Editor’s note: Jonathon Flaum is co-author with Sander Flaum of The 100 Mile Walk: A Father and Son on a Quest to Find the Essence of Leadership published by Amacom and available January 2006 with a foreword by Senator and astronaut, John Glenn. Jonathon Flaum, whose firm WriteMind Communications is based in Asheville, will be the keynote speaker at the Blue Ridge Entrepreneurial Council Meeting on Jan. 17.
_______________________________________________________________________________________My Dad, Sander, spent his career in corporate life. Before starting his own consulting firm two years ago he spent the past 15 years as a CEO of a publicly held company. I, on the other hand, thought business was the last place I wanted to be. I make my home in Asheville, NC for obvious reasons and worked briefly here as a visiting professor of communication/theatre and did a stint as a social worker. I was content in that world. But as soon as you get comfortable, life throws you a curve.
Economics, all at once, became a dominant determinant in what I could do. I responded by using my background in philosophy and communication to make a go of it as a corporate speechwriter, communication coach, and ghostwriter. I was successful at incorporating my values into places in business that I never before imagined I would be so welcomed. In short order it became clear that folks in the heart of Corporate America valued my creative input and didn’t care less that I lived in Asheville and rather spend a day hiking than on the golf course. If anything, they found it that much easier to open up to me about what they valued and how those values related to their business strategy.
Understanding Corporate Life
A wonderful side effect of my journey into business was that it brought me to a place of understanding about my father’s corporate life. Dad and I all of a sudden found that we had a lot to discuss. I shared with him some of the more introspective work I was witnessing corporate leaders do and Dad shared with me the complications this introspection comes up against in the face of pressure from quarter to quarter earnings.
As we both watched the corporate accountability crisis unfold these last few years we realized that our personal conversations had some relevance. Our questions about leadership centered on how leaders can both live their values and make a reasonable profit. Our dialogue developed and we soon included Dad’s night work where he serves as Chairman for the Fordham Leadership Forum at the Fordham Graduate School of Business in New York City. Through the Forum, different high profile leaders come to address MBA students on the topic of leadership: These leaders range from Tom Von Essen, NYC fire commissioner during 9/11, Christine Poon, Vice Chairman of Johnson & Johnson, and Bill Toppetta, Chief Global Executive for MetLife and many more.
Walking and Sharing
After analyzing five years of Forum leadership guests from our divergent perspectives Dad thought we should write about what we learned. I agreed, but I added a condition. I didn’t think we could get to the heart of it through email or in an office space. To me, the best way to decide what you really feel about a subject is to walk on it. I proposed to Dad that we walk 100 miles together and digest all the material and try to get to the essence of what we thought was important about contemporary leadership.
We learned an incredible amount about each other personally and professionally while we boiled down what qualities we thought it necessary for leaders to have today. Though we agreed in principle we didn’t always agree in practice and we reflect that debate in the book. For example, Dad has always felt that paranoia was a crucial habit for a leader to cultivate — paranoid about how a competitor might be trying to steal your best people, products, and ideas. I agreed with Dad that awareness is important to success but I thought straight on paranoia can be detrimental to one’s personal life which I put above anything that can be gained from business life.
Our work reflects our personal predilections and our generational ones. We wanted to use our individual differences to help highlight the universal problem of different generations and personality types communicating effectively and respectfully in the workplace. Dad and I realized, after a long stalemate, just how much we needed to hear each other’s point of view. Our hope is that our readers take our cue and realize that to lead well nobody in the workplace of any age, viewpoint, or personality can be left out. All voices are essential.
Jonathon Flaum is co-author with Sander Flaum of The 100 Mile Walk: A Father and Son on a Quest to Find the Essence of Leadership published by Amacom and available January 2006 with a foreword by Senator and astronaut, John Glenn. Jonathon Flaum will be the keynote speaker at the Blue Ridge Entrepreneurial Council Meeting on January 17, 2006. Jonathon and Sander will also be at Malaprops on Thursday February 9, 2006 at 7 pm to do a reading and discussion of the book.
Sander Flaum is CEO of Flaum Partners, which he formed in 2004. Sander also serves as Adjunct Professor of Management at the Fordham Graduate School of Business where he chairs the Fordham Leadership Forum. Former Chairman and CEO of Robert A. Becker, Euro RSCG and Chairman of Euro RSCG Life.
For more about the Flaum’s book, see: www.100milewalk.com/content.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=26&Itemid=95