What are the odds of a 33-year-old self-avowed graduate from Springsteen U turning around the sales performance of a Xerox district office so spectacularly that it makes national headlines?
Probably about as likely as Ed McMahon showing up on your doorstep with that sweepstakes check in hand. Nonetheless, Frank Pacetta's story (told with Roger Gittines) is true . . . and he tells it succinctly in Don't Fire Them, Fire Them Up: A Maverick's Guide to Motivating Yourself and Your Team (Simon & Schuster, $23 cloth).
"If I had been my boss, I would have fired me at several points along the way," confesses Pacetta. "Fortunately, I hung on and matured."
Pacetta matured enough to guide Xerox's Cleveland sales office to a first-place regional finish within a year. Considering the office was nearly dead last when Pacetta took the helm, that's no small achievement.
"Leadership starts and ends with people," says Pacetta, who emphasizes the importance of getting the highest-caliber performance possible from employees. His management tips run the gamut from practicing what you preach (walk the talk, as he puts it) to backing up your people. But it all centers around one crucial, unequivocal element: respect.
"What you need--and I don't care where it comes from--is respect for people," urges Pacetta. "If it's not there . . . forget management."
Entrepreneurs looking to improve their management skills will learn from and enjoy Pacetta's words of wisdom. You're duly warned, however, that the author doesn't take you on a free ride. "Dip into these pages," writes Pacetta, "find something that makes sense, and . . . go do it! Don't expect me to do all the work."
And you thought reading was supposed to be relaxing?
Scuttle Your Ships Before Advancing
It was Kierkegaard who said, "Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards." It was a skeptical entrepreneur who said, "Spare me the philosophical quotes that have nothing to do with running a business."
Skeptics, be warned: If you bypass Scuttle Your Ships Before Advancing . . . And Other Lessons From History on Leadership and Change for Today's Managers (Oxford University Press, $19.95 cloth), you're missing out on an opportunity to learn from the mistakes--and achievements--of some of history's most prominent figures.
Yes, it may sound like a bit of a stretch to proffer France's Louis XI (the so-called "Spider King") as a role model for today's business underdogs. However, in author Richard Luecke's capable hands, the lines of comparison are clearly--and believably--drawn.
"We cannot help but improve our understanding and performance by being perceptive observers of others," Luecke writes.
In one of the book's best chapters, Luecke discusses what small-business owners can learn from 16th-century adventurer Hernán Cortés. Cortés, who risked everything in pursuit of the Aztec empire, embodied many essential traits found in modern-day entrepreneurs: a strong drive to succeed, problem-solving skills, and unwavering commitment. Against Cortés, the Aztec empire went down in defeat.
Thomas Hutchinson, the last civilian governor of
Massachusetts Bay Colony, was defeated as well. His misreading of the American revolution is a classic example of someone who refused to change with the times. "His misfortune was to not have been born 20 years earlier," Luecke writes. "Which of us has not known such a person--as CEO or political chief?"
There are limits to what you can learn from history, as Luecke acknowledges. But those who are familiar with the past are often the ones who profit the most from the present.
Oxford University Press Inc., 200 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10016, (212) 679-7300
Simon & Schuster, 1230 Ave. of the Americas, New York, NY 10020, (800) 223-2348.