Q: Why did you write this book?
A: I wrote it to make the business case for a manager’s humanity. We lose that and everyone’s in a whole lot of trouble. We save that—manager by manager and company by company—and we’ve saved ourselves.
In case the icy hand of altruism hasn’t gripped the enterprise by the throat, I also wrote it to help any organization achieve emotional commitment from its managers, which is worth more than their financial, intellectual and physical commitment combined.
Q: What can a company expect by giving this book to its managers?
A: It can expect its managers to offer emotional commitment to the enterprise—unchecked and unhesitating support for the company and its success. It can expect managers to demand more personal fulfillment from their jobs but not necessarily more of their company. Large companies have already begun to buy this book for all their managers and for their B2B customers too—as a gift to help their success. I love that.
Q: What can a manager expect from reading this book?
A: Expect to sharpen every management skill you have that involves achieving results through others. Even more important, expect to learn how to turn your job into a mechanism for fulfilling your deepest personal values. If you’re dissatisfied with your life as a manager, this book is going to make you satisfied. If you’re pretty satisfied, this book is going to make you more satisfied. If you’re completely satisfied that’s good. A rich fantasy life is important to overall mental health.
Q: You call this book “rock and roll for managers.” What does that mean?
A: I don’t mean it personally as some sort of rock star poseur. Here’s the thing: Managers have their own culture; they just don’t realize it. Every culture has its own language and music is a significant part of it. Rock and roll is an example of the language of a culture—an expression of the exhilarations and terrors of first freedoms. It defines the culture’s concerns, demands and desires. It declares the culture’s insistence on being respected for its uniqueness. It clarifies who belongs to the culture and, just as important, who doesn’t.
Managers may have their own culture but metaphorically they don’t have their own music. I want this book to be rock and roll for managers.
I want to help managers celebrate the special experience of being a manager and remind them that managers can change the world—one person influencing one group at a time. Back in the day, Tom Peters made business sexy to business. I want to make managing sexy to managers. I want my readers to find the fire down below, pump up the volume, take it to the streets, kick out the jams and tear the roof off the sucker.
Q: What kind of research did you do?
A: Plenty, for years, with a total of 23 researchers that included, at one time or another, Pulitzer-winning investigative journalists, experts in leadership and a specialist in neurobiology. There’s a great company called Research for Writers that does a lot of deep historical and technical research for bestselling novelists. It’s basically one amazing cat named Dan Starer and I hired him full time for a while.
All good and necessary but the research that matters the most was done live, in front of tens of thousands of managers in companies around the world for over a decade. These were the Bury My Heart at Conference Room B sessions that are intense and revealing. I watched as managers came to terms with concepts, arguments and the potential of the concepts. I beta tested every key point over and over with managers from C-level to entry level.
Q: You must have a lot more stories than you put into the book.
A: Tons. Literally thousands and thousands. And they are stunning—profound and poignant. It drove me nuts figuring out which ones to include. I could have released a couple more volumes filled with them.
Q: And you put your own story in…
A: Yeah. Put it in. Took it out. Put it in. I’m a private person and this was going into print, worldwide. It’s not that I had a “better” story than others but I figured if I was advocating that you go public with your own I had better step up myself.
Q: I read that this book took eight years to write. Why so long?
A: I needed to make a compelling case about a complex issue. There is a duality to the reader: They are both manager and management. As a manager, they’re concerned about themselves; as management they’re concerned about their company. There is constant tension between these two roles and to reach a reader both ways at the same time took awhile to figure out. There’s a lot of process in this book—diagnostics and examples—but the why has to be written well before the how is done for the right reasons. I didn’t write it just to explain; I wrote this book to persuade and there’s a lot more required to do that.
Before I started writing the book I read every article I could find about highly productive writers – the Stephen Kings and such. They all said the same thing: No matter what, get into a pattern of writing and write every day. And here I am running a company, traveling hundreds of thousands of miles a year. I would write for a couple of days, get in the zone and not be able to write again for a month, then have to get back in the zone. One of the more amazing things about writing a book is that there is not necessarily any connection between hours input and pages output. Anyway I did a lot of writing in our offices, in my library at home, in hotel rooms around the world. In the time I spent waiting to get onto planes, waiting for planes to take off and waiting for planes to land I could have written War and Peace.
Q: What other versions are available?
A: There are consulting and training versions of the Bury My Heart at Conference Room B solution available through my company, done regularly for organizations throughout the world. And there’s the keynote speech, which is pretty popular. If you mean versions of the book, there are electronic versions and I just finished recording the audio book, which should be out a little past the release of the book itself. It meant being trapped in the recording studio with the sound of my own voice for days on end. I was in a hostage-taking mood by day four. I had to do it myself though. Like Cloris Leachman was going to read my book?
Q: You have a very strong point of view about leadership.
A: I have a very strong point of view about anything I have a point of view about. Bury My Heart at Conference Room B isn’t a book about leadership except as an organizing framework for understanding your own values and how to turn them into a compelling cause for others. But to use it at all I had to bust all the myths of leadership with a sledgehammer. Most of what is presented to managers in the enterprise about leadership is the corporate subversion of a beautiful concept. It has nothing at all to do with the real purpose and practice of leadership.
Q: Don’t you think the Notes section needs some sort of explanation?
A: Who ever reads a notes section? I wanted people to read it. I have a room filled with boxes of research done for this book and it’s great stuff. I also have a bunch of my own notebooks, where I excerpted pieces from it as I was constructing key equations. The notebooks contain my own tangents and connections between various facts and findings – your basic ramblings of an unhinged but purposeful mind. I figured some of those pages were more likely to be read by my equally unhinged but purposeful readers. My people – I love ya.
Q: What about your next book?
A: The next book? The NEXT BOOK? Give me one weekend off first, I beg of you.
Photography by Howard Rosenberg