Two Books for the Office Library

San Jose Business Journal


From time to time, publishers will send us a book to review.

Most end up on the shelf-unread. A few are worth grabbing from the pile, reading and writing about.

Here’s my look at two recent ones that crossed my desk.

– A Higher Standard of Leadership, Lessons form the Life of Ghandi. (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, $21.95).

Having witnessed the excess of the ’80’s in U.S. business, Ghandi authority Keshavan Nair thought that the spiritual leader might help return some measure of moral enlightenment to the workplace.

In this book, Mr. Nair extracts from Ghandi’s teachings those lessons applicable to today’s executives.

Ghandi, arguably the century’s greatest philosopher, was the epitome of principled leadership. He lived the life that he preached (a lifestyle that today’s TV evangelists would do well to emulate). And he worked ceaselessly to elevate the poorest of the poor.

But that was 50 years ago. What about today?

What’s lacking, says Mr. Nair, is direction. Managers operate in a spiritual vacuum, without moral considerations.

“Ghandi believed in a single standard of conduct in public and private life-a standard founded on integrity and derived from the absolute values of truth and nonviolence,” writes Mr. Nair. “Ghandi’s life was not governed by policies; it was governed by principles and values.”

Though most managers have been taught the dos and don’ts of ethical behavior, they often leave them behind between the time they leave their front door and arrive at the office.

Some recent books on management techniques have concentrated on ware themes, including “The Leadership Tactics of Attila the Hun” and “The Art of War,” based on the teachings of Chinese militarist Sun-Tzu. The fact that these books were popular said much about how we wanted the executive suite to behave.

Mr. Nair’s book is among the best-selling business books in other regions of the nation, indicating that perhaps sentiment may be changing. War is out; enlightenment is in.

We appear to be moving toward a softer management style. Mr. Nair hopes his book will help speed the process.

Silicon Valley managers have developed a reputation for openness to new ideas, including different viewpoints. But in their pursuit of earthly rewards, Mr. Nair writes, managers should consider the moral consequences.

Ghandi always did.

– The New City-State, Change and Renewal in America’s Cities. (Roberts Reinhart, $24.95).

Author Tom McEnery comes from what I might call the San Jose school of politics.

Its graduates are liberal in the Democratic mode, but pragmatic enough to get things done, quietly and efficiently. Their efficaciousness is running a municipal government would be the envy of Newt Gingrich. They know how to get things done, in a clean, uncorrupt manner.

Constantly in the shadow of their more glamorous cousin to the north, they have transformed San Jose from a nondescript California metropolis into the nation’s 11th-largest city, a model for other cities.

Tom McEnery, of course, was a driving force behind this transformation. A fourth-generation San Josean, Mr. McEnery was given the sobriquet “the youngest big-city mayor in the country.”

Mr. McEnery served from 1983 to 1990. Having remade the central business district in his image, he has retreated to the back office of San Jose Sharks organization, where he serves as vice chairman and where he wrote this book.

This is a behind-the-scenes look at his tenure in office, as well as philosophic ramblings about the state of the big city today. Sprinkled about are anecdotes from his meetings with the rich and the famous, from Clint Eastwood to Washington, D.C. Mayor Marion Barry.

Mr. McEnery would have us think that he is the dean of retired mayors, given his successful run in San Jose.

The problem is that he did not face the challenges confronted by other big-city mayors, such as William Donald Schafer of Baltimore and David Dinkins of New York City.

San Jose is an anomaly. It comes close to no other U.S. city in terms of social or economic problems (thank goodness), or achievements.

It has the lowest crime rate of all big cities in the country, an incredible accomplishment considering that San Jose has such an ethnically diverse and culturally rich population.

Citizens meld without the exacerbations found in other cities.

Nonetheless, his dubious claim to fame notwithstanding, this is a compelling book that any McEnery fan, and there are legions in this region, will want to read.

As an aside, McEnery comes up with a great potshot at fellow party-member Willie Brown, who last week wrested back his authority as Assembly speaker for another two years. “While he is glib and charismatic, the Democratic Party owes Speaker Brown as much as the Donner party owed it scout.”

I couldn’t agree more.

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