Saturday, November 21, 2009

Obstacles welcome by Ralph De la vega

The book offers little in terms of ground that hasn't been covered before. Work hard. Persevere. Empower employees. Set measurable goals. Get feedback. Hold others accountable. Be approachable. Be resilient. Dream big. Apart from a lack of new information, I'm just not sure how Biblically accurate this book is. (I mention this because the book is put out by a Christian publishing house.) For example:

Book: "Each of us is in control of our own journey. Deciding what we want and how to get there." - p. 98

Apart from not exactly squaring with the Bible, there is an overall level of self-determinism in here that books such as "Outliers" by Malcolm Gladwell make a compelling argument against. Just how much are we in control over what happens to us? A scripture in the book of Ecclesiastes puts it this way, "The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all." There is something to be said for being in the right place at the right time. This book leans toward the side that a person can make anything happen if they work hard enough. This sounds nice, but try telling that to someone who was born a midget but really wants to play in the NBA.

The book does offer some helpful tips and words of inspiration. There are continual challenges to not get stuck in old mindsets. There are charges to break free from self-imposed limitations. There is encouragement to go for it all. This is good and commendable. Sometimes, though, it blurs into the message "get more and you will be happy". On the contrary, it is better to have one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil (Ecclesiastes 4:6). Godliness with contentment is great gain (1 Timothy 6:6).

Another thing that bugged me about this book was how the author rarely goes into any personal flaws or shortcomings. Maybe he focused a little too much on his career at the expense of his family. Maybe he has had to deal with a lot of pride as a result of all of his accomplishments. I'm sure there is something he currently struggles with. Letting us in on this would help us to see him as less of a success machine and more of a human being. I would have an easier time relating. When he does reveal any personal struggles, he quickly discusses how he remedied the situation.

Here is another example of how he comes off looking like a model of perfection:

"On some days I've shaken as many as one thousand hands (and yes, my hand hurt that night). Long ago I lost count of how many people told me, "No executive has ever come down here and shaken my hand." Just as important, I always leave time for dialogue after I speak." (p. 147)

I know that he is wanting to share his advice in order to help others achieve a greater measure of success. Still, sections like the one above came off as self-congratulatory.

Other chapters felt like they could have been titled, "How to manipulate your employees as much as possible for personal gain." I am no advocate for employees slacking off, but it is possible for things to go to the opposite extreme. In fairness to AT&T, I have no idea how well or poorly they treat their employees.

Though I have been piling on, there were many things I liked about this book. The focus on character and integrity was great. The book was clear and easy to read. The summaries at the end of each chapter were helpful. I also enjoyed the parts where de la Vega went into strategy (e.g. how he handled the merger, how he delegates authority and what changes were put in place for more effective marketing). My favorite part of the book was in the initial chapter where de la Vega describes his immigration experience. This part was fascinating and I was left wanting for more.

I have no doubt that de la Vega excels at what he does. He clearly cares very much about his company and takes great pride in its success. In the process of describing how he overcome so many obstacles, the author shares concepts in order to benefit the reader. I just didn't encounter as many new concepts as I would have liked. Nevertheless, sometimes it is good to be reminded.


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