Up the Organization

I recently finished reading Up the Organization – How to stop the Corporation from Stifling People and Strangling Profits by Robert Townsend.

As the cover jacket best summarizes it: “No pomposities. In short takes and plain words here is a way to humanize business, to have fun while making it all work better than it ever worked before – and better than it ever worked before – and better than anyone else is making it work…The result is the best, strongest, funniest, sagest, most outrageous and constructive book ever written about running things.” Robert shares with us his thoughts on a wide variety of management and leadership topics based on over 16 years of experience in the Corporate world, including Avis and American Express, to name a few.

What sets this book apart is the breadth of topics covered, as well as the presentation in the form of short, simple, and direct mini-essays.

Below are some key excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:

1- “By far the best two books I’ve read on the subject of getting things done through organizations are: Managing for Results, by Peter F. Drucker…and The Human Side of Enterprise by Douglas McGregor…”

2- “Compromise is usually a bad idea. It should be a last resort…When you give in, give in all the way. And when you win, try to win all the way so the responsibility to make it work rests squarely on you.”

3- “Delegation of Authority – May give lip service, but few deleate authority in important matters. An that means all they delegate is dog-work. A real leader does as much dog-work for his people as he can: he can do it, or see a way to do without it, ten times as fast. And he delegates as many important matters as he can because that creates a climate in which people grow.”

4- “A commander in chief [manager] cannot take as an excuse for his mistakes in warfare [business] an order given his minister [boss] or his sovereign [boss’s boss], when the person giving the order is absent from the field of operations and is imperfectly aware or wholly unaware of the latest state of affairs. It follows that any commander in chief [manager] who undertakes to carry out a plan which he considers defective is at fault; he must put forward his reasons, insist on the plan being changed, and finally tender his resignation rather than be the instrument of his army’s [organization’s] downfall. – Napoleon”

5- ” As for the best leaders, the people do not notice their existence. The next best, the people honor and praise. The next, the people fear; and the next the people hate…When the best leader’s work is done the people say “We did it ourselves!” – Lao-tzu”.

6- “Get to know your people. What they do well, what they enjoy doing, what their weaknesses and strengths are, and what they want and need to get from their job. And then try to create an organization around your people, not jam your people into those organization-chart rectangles. The only excuse for organization is to maximize the chance that each one, working with others, will get for growth in his job, You can’t motivate people. That door is locked from the inside. You can create a climate in which most of your people will motivate themselves to help the company reach its objectives. Like it or not, the only practical act is to adopt Theory Y assumptions and get going.”

7- “Most managements complain about the lack of able people and go outside to fill key positions. Nonsense. Nobody inside an organization ever looked ready to move into a bigger job. I use the rule of 50 per cent. Try to find somebody inside the company with a record of success (in any area_ and with an appetite for the job. If he looks like 50 per cent of what you need, give him the job. In six months he’ll have grown the other 50 per cent and everybody will be satisfied.”

8- “Reorganizing – Should be undergone about as often as major surgery. And should be as well planned and as swiftly executed. “I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing; and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralization. – Petronius Arbiter.””

9- “Leadership Characteristic – available, inclusive, humorous, fair, decisive, humble, objective, tough, effective, patient.”


Omar Halabieh

Up the Organization

Up the Organization


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