reflection of the kind that would help an organization correct itself.

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