Memos to the President: Management Advice from the Nation's Top CEOs.

Author:Schiro, James J.

IN THEORY, this book could not be more timely. For the first time, our government is led by an MBA, presiding over a cabinet populated by former corporate CEOs. It's the perfect time to ask the question: Can CEOs of major companies offer relevant advice that might actually help the new President lead the country more effectively?

Back in 1999, James Schiro, the CEO of PricewaterhouseCoopers, launched this project by asking CEOs to write a memo to the new President of the United States. Obviously, at that point, it was not at all clear who that person would be, so the emphasis was on the potential lessons of leadership.

The fundamental premise of the book is stated as follows: "The management challenges facing government, business, and the nonprofit sectors today are more similar than they are different." In the introduction, Schiro notes that "we wrote to CEOs all over the country, and in many fields.... We let them determine which management issues would be most important for the President-elect of the United States to consider."

The result is a collection of 23 memos. (As to whether these are really "the nation's leading CEOs," we will leave that up to the reader to assess.) The memos are grouped into sections, based on the major theme of each one -- the sections being creating vision, managing change, leading people, and leveraging technology.

The good news is that the CEOs stay within the boundaries of their own experience as they articulate their approach to leadership and organization. Some of the pieces are quite thoughtful, while others sound like the standard socially acceptable material that speechwriters for CEOs tend to churn out. The memos are full of good, but not tremendously new, advice. The President is urged to have a vision, select good people, empower your people, etc.

This good news is also the bad news, since their comments, by and large, have little bearing on how a U.S. President would approach his job. In fact, many of the memos appear to be material that has already been written, with something tacked on at the beginning and end of the memo in an attempt to make the advice relevant to the Presidency. In some cases, even that gesture is not made, so the memo completely ignores the specific issue of leadership in the world's most important public sector institution.

There are a few exceptions that are worth noting. Leonard Schaeffer, of Well-Point Health Networks Inc...

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