Better Under Pressure: How Great Leaders Bring Out the Best in Themselves and Others by psychologist and Spencer Stuart consultant Justin Menkes is an extremely interesting book that deserves a wide readership. Menkes, the author of Executive Intelligence: What All Great Leaders Have, conducted interviews with over 60 CEOs to produce this readable review of how leaders succeed and fail.
Menkes identifies three capabilities that help CEOs operate better under pressure: They possess a realistic optimism, a subservience to purpose (i.e., the professional goal), and they are able to find order in chaos.
Each trait is analyzed in a flowing narrative that omits the sort of survey charts that so often interrupt and afflict such studies. The trait of realistic optimism, for example, is composed of an acute awareness of the actual circumstances along with a willingness to take responsibility to make the necessary changes (as opposed to passivity or foisting blame on external factors). Substantive examples are given with memorable twists - one of my favorites is the once cocky CEO who keeps a picture of General Custer in his office as a reminder of the importance of humility - and Menkes doesn't overstate his case.
I've done some work with organizations that are in crisis and Menke's analysis of where leadership needs to be is spot-on. As I read the book, I kept thinking of some leaders who possess an unrealistic optimism, who are not subservient to the organization's main purpose, and who bring more disorder to already chaotic situations.
Justin Menkes has provided a book that should cause a great deal of introspection in executive offices. Unfortunately, the people who need it the most will probably be the least likely to read it.