In his book, The Hard Thing about Hard Things, Ben Horowitz distinguishes between the challenges of a “peacetime” CEO and a “wartime” CEO. Abraham Lincoln knew as much about crisis leadership as anyone. He summed it up this way.
The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise — with the occasion.
This is one of those times “piled high with difficulty.” Art and I hope you use some of the resources we discuss in this podcast.
Show Highlights and Book Links:
Art and Wally share the view that the best books on crisis leadership don’t typically show up in the business category. We both focused primarily on books from history. (1:20)
Art highlights his one business book selection: Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life Without Losing Its Soul by Howard Schultz. I was drawn to the hard decisions and the way Schultz stuck to his principles. (3:03)
Wally offers his views on how to look at crisis management and leadership. (4:05)
Wally’s first selection: Leadership in Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin. You don’t come prepared to deal with a crisis, it comes out of your experiences. I have a qualified recommendation for this selection. (5:27)
Art offers his own selection from the work of Doris Kearns Goodwin: No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II. This book gives you an intimate look at daily life in the White House during World War II. (8:50) And, Wally quizzes Art on the business take-aways. The courage it took Roosevelt to make some of those early decisions to support Churchill when they were crossing the legal gray-zone.
Wally offers high-praise for the book and lessons found in The Art of Action by Steven Bungay. It’s one of the books I recommend to people and many have not heard of it. It’s a good, deep book with lessons you can use for preparing to lead in a crisis. (12:01)
Art introduces his first selection in a series of books where the focus is on resilience: The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksander Solzhenitsyn. (14:43) Note: you may have to be creative to find this one (or the series that make it up). I read this via my local library.
Art suggests Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl and Wally shares his well-developed perspective on this classic. Wally: you need some extra reading time because you will repeatedly put the book down and stare into the distance and, I was absolutely unprepared for what Frankl did to me in the book. (15:55)
Art’s third choice is: Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption, by Laura Hillenbrand. (18:40)
Wally’s theme for his book selections on crisis leadership is the theme of preparation and resilience. (20:15)
One of Wally’s favorites, Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for Decision-Makers by Richard E. Neustadt and Ernest R. May. I picked this because I was looking for something operational. It’s a great book about decision-making in crisis. (21:25)
Art’s last selection is a recent book by Erik Larson: The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz. (23:25)
Art and Wally discuss why we don’t tend toward the business category when looking for books about leading in crisis. (26:15)
Wally caps us off with a great story about an author he knew who had spent time in Hitler’s camps, (Hanns Lilje) and a piece of wisdom he had received from this author: “When they knock on your door, it’s too late to prepare.”