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 Book Reviews

Matsushita Leadership

by John P. Kotter

If you had to choose a single model for entrepreneurial success, you would be hard-pressed to find one better than Konosuke Matsushita. In 1917, Matsushita founded the Japanese conglomerate that bears his name with 100 yen. In 1996, the company's annual revenues approached $75 billion.

 It's tough to pull broadly applicable lessons from the life story of an individual and, for the most part, Kotter resists the temptation. He does, however, return again and again to several themes. He finds several traits of Matsushita that are worth emulating: the business giant's commitment to lifelong learning; his adoption of big, idealistic goals; and his ability to turn setbacks into opportunities.

       The fact that Kotter also serves as the Konosuke Matsushita Professor of Leadership at Harvard introduces the possibility of bias in the book. But the presentation appears fairly well-balanced, and Kotter explores Matsushita's flaws, both in a personal and business sense.

The description of the entrepreneur's individual role and his company's role in World War II, however, seems sketchy at best. Kotter deals with that difficult and sensitive era in a short chapter and manages to leave the impression that Matsushita never fully supported nor profited from the war.

     Minor reservations aside, Matsushita Leadership (Free Press, $25) provides an interesting counterpoint to the business biographies usually published in this country. The success stories of contemporary American businesspeople don't seem very impressive when measured against the longevity and financial magnitude of this Japanese businessman.


Protect Your Achilles Heel

by Wess Roberts, Ph.D.

New leadership methodologies regularly appear. Some gain widespread support and, after a decent interval, usually fall from favor. Yet it seems that there should be some lessons for managers that are forever relevant. Wess Roberts' Protect Your Achilles Heel and his previous Attila the Hun books cleverly tap into that hope by using historical figures to illustrate his ideas.

As should be obvious from the title, Roberts uses Achilles as his role model. The flaws in the Greek demigod's character, which are numerous, serve as a counterpoint to Roberts' positive leadership traits -- "The Nine Shields of Immortality." The shields are commitment, selflessness, cooperation, integrity, rigor, flexibility, honesty, respect and humility.

In a one-trait-per-chapter format, Roberts recounts portions of Achilles' story. He then offers a modern story to make sure the reader can relate it to today's business environment. Finally, he creates a shield against the flaw in the form of a positive leadership trait aimed at protecting the reader from a fate like Achilles'.

Protect Your Achilles Heel (Andrews and McMeel, $19.95) is an easy, enjoyable read, and few would argue with Roberts' proposed leadership traits. However, the uniqueness of this book lies in the medium, not the message.


Five-Star Leadership

by Patrick Townsend and Joan Gebhardt

(John Wiley & Sons, 254 pages, $24.95)

In the midst of the current military scandals, this book declares that "the clearest, most concise, most humanitarian expressions of leadership theory were put forth by the United States military." The authors survey the leadership literature from all branches of the service.

Do It Right the Second Time

by Peter Merrill

(Productivity Press, 268 pages, $27)

Successful adoption of total quality as a management system requires fundamental changes in the way most companies operate. Merrill uses a two-pronged change model: one aimed at "hard" process issues, the other at "soft" people issues.

Optimizing Quality in
Electronics Assembly

by James Smith and Frank Whitehall

(McGraw-Hill, 502 pages, $45)

This encyclopedia-length grab bag spends much time criticizing the conventions, gurus and techniques of the quality movement. Quality in electronics assembly is discussed in a few chapters on topics such as soldering, test and design for dependability.

Fat Free Meetings

by Burt Albert

(Pacesetter, 205 pages, $16.95)

This humorous, practical look at getting the most from meetings contains the basics and a few more advanced ideas. The sometimes overly clever presentation, including chapter headings such as "Schizophrenic Cabbage?" occasionally proves a barrier to the presentation.

The 8 Practices of Exceptional Companies

by Jac Fitz-Enz

(AMACOM Books, 246 pages, $24.95)

The top performing 10 percent of 1,000 surveyed companies provide the basis for this inquiry into world-class organizations. These eight practices focus entirely on human resource management in the areas of acquisition, maintenance, development and direction.

The Winning Manager

by Julius Eitington

(Gulf, 662 pages, $49.95)

This oversized workbook offers a huge number of tools and techniques, drawn from a wide variety of sources, to managers who want to improve their skills. The manual includes chapters on delegation, diversity management, change, motivation, teamwork and problem solving.


Team Member's Survival Guide

by Jill A. George and Jeanne M. Wilson

Lack of training is nearly always identified as a major barrier to successfully establishing a team-based structure. This self-study handbook is aimed squarely at overcoming that barrier by educating employees about their new roles and the team implementation process.

The oversized paperback divides team implementations into a three-part framework: preteam, new team and mature team activities. Preteam activities describe the larger organizational rationale for teams and establish the vision, mission and strategy. New team activities are divided into two sections, based on the initial formative issues and team-maintenance issues. Mature team activities address the team's continued vitality and the shift of focus from developing the team itself to the organization's greater needs.

The three phases (four, really, since the new team phase is divided into two sections) are discussed in a monthly progression. The authors use a two-year format that assigns six months for preteam activities, 13 months for new team development and five months for mature team activities.

Each new month introduces new concepts to the reader. The concepts are described at a level most employees should be able to understand and are reinforced with one or more exercises and assessments. The presentation utilizes plenty of illustrations and well-planned white space to maintain the reader's interest.

Team Member's Survival Guide (DDI Press, $29.95) is a creative look at the role and responsibilities of employees participating in work teams of all kinds. It is integrated for use with DDI's previously published Team Leader's Survival Guide


Software Excellence

Edited by Shigeichi Moriguchi

The popular perception of software creation usually includes eccentric, disheveled programmers banging away at their keyboards while chugging cola and wolfing pizza. Software Excellence, a massive look at the application of total quality management to software development, goes a long way toward eliminating that perception by describing a rational, high-quality development process.

Although quality in software, according to the Japanese author team, depends on many of the same factors as other products, it is also unlike other products in that the design process is the essence of software production, and this process is usually conducted by small teams of programmers. As you might expect from a Japanese book on quality, these small teams are a primary force in software quality control activities.

The book is organized into a series of long chapters devoted to important issues in software quality. These include reliability, modularization, documentation, software engineering techniques, the application of quality function deployment in software development, measurement, and test and audit. As in many team-written books, these issues are not well-connected, so reading the book in a linear fashion is difficult.    

It is also difficult to evaluate the overall value of Software Excellence (Productivity Press, $90). The information on TQM is certainly pertinent, but two primary concerns remain. First, are the primary development issues of 1990 still relevant in the fast-changing world of software? Second, given this country's leadership position in software development skills, are the Japanese even the best source for information regarding software quality?


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