Saturday, January 3, 2009

Book Review: How we Lead matters - Marilyn Carlson Nelson

I participated in the Mini Book Expo, which is a really cool book review program where bloggers get books for free. The catch: read, review and blog about it! Thanks to One Degree for coordinating this. Below is my first book, How We Lead Matters - Reflections on a Life of Leadership by Marilyn Carlson Nelson, CEO of the Carlson group of companies and named to the Forbes List of Most Powerful Women.

I was interested in the book because it was marketed as an intimate look into the perspective of a great female business leader. I always knew of the Carlson brand which consists of businesses in travel, hospitality, and restaurant industries. Some of the more well known brands include the Radisson Hotels and Resorts, TGI Fridays and Carlson Wagonlit Travel. What I didn't know was this impressive corporation was led by a CEO who is also a mother, wife, community leader, and philanthropist.

The book is set up as a series of short memoirs, one per page with an accompanying quote or poem. The structure immediately distinguishes it from the plethora of other CEO Life Experience books out there. There are no hard business lessons or strategies to be gleaned. Instead, Marilyn's book is an account of lessons and memories from her life which she has chosen to recount as she claims are "[stories] they have stayed in my memory - surviving the successive waves of the years...because they tell my truths". The stories are meant to reveal Marilyn's core principles which have guided her throughout her life, both personal and corporate, and helped her make decisions which define her as a person and a leader.

For the most part, her point comes across poignantly. We are reminded of lessons many of us know but often forget: to try hard, and to keep trying even if we're up against the odds. To be self-reliant and be the one person to instigate change instead of waiting for it to happen. To make ethical decisions and care for others, whether they be family members, friends, your community, or children of the world. To know humility and to rebound from hardship and failures. These themes resonate throughout the book, and while these are no revelations of mass proportions, her personal style and voice narrating the stories of successes and failures struck a chord with me. Especially her ability to be vulnerable, and in her telling of a most tragic event in her life: the death of her teenage daughter. This openness allows the reader to feel connected to Marilyn, and to take her advice to heart.

Marilyn is a true American entrepreneur (she believes "a job is the best form of philanthropy"), and although her father started the Carlson company and in some ways she has "inherited" the leadership position, her many achievements in both the corporate and greater social world prove she is not successful merely because of her family name. I may not have always agreed with her philosophies and opinions in the book, but I have a large amount of respect for her and her accomplishments.

The most moving part of the book, and perhaps the last reminder to take the lessons to heart, comes from the speech given by Marilyn's daughter to her senior class just prior to her sudden death. Titled, "The Journey Not the Arrival Matters", it neatly sums up Marilyn's approach to life and how our everyday decisions on how we live our lives matters.

My final and most important take away from Marilyn's book is that each time I find myself down, uninspired, or feeling sorry for myself, I will thumb through these stories, poems and quotes and I know it will remind me once again of these important lessons which we all know but often forget.


Melyss said...

Great review. It makes me want to read the book, right now!

The Anthology said...

I find these sorts of books so inspiring (so interesting to think that "a job is the best form of philanthropy").

I'll have to check this one out.