Books I Read: The CEO and the Monk

The CEO and the Monk
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As part of my series on developing your leadership skills, I will be sharing a few books that I have read and found beneficial over the years. See Developing Your Leadership Potential and Leadership Books, Seminars, and Workshops for the first two parts of this series.

The CEO and the Monk is an enjoyable book that is written from three perspectives: the author, the CEO, and the Monk. This book is easy to read especially since the events are presented from three different viewpoints. It is about a corporation called KeySpan, a publicly traded $6 billion New York based energy company. For me this was an amazing story of ethics and faith in an industry that is known to be cut-throat and all about profits. Of course KeySpan has shareholders to satisfy and Wall Street is watching their every move – but it was refreshing to see the human element involved in the decisions made. I have worked for large corporations and have witness how decisions are made based upon profit and loss often without regard to the human cost.

The monk, Kenny Moore, left cloistered life in the monastery after 15-years and ends up being an influential confidant of Bob Catell, Chairman of KeySpan. Kenny does not have a MBA or a business education but he becomes the conscious of KeySpan, which is not an easy job! The company is going through a lot of changes and anyone who has been in a change agent role knows how difficult it can be to influence change. You need to balance the profitability of the company, gain buy-in from senior management, and understand what changes would be best for the employees. Then somehow you need to bring that all together. Of course you find your champions who will work with you to influence and implement change. I liked Kenny’s non-business tactic of using a “funeral” as a way to help the employees’ transition from the old way of working to a new future. Kenny is a different type of leader with his stoic, dry humor – but ultimately he was a confidant to the CEO while being a champion for the employees.

Robert Catell became the CEO of KeySpan in 1991. He oversaw the transformation of a small Brooklyn gas company into one of the nation’s largest and most successful energy company. A common problem for many CEOs is that senior management provides the information they think the CEO wants to hear instead of providing the message they need to hear. That often takes a lot of courage to provide that message. Kenny had that courage making his partnership with Robert very strong and perhaps a bit unusual. Robert understood to lead his 100-year old company through the next decade he needed to build it from more than a business perspective. He needed to tap into the company’s soul.

Glenn Rifkin is the author of this book and he has written for the New York Times and has coauthored other business books. I like how Glenn sets the stage for the chapter with the CEO and the Monk then providing their thoughts on the topic. I really love this style of presenting information because you gain a well-balanced picture from different perspectives.

As a side note, I attended a lecture where Kenny was the guest speaker. He is a great storyteller with a very dry sense of humor! On YouTube you can find a series of videos where he talks about his background, family, and his time at KeySpan. This is a good book if you are looking for a true story of leadership and ethics. You can purchase this book through Amazon.

Now it is your turn! What are your experiences, thoughts, or observations?

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