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The Making of the Achiever: How to Win Distinction in Your Company

April 14, 1985|Jeff Riggenbach | Riggenbach is the daily economics commentator for CNN Radio. and

The Making of the Achiever: How to Win Distinction in Your Company

by Allan Cox (Dodd, Mead: $15.95; 257 pp.)

Anyone who comes to "The Making of the Achiever" expecting the sort of pep talk on the need for "direction" and "leadership" that characterizes so many books on business these days is likely to be brought up rather short. "I would like to suggest," Allan Cox writes, "that it is not 'leadership' we need . . . but achievement. " The "actual hero who is needed now more than ever in the service of the American corporation," he asserts, "is the achiever , and while he well may be charismatic, he more often is not; while she is undaunted, she does not necessarily call dramatic attention to herself."

Instead of trying to emulate "the likes of Napoleon Bonaparte, Winston Churchill or Franklin Roosevelt," the achiever tries instead to "get the job done in a caring, distinctive way."

And what way is that? "Executive achievers," Cox says, "are: (1) other-centered, (2) courageous, (3) judicious and (4) resourceful." Cox divides his book into four parts, one for each of the qualities listed above. Each of the four parts is divided into five chapters, each of which goes into detail on one of the four components. An other-centered executive, for example, is warm, sharing, encouraging, a good listener and a positive thinker. A courageous executive is discreet, experimental, bold, willing to risk being vulnerable and able to identify and act on his or her unique strengths. Each chapter begins with a short quiz to enable the reader to test his or her present performance, and ends with specific suggestions for implementing any needed improvements.

The majority of these suggestions may well strike many readers as instances of belaboring the obvious. Not all of them fit that description, certainly: It's not often that you read in a how-to book for business people about why reading novels can be beneficial to the success-hungry executive, or why executives interested in psychology will find more of value in Alfred Adler than they will in Sigmund Freud, or why business should place a higher value than it currently does on humanities and liberal arts graduates.

And even when Cox is belaboring the obvious, it's not at all clear that he should be faulted for doing so. As he points out in one particularly astute passage, "one of the big differences between the non-achiever and the achiever is that the latter has mastered the art of applying the obvious." He cites the testimony of his fellow management consultant, Claremont Prof. Peter Drucker, in support of his insight and concludes by saying that he used to spend a lot of time "wondering why doing the obvious is so difficult, and, therefore, relatively rare. The conclusion I've reached is that often the 'obvious' is not what it seems. As a result, it is misunderstood, and much executive action is misdirected."

Any executive who pays careful heed to the lessons in this provocative and stimulating little book will be unlikely to misdirect his or her energies. Allan Cox has given us one of the most valuable works of its kind to be published in many moons. And he has gone a long way toward proving that his conception of "achievement" is much closer to what the American economy now needs than the notions of "direction" and "leadership" being touted by such of his publishing rivals as Lee Iacocca and Harold Geneen.

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