Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Book Review- Derailed, by Dr. Tim Irwin

This book is about train wrecks. Trains are conceptually simple- big loads on a defined path between an origin and a destination, pulled by a powerful engine, driven by someone with skill and knowledge. But, sometimes, the thing goes off the rails with a lot of noise and destruction.

Irwin argues that some train wrecks in human endeavor happen because of a fundamental failure of the leader- the skillful, knowledgeable train driver. He argues that this failure is usually not one of intelligence or ability, but of character.

When we hear of a character fault, we often think of dishonesty. After all, we have the recent examples of Enron, Tyco and others. Think again. Irwin illustrates his point using six high profile corporate leaders whose failures were not of honesty or integrity. Rather, their problems leading to derailment were such things as arrogance; failure to recognize and compensate for their weaknesses; failure to seek or heed advice; insensitivity to others, including both subordinates and fellow leaders; lack of trust; lack of courage.

I was once told that you are getting into serious trouble when you start believing your own press releases. I was constantly reminded of that as I read the six stories of leadership failures. All of these people are bright and accomplished, with a history of success. But they all jumped the tracks and many people, employees, vendors, customers and shareholders alike, were caught up in the tangled steel.

I liked the metaphor of derailment and enjoyed the actual case studies, but the pacing in the beginning seemed slow. Irwin spent a couple chapters telling me what he was going to be telling me, instead of just telling the stories. Good ideas and good writing stand on their own and do not need to be sold or explained to me. I am glad I continued to read past the awkward beginning, but I was certainly tempted to put the book aside.

There is one sad thing about this book – the people who should be reading and heeding it are just the ones least likely to.


No comments:

Post a Comment