Saturday, January 9, 2010

Caveat Lectores on The Art of War

Today’s Rant is about literacy or lack of it. I am not going to rant about how illiterate union leaders are because they are not. Many do, however, lack certain training and education from academic sources for all kinds of reasons.

Forget the reason and just take the time to educate yourself to the levels that your management competitors have frequently achieved.

The first on my list of reading material is The Art of War a Chinese military treatise written by Sun Tzu in the 6th century BC. It is one of the oldest and most revered books on military strategy. It has had an influence on Eastern and Western military thinking and business tactics. It should be part of labor union strategy as well. Sun Tzu suggested the importance of positioning in strategy and that position is affected both by objective conditions in the physical environment and the subjective opinions of competitive actors in that environment. Different translations from the Ancient Chinese manuscripts make for interesting interpretations. There are 13 chapters in most versions that have remained relevant to this day and beyond. The Internet may be the easiest way to learn about The Art of War.

Reading and applying the writings of Sun Tzu is not easy but valuable to any strategist who wants to prevail over an opponent. Failing to heed the wisdom of the past can and often has lead to failure in the union movement.

There is a 1998 book called The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene and Joost Elffers. The book shares thematically with Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince and has been compared to The Art of War. While I find his revelations interesting, I do not agree with many of the suggested elements and tactics of maintaining power. Some of the suggestions from Greene are so compelling and familiar I want to believe I thought of them first, but we are all merely reporters and messengers from the great minds of the past. Nothing is new.

Some other must reads are mentioned below:

The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It, by Michael Gerber (1995). "Work on your business, not in it" may be the most oft-quoted piece of wisdom in the entrepreneurial vernacular. Gerber urges readers to develop systems that allow their companies to operate even without them. This is an unlikely book for me to suggest to union leadership, but I will do so anyway and allow the reader to learn from the principles and adapt to union leadership. It has great value.

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie is based on the core idea that people have a fundamental psychological need to feel important. This book details “three fundamental techniques for handling people, six ways to make people like you, twelve ways to win people to your way of thinking, and nine ways to change people without arousing resentment.” This is the everlasting book of the last century that will transcend the times to maintain relevance to any person who seeks to advance in the world of people.

Getting To Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In by Roger Fisher, William Ury, Bruce Patton is the quintessential resource for negotiators. Union and management negotiators should begin here and work up to the more specific resources, but this is the starting point for a successful negotiator.

When I ask my clients and other union leaders about having read these or other books valuable to the learning experience and success, I frequently hear that the leader is too busy. That is bull shit. If you do not have time to learn, you will find time to fail if you are not careful.

Of course, no list of essential books about public sector unions and organizational effectiveness would be complete without mentioning The Survivor’s Guide to a Successful Public Sector Union: Fire/Rescue Edition and its companion, Finding the Forest Without Any Trees by me.

No false modesty here. I just cannot say enough about how relevant these two books are to the problems and issues public sector union leadership face today. There is a money-back guarantee that has never been tested. The only buyer who ever sent a copy back was to have it autographed.

And oh Yes, have a nice day?

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