Reflecting on Business with Robert Morris

Dear readers, this is the second of a series of guest posts with folks I’ve gotten to know online, and for whom I have the greatest respect.

Bob Morris and I ‘met’ about five year ago when he wrote a wonderfully clear and supportive review of my first book.  Bob is by far the most prolific and most insightful business book reviewer I know, and I’ve come to look forward to and set great store by his perspective. I think you’ll enjoy hearing what he has to say:


Q: I’ve really been enjoying your daily blog “Blogging about Business”: http://bobmorris.biz/.  It’s quite a commitment on your part!  What made you decide to do it?

A: During the past decade, I have reviewed more than 2,300 business books for various Amazon websites, interviewed more than 125 thought leaders, and posted at least 500 commentaries at others’ blogs. I wanted to establish a “home” for all that material as well as new material I continue to add. Also, for the first time, readers can click on individual categories: Book Reviews, Interviews, Profiles, and Commentaries.

Q: Why do you prefer to review business books?

A: Probably because I am comfortable discussing the material they provide.  That is not true of fiction, especially of poetry. I read very little contemporary fiction, preferring the so-called “Great Books.” I enjoyed studying them in college and graduate school, and discussing them with professors and classmates. But I have no interest in reviewing Hamlet, although I would love to interview its author!

Oddly enough, I am very comfortable reviewing films, perhaps because I think films are especially effective when dramatizing important business lessons. On leadership, for example: Twelve O’clock High, 12 Angry Men, and To Kill a Mockingbird. Or how about teamwork? I’d suggest The Sting, The Great Escape, and Remember the Titans.

I am especially interested in reading and then reviewing several books that discuss the same general subject such as performance measurement or organizational transformation, but view it from significantly different perspectives.

Q: You shared with me that there was a turning point years ago that set you on your present career course.  What was it?

A: At age ten, I made four decisions: To become an Episcopalian, to become financially independent while being raised by a single-parent mother, to attend the Art Institute of Chicago, and to become the first of my family (either side) to earn a high school diploma. I achieved all four — by becoming a member of St. Margaret’s Episcopal parish; obtaining various jobs (delivering newspapers, caddying, setting bowling pins, working at a paper stand, stocking grocery shelves, etc.);  winning scholarships to the Art Institute; earning a high school diploma; and then – with full scholarships — adding an undergraduate and then a graduate degree.

Since earning an M.A. in comparative literature from Yale, my career path has wandered a bit; I guess the only constants have been an insatiable curiosity, an obsession with learning, and a passion to share what I’ve learned with others, hoping to enrich their lives at least as much as they assuredly enrich mine. I still don’t understand why I made those four decisions at such a young age but am glad I did.

Q: What changes in business have you seen over the past 10 or 15 years that you think are the most positive or exciting?

A: There have been so many; here are three. First, the WorldWideWeb. Thanks to Tim Berners-Lee’s original vision about 20 years ago, we can connect almost immediately with almost anyone else in the world or with almost any source of information. Next, the development of electronic devices that can accommodate almost all www communication applications, but can also produce, duplicate and distribute documents.

Finally, I think there have been some very important changes in how supervisors view and – more to the point – treat those entrusted to their care. The command-and-control leadership style was run off years ago but only recently have executives – in significant numbers — begun to embrace Robert Greenleaf’s concept of the servant leader and I credit Daniel Goleman and his research on emotional intelligence for helping to make that happen.  I am encouraged by the fact that more executives than ever before consider it a privilege to be entrusted with supervisory responsibilities.

As you correctly suggest in your brilliant book, Growing Great Employees, all great leaders have a “green thumb.” It is no coincidence that most of the companies annually ranked as “most highly-regarded” and “best to work for” are also annually ranked among those that are most profitable and have the greatest cap value in their respective industries. They really do resemble a well-tended garden in which healthy growth is carefully nourished…and sustainable.

Q: As you look ahead, what do you believe is the biggest challenge that C-level executives will face, and how should they address it?

A: In my opinion, the biggest challenge will be to coordinate communication, cooperation, and (especially) collaboration among members of a diverse and de-centralized workforce.

If asked for advice about how to do that, here’s what I would recommend:

• Determine the nature and extent of the challenge for the organization and its leaders

• Focus on what must be done to respond effectively to it

• Make sure everyone understands the ultimate objective and how they can help achieve it

• Provide brief, specific progress updates (at least weekly) from CEO

• Establish a secure online information center that offers answers to questions, solutions to problems, access to resources, etc.

In addition to Growing Great Employees, here are two other sources I highly recommend to C-level executives:

Enterprise Architecture As Strategy: Creating a Foundation for Business Execution
Jeanne W. Ross, Peter Weill, and David Robertson

Transforming Performance Measurement: Rethinking the Way We Measure and Drive Organizational Success


About Erika Andersen

Over the past 30 years, Erika has developed a reputation for creating approaches to learning and business-building that are custom tailored to her clients’ challenges, goals, and culture.

Visit Erika's Forbes.com Blog

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