In previous installments of a series of posts I’m calling the “Paradox of the Week[*] I pointed out some of the contradictory statements made by Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.

This week, I’ve decided to add Louis V. Gerstner Jr.—formerly of IBM—to the mix. He’s the CEO frequently credited with turning that company around in the 1990s following their unsuccessful efforts to remain competitive in the PC market.

  • In Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance? (2002, HarperCollins), Gerstner insists that a part of his management “philosophy” is an aversion to hierarchy (p. 24):

“Hierarchy means very little to me. Let’s put together in meetings the people who can help solve a problem, regardless of the position.”

However, he later confesses (p. 35):

“…I would have liked more advice from Dick [Gerstner’s own brother, a long-time IBM employee himself], but there was a very watchful group of people at IBM waiting to see if I was setting him up as my own force behind the throne.”

Gerstner also seems slightly chagrined when people don’t realize “who he is,” so to speak, as this early episode with IBM security suggests (p. 30):

“There I was, the new CEO, knocking helplessly on the door, hoping to draw someone’s attention to let me in. After a while a cleaning woman arrived, checked me out rather skeptically, then opened the door—I suspect more to stop my pounding on the door than from any sense on her part that I belonged on the inside rather than the outside of the building.”

 

  • Then there is this insight to chew on (p. 188):

“…at the same time I was working to get employees to listen to me, to understand where we needed to go, to follow me there, I needed to get them to stop being followers.”

 

See you next week.

 


[*] An instance in which a business or management “expert”/author/advice-giver/guru offers contradictory, or otherwise paradoxical advice, typically without any apparent awareness of having done so. For more on why this happens—or more specifically, why it is all but impossible to avoid—please see my post “Why you can throw out that management advice book (Parts 1, 2, & 3).”