With Michele Owens, David D'Alessandro has written another book whose title and subtitle suggest direct correlations between the battlefield and the business world. What sets this book apart from almost all of the others is the fact that he includes no references to Sun Tzu's The Art of War nor to Carl von Clauswitz' On War. I also appreciate the fact that D'Alessandro establishes, develops, and then sustains a direct rapport with his reader. The informal, indeed conversational tone is precisely appropriate and brilliantly sustained. For example: "The single greatest reason why otherwise talented people get stuck in mid-career is because they believe that the same rules that applied for the first part of their careers still apply. They don't. You have to master a much subtler set of rules. You'll need to learn how to acquire the global perspective your peers lack, when and how to deliver bad news, when to take a shot at your rivals and when to be gracious, and, most important, how to handle the many new influences on your [career] trajectory...Intelligence, imagination, and cunning are all required here - but not underhandedness...I don't believe you need to be devious to succeed. In fact, I think being excessively political is a mistake."
D'Alessandro focuses on the adjustments any executive must make as she or he assumes increased responsibilities during an incremental ascension to higher levels of management. His observations and suggestions indicate that he is an empiricist in that he is especially alert to context as well as to significant details, a pragmatist who prefers to focus on what does - and does not - work and has little, if any patience with "woulda/coulda/shoulda," and he has a unique ability to recognize what is most important among whatever options may be available. He seems determined to share what he has learned so that his reader will be able to balance impeccable integrity with "street smarts." His advice concerns do's and don'ts of when responding to challenges such as these:
Managing increasing complexity at various stages throughout a "career trajectory"
Excerpt: "It's not just that the pyramid narrows and the competition toughens as you rise. It's that the game changes fundamentally...[and, to repeat] In my experience, the single greatest reason why otherwise talented people get stuck in midcareer is because they believe that the same rules that applied for the first part of their career. They don't. You now have to master a much subtler set of rules."
Dealing with rivals
Excerpt: "It is far better to be a steady incremental player who wins, in the end, by impressing people all along the way than to be the kind of hothead who tries to force a quick culmination." Years ago, someone whose name I do not recall invoked a metaphor to make the same point: "Be a Bunsen burner, not a sparkler."
Building a team
Excerpt: "If you are not picking your own team, you are going to be handed some turkeys. When one of those turkeys screws up, you own the turkey...Having a reputation as somebody who not only can build a strong team but also can bring in people who can build strong teams is extraordinarily valuable...The most valuable employees are those willing to rain on your parade when it's necessary - willing even to rain on a parade they organized themselves."
Earning the trust of direct-reports
Excerpt: "Most of your rivals will treat the people who work for them like children. You can win incredible loyalty simply by treating people like adults who can accept the truth. You will also build a team that way because your key people now all share the same information and can work together to act on it...It's important that your employees see that you are [decisive but] not heartless."
Rising into the senior ranks
Excerpt: "You must become a person of presence." How? "First of all, you have to offer something substantial and not just self-importance. Second, "you have to be true to yourself and the things you believe in." And thirdly, "is perspective - and you cannot develop perspective if your entire life revolves around your job...To get to the top - and stay there - you need to be able to lead human brings. And, the only way to learn how to lead is to live."
I realize that these brief excerpts are taken out of context and that D'Alessandro's key points may seem simplistic. They are offered merely to suggest the thrust of his insights and the flavor of his prose. Moreover, I hasten to add that his observations and suggestions are fully developed within an extended narrative that is both cohesive and comprehensive. Also, although much of his advice concerns challenges that C-level executives face, those who do not as yet occupy a position at that level will nonetheless derive a substantial benefit from understanding those challenges because (a) such understanding will improve their relationships with C-level executives in their own organization, and (b) they can prepare themselves adequately for a time when they most respond to them.
David D'Alessandro begins his book with a disclaimer that also serves as an appropriate conclusion to this review: "If you are not interested in success, put down this book and buy a latte."