posted 4 Oct 2007 in Volume 11 Issue 2
Book review - Leadership’s Greatest Secret
By John P. Strelecky
ISBN: 13: 978-0-312-37814-1
Publication date: January 2008
FEW AMBITIOUS ‘leaders’ would be without, it seems, a copy of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War and Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince, as if the machinations of political leaders in feudal times carries vital lessons for the efficient management of IBM or General Electric (for example). And the management books that sell by the thousand, likewise, are ultimately all about that elusive concept of leadership.
For those that lack the innate ability, leadership is easy to see in others, but a hard skill to attain and exercise consistently. It is a key to success in any discipline that involves managing others, which is why the secrets of good leadership are so eagerly sought by the ambitious: Amazon.co.uk lists more than 20,000 titles on leadership, of which Strelecky’s is just the latest one.
This book is a long way from the standard management manual. It distills everything he learnt from his mentor, Thomas Derale, before he died at the age of 55. “His businesses made fortunes, his employees loved him and, when necessary, his customers would wait weeks just to do business with his companies,” writes Strelecky. Is that leadership or a simply a magnetic personality?
He certainly was not such a great self-publicist – Google could only offer four entries on the man – but a little searching revealed why: Thomas Derale is a fictional character. So, in other words, the book does not distill the art of leadership from a real person…
Strelecky approaches the subject in a storybook fashion, which ought to be a welcome departure from the standard instructional. “The average human in the
Imagine, therefore, if a museum were made of your everyday life – if most of your working life were spent bored and unfulfilled, that’s exactly what much of the museum of your life would be like. And with only 28,200 days to live it, that leaves little time for loafing or small talk.
So begins the opening story after Strelecky ‘meets’ Derale on a railway platform.
Throughout the book, the characters are like shills. Strelecky explains his initial meeting with Derale, as well as Derale’s philosophy, to Sonia, his captive companion on a flight home after hearing that Derale is terminally ill and Sonia is hooked.
“I was in
The core of the philosophy is that Derale and the people he hired at his company should only spend their time getting paid to do things that fulfilled them, and that both he and the staff were therefore on a common journey together. Happy staff (or co-travellers) are more productive and therefore the company is more profitable, and Strelecky even provides some equations to prove it, but based on some pretty big assumptions.
The centrepiece of the book is the ‘big five for life’ – the main things you want to achieve within your alloted 28,200 days. But having goals and building a plan to achieve them is central to management itself, it is not exactly a closely guarded secret.
And while it might make for a productive personal philosophy, there’s little in the book about actual leadership – most of it boils down to simply being nice to people and there’s many accomplished leaders that would disagree with that.
The trouble with this book, quite simply, is that John Strelecky is not a leader himself, but an author of personal enhancement books – more of a life coach than a leader – and that is reflected in the simplistic stories he tells.
So why should anyone spend the time reading what he has to say? It is not as if it is researched with help from well-known, successful leaders or even endorsed by one –unless you are familiar with Dr Matthew Norton of the
Fans of Strelecky will no doubt be satisfied, but those seeking elusive insights into leadership and how to improve their own leadership techniques will be disappointed.
Reviewed by Graeme Burton.