CEO of SELF: You’re in Charge!
by Herman Cain
Tapestry Press, 2001.
Hardcover, 220 pages.
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
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.