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Online Edition — January 2003

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CEO of SELF: You’re in Charge!
by Herman Cain
Tapestry Press, 2001.
ISBN 193081904-8
Hardcover, 220 pages.
Price: $24.95

Overall Rating: * * * Snail Mail it

“Think of yourself as the chief executive officer (CEO) of a company called SELF, Incorporated. As the CEO, you are responsible for SELF’s vision (dreams), as well as its operating strategy (how it will achieve its goals and vision).” This is the challenge that Herman Cain sets before his readers in the introduction to CEO of SELF. He uses this metaphor to draw parallels between organizational leadership and personal responsibility, postulating that the skills needed for success in one arena are equally important in the other.

The result is an engaging and easy to read leadership manual wrapped in an autobiography. In it we learn much about Cain’s life and even more about how to be responsible for our own lives. It is full of anecdotal evidence that it is possible to turn your dreams into reality if you persevere. Its message is similar to that in Cain’s Leadership is Common Sense (now out of print), with a few extra years of seasoning.

In some respects, CEO of SELF is merely a revision of Cain’s earlier book. Many of his personal stories are the same, as is his basic approach to the three critical qualities a leader must possess (what he calls the D, E, and F factors). He has refined his thinking about the three critical things a leader must do (now dubbed the R, O, and I factors). He has also identified seven principles for taking charge of your life (called C.E.O. and S.E.L.F.). These mnemonic devices help his message stick in an era of information overload.

Cain’s narrative starts with stories from his own life and analyzes them to discover general management and leadership principles, then comes full circle by showing the relevance of these principles to daily life. Applications for teenagers, housewives, and retirees also are provided. He emphasizes the importance of having a dream. “If you do not have a dream, then you will not know if you got there.” (p. 58)

The book is full of pithy statements, many of which are highlighted by the author in special text boxes. Among these are:

  • “Don’t be stupid just because you are unhappy.” (p. 89)
  • “Something to do, someone to love, and something to hope for, the greatest of these is hope.” (p. 94)
  • “You are the CEO of SELF, and you’re in charge of your dreams. Your only competition is time, and the biggest mistake you can make is to not have a dream that’s yours.” (p. 107)

This collection of sound bites leaves the reader with a general impression of superficiality. Some of the leadership topics brought over from Leadership is Common Sense have been abbreviated and a less scholarly and more conversational approach taken. Indeed, there are many places where I would have liked more detail or additional examples to clarify the author’s various factors and principles. That said, I still liked the book, and will probably remember more of it for a longer time than most other books on leadership simply because of its unswerving focus on a few basic and useful ideas.

All in all, the book is worth reading, even if you have already read its predecessor.

To learn more about Cain’s straightforward and practical approach to leadership and life, plan on attending his keynote speech at AQP’s 25th Annual Conference in New Orleans on Monday, February 24, from 8:00 to 9:30 a.m.

CHRISTINE ROBINSON has more than 25 years of leadership experience in quality systems for the process industries. She has a master’s degree in quality, values, and leadership from Marian College. An avid reader, she spends a significant amount of her time with her nose in books and her body at the library.

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