The Only Business Book
You'll Ever Need to Read: The Wisdom of Robert Townsend
The tidal wave of books in the business and management genre that was set in motion with the publication of Peters and Waterman's In Search Of Excellence a little over 20 years ago shows no sign of ebbing. Major bookstores now devote almost as many shelves to business books as they do for cookbooks and books on spirituality, the "how to" favorites of our time.
The sheer number of titles and topics that show up in the business section must be very daunting to CEOs, senior managers, and other leaders. Along with two excellent writers I produce book reviews for TRAINING Magazine each month, to help readers sort through the morass. My colleagues and I have come to realize that even on the topic of training and development there are more books available than there is time to read them.
I have a short answer to this question of which book to read above all others. There is a voice in the wind that stills the hubbub and contains all the wisdom a business leader will ever need, printed in one brief (257 pages), easy-to-digest (the longest section is 3 pages), and inexpensive ($7.95) paperback book. It is Up the Organization: How Groups of People Ought to Conduct Themselves for Fun and Profit by Robert Townsend, the man who turned Avis into a tiger in the 1960's.
Townsend said he wrote the book in the late 1960s "when I realized how friends in one small company were being diverted by the glitter and useless trappings of monster companies." To help start a counter movement he copied drafts of the book and "left one on each desk before anyone got to work" at Avis.
In Townsend's world, the good and bad start at the top. Leaders, he says, should "carry water for their people, protect them from distraction, and appeal to the best in every employee. They should be visible to the troops." Non-leaders, on the other hand "cover their asses, are hard to reach, turn defensive when troubles begin, but certainly take credit when things are going well."
Townsend on the challenges that outsiders face when working with your own firm: "Try calling yourself up to see what indignities you have built into your own defenses." On making decisions: "All decisions need to be made as "low" as possible in the company. The charge of the Light Brigade was ordered by an officer who wasn't there looking at the territory."
On job descriptions: "To be satisfying a job should have variety, wholeness, autonomy, and feedback. In other words, no job description." On corporate-level departments such as marketing, HR, and PR; "Simply tell them that you respect what they do but it has no place in the company. Instead of HR, hire a person whose job it is to make sure you have the best people working for you and not your competitors."
I read this book every year. Townsend's ideas live onward, among those lucky enough to have found them. In my mind no individual has contributed as much to the world of business, yet his name rarely comes up in conversation. The least you can do is read the book. Better yet, pull a "Townsend" and buy enough copies to put on the desks of your colleagues before they come to work some morning. They will thank you forever.
Skip Corsini represents Dale Carnegie Training in the San Francisco Bay Area. He has a 29-year career in sales, marketing, advocacy, public relations, education and corporate training and development. He is a freelance writer in addition to his real job. In his spare time he bakes 30-minute brownies in just 20 minutes. You may contact Skip at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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