There are times when you go out with your friends to a restaurant, shuffle through the entire drinks menu and end up only ordering lemonade. Those are the days when you just want to take it easy. Well, the leadership genre of books has a rather thick menu and if you ever have a 'lemonade' moment, then this is the book for you!
This is an easy-breezy "leadership mantras" book with many quotable quotes, punchy lines, clever humour, easy prose and trippy tales from the shop floors. It's written by one of the most maverick business leaders of our times?and that's why, perhaps, you also feel cheated while reading it. Most mantras that Richard [Branson] shares are all common knowledge; have been dished out to us for decades, if not centuries, and have a certain deja vu about them. The man has started more than 400 companies, amassed billions and billions, created some iconic brands and all we get as a distil of that amazing journey is How to listen, learn, laugh and lead? That's cheating!
I picked this book with much hope considering Richard is a virtual epitome of the 'square peg in a round hole' business mind and a few of his business ventures have truly been path-breaking ideas. But I was a tad disappointed. For example, I was looking forward to tapping some wisdom from the section titled Just Start-up as he is as serial (and successful) an entrepreneur as you would get, and yet all I got there was a condensed dinner table conversation with some Silicon Valley honchos. Similarly, I turned the page for the chapter titled Hiring 'em and keeping 'em with great relish as employee engagement is an area of great personal interest to me, but unfortunately even though it had some well-meaning advice on holiday "no-policies", benefits of work-from-home models and no-BlackBerry-timeouts, it felt short of the expectation one would have from a man who is a pioneer of the "employee experience" business model.
What saves the day for the book are the applicable situations and real-life incidents Richard shares to prop his mantras. His use of employee case studies and business trajectories is interesting and educative.
When I embarked on the Employees First journey at HCL Technologies, I did not have the time to read leadership books as our company was struggling with a deep "relevance" crisis. But reading this book now made me wonder just how useful some of these stories would have been to recount them to our naysayers. I also saw the seeds of an interesting idea which I wish Richard could have beaded together in a more structured fashion. I liked the way this book dissolves the lines between home and office, family and colleagues, fun and work, offline and online world - an idea which could, perhaps, be the chromosome of our future workplace. The throbbing energy with which Richard brings this possibility to light is exciting for sure.
What the book lacks in the uniqueness of content/ideas, it makes up for with the sheer energy of the prose, an apt reflection of Richard's own 'Francium' (most active metal on earth) personality. It's only fair that the last page carries what sounds like a perfect ode to the author himself: "Life isn't a dress rehearsal; with so many fascinating people to meet, exciting adventures to embark upon and rewarding challenges to undertake, there's no time to lose." Clichés apart, that's one hell of a great manifesto to toast to? but only for your 'lemonade day'!
(Former CEO, HCL Technologies, & Founder, Sampark Foundation)