"Om" In The Corner Office


Renewing Yourself and Connecting with Others

Through Mindfulness, Hope, and Compassion

By Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee

Harvard Business School Press; 286pp; $25.95

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Editor's Review

Star Rating

The Good How to heed those "wake-up calls" and be a more mindful and effective exec.

The Bad A touch of New Age rhetoric may grate on some readers.

The Bottom Line Profiles of leaders and drills for self-improvement make for worthwhile reading.

Reuters Group (RTRSY ) Chairman Niall FitzGerald recalls a period when he became consumed with guilt and self-pity. Then a senior executive at Unilever PLC, he had launched a laundry soap so abrasive that it sometimes left clothes in tatters. His marriage was in shreds, too, largely because of his neglect of his family.

Friends who had supported FitzGerald in good times simply stopped calling. Then came a series of wake-up calls, including an emotional plea from a friend who was dying, urging the executive to pull his life together. FitzGerald began making the personal changes that ultimately helped him get beyond the debacle and reawaken his own zest for accomplishment. Today, with a new job, he runs marathons, raises money for charity, and strives to be an empathic and courageous leader. He's even in a stronger marriage -- albeit with another woman. In short, he has achieved what authors Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee call "resonant leadership."

In their book of the same title, FitzGerald's story makes for one of the more compelling tales. Primal Leadership: Learning to Lead With Emotional Intelligence, the 2002 best-seller they wrote with Daniel Goleman, focused on the importance of the emotional aspects of leadership while showing readers how to be more engaged and effective at work. This one picks up where the last volume left off, reiterating the value of emotional intelligence.

What makes this account more than a simple clarion call for work-life balance are its fascinating if sometimes fawning profiles, as well as a simple framework for how to sustain inspired ways of working. Boyatzis and McKee look at how even great leaders can get trapped in what they call the "sacrifice syndrome" -- becoming "mindlessly focused on getting things done" as stress mounts. The result is often a descent into "dissonance," losing touch with customers, employees, and family or close friends. Sometimes, it takes several wake-up calls to get torpid executives to change their situations and recharge their morale. Those who succeed tend to cultivate what the authors cite, with a bow to Buddhist philosophy, as the three main elements of resonant leadership -- mindfulness (being in touch with your environment and yourself), hope, and compassion.

Group hugs all around, right? Some of the descriptions do veer a little close to New Age gobbledygook. But the stories keep the account rooted in reality. Besides FitzGerald, there's Roberto Nicastro of Italy's UniCredit Bancas, whose "ruffled hair, quick smile, and restless inclination to act make him appear to be in perpetual motion." Nicastro found that before he changed his ways, he was ruining his health and callously running over others. It's rare to hear executives so openly describe their emotions, and many readers will be touched.

Other examples are less interesting because they focus only on the positive. The authors laud Colleen Barrett, president of Southwest Airlines Co., (LUV ) for the positive climate she has helped to foster at that company. John Studzinski, a senior executive at HSBC PLC (HBC ), is so accomplished at high-level volunteer work that he earned accolades from Pope John Paul II. A South African headmistress named Mrs. Zikhali (for some reason, they neglect to provide her first name) is hailed for her drive and vision in building a rural school.

Resonant leaders, say the authors, tend to strike an emotional chord in their work. They rally the troops, project excitement, and pursue tasks with passion. But sometimes they veer off track, a result of anything from a career setback to classic burnout. The fortunate ones take the time to figure out what matters to them and get back to living the life they want to lead. The unlucky continue to lose focus. They may be oblivious to others or find themselves surrounded by staffers who feel out-of-step with management. They have few habits conducive to well-being at work.

There are many exercises to help readers get in touch with what matters. Some of the drills, like one in which you describe your desired legacy, seem elementary. Others, such as a quiz to help clarify your values, may prompt worthwhile reflection.

In these high-stress, multitasking times, a book on the perils of mindlessly giving too much to the job is likely to find fans. What you do outside the office is just as important. That's one reason corporations from General Electric Co. (GE ) on down have begun to put far more emphasis on social responsibility, saluting leaders who reach out to the communities in which they operate. Workaholics aren't just at risk for burnout. Increasingly, they're losing their places on the corporate ladder as well.

By Diane Brady

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