September 6, 2007

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Where Have All the Leaders Gone? by Lee Iacocca with Catherine Whitney, read by Lee Iacocca (unabridged audio, 2007, Simon & Schuster, 6.5 hours on 6 discs)
Reviewed by Lisa Parsons news@hippopress.com

Eighty-two-year-old Lee Iaccoca, famous for his stint as chairman of Chrysler, offers his “Nine Cs of Leadership” in Where Have All the Leaders Gone? and finds today’s leaders, both political and commercial, sorely lacking.

The Nine Cs according to Iaccoca are curiosity (“Am I hearing this right? He’s the President of the United States and he never reads a newspaper?”), creativity, communicating, character, courage (“I’m talking about balls. That even goes for female leaders. Swagger isn’t courage.”), conviction, charisma, competence, common sense, and crisis (“Leaders are made, not born.”).

Iaccoca himself was encouraged to run for president in the 1980s; he says he rejected the idea because he couldn’t stand being pushed around by focus groups and campaign handlers. “Let’s shake off the horseshit and go to work,” he urges, but apparently, by his own story, this is easier said than done.

And now, at 82, Iaccoca is past shaking anything. He’s just “trying to light a fire” with this book. Having met nine presidents in his lifetime and hobnobbed with many movers and shakers, he campaigned and voted for Bush in 2000 (not having met him) but “didn’t repeat the mistake” in ’04. He rails against the current administration’s penchant for secrecy and its my-way-or-the-highway stances: “It’s not a weakness to admit the other guy has a point once in a while.” He challenges readers/listeners to name five members of Bush’s cabinet; our inability to do so might only reflect our unfamiliarity with current events, but then again it might reflect something about the current executive branch.

From his tone, it’s not perfectly clear whether the nine C’s were invented before his disenchantment with Bush et al., or afterward, to fit his existing disappointments. He does review the current presidential candidates of both parties, measured against his nine C’s, and discusses where they stand in his view — no clear winner yet, just some thoughts forming.

Although the bulk of the book is politics, there’s also plenty about family (his parents and his late wife), friends (Bob Hope advised Iaccoca to start every day with fruit), and a bit of a diversion about Chrysler and GM, a chapter that lay readers might doze through.

In any case, it’s good to hear an 82-year-old laying out his own extensive ideas so clearly and energetically.

Iacocca speaks well and with good grandfatherly humor. Never mind whether his nine C’s are an accurate theory of leadership; there are some solid ideas here, and his straight talk and the decades of experience behind him make good listening. B+ — Lisa Parsons