How We Lead Matters: Reflections on a Life of Leadership

How We Lead Matters: Reflections on a Life of Leadership

by Marilyn Carlson Nelson

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From the woman named one of “America's Best Leaders” by U.S. News & Report
Powerful insights into the practice of motivation

Marilyn Carlson Nelson has achieved global recognition for the Carlson brands of hotels, restaurants, cruise, travel, and marketing services.

But that's only part of the story.

As a daughter,


From the woman named one of “America's Best Leaders” by U.S. News & Report
Powerful insights into the practice of motivation

Marilyn Carlson Nelson has achieved global recognition for the Carlson brands of hotels, restaurants, cruise, travel, and marketing services.

But that's only part of the story.

As a daughter, wife, mother, and grandmother, Marilyn has always put people first. When her grandson asked a simple question about her life, she decided to write it all down-her fondest memories and deepest insights-in How We Lead Matters: Reflections on a Life of Leadership.

This thoughtful book offers a surprisingly personal glimpse into a multi-faceted woman who happens to be one of the most successful CEOs in the world. She describes the thrill of flying in an F16 over Death Valley (without getting sick), and throwing a barbeque for the KGB (who preferred vodka to the traditional beer). She shares the difficulty of making choices and sacrifices to run her family's business, and the heartbreak of losing a child.

Her insights are sprinkled with the timeless words of Mahatma Gandhi, Anne Frank, Oscar Wilde, Albert Einstein, Mark Twain, and others, as she talks about what it's like to be a woman in today's business world, while reflecting on an engaging array of subjects-from equal rights to corporate wrongs to motherhood. Most compelling of all, she reveals how a meaningful legacy is built one day at a time.

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McGraw-Hill Professional Publishing
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7.80(w) x 10.90(h) x 0.63(d)

Read an Excerpt

How We Lead Matters

Reflections on a Life of Leadership

By Marilyn Carlson Nelson, Deborah Cundy

The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

Copyright © 2008Marilyn Carlson Nelson
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-07-160017-0



Star Gazing

Business is one of the most powerful forces on the planet—for good or for ill. Its domain is far-reaching and pervasive. Those of us who are "called to business" as our life pursuit must learn how best to leverage our influence and work across sectors on complex problems for the common good. We must be what I call "integrative leaders."

I am reminded of the story of Ruth Shaw, the first woman to head a U.S. power company. When she was tapped for the top job, she was baffled. She knew she didn't have a deep specialization in a particular competency such as marketing, human resources, business law, or operations. The chairman told her, "I have accountants, lawyers, and salespeople. I need someone who can connect the dots." We know that connecting the dots within a company is critical to success. But connecting the dots between a company and the outside world may be as important to the world as it is to the company.

Do you think, for example, in August 2001, I had any idea that a small group of people living in caves in Afghanistan could bring my business to its knees? I did not. And then there was September 11.... Do you think that throughout my education I ever thought it might be useful to take a course in engineering? I did not. And then there was Six Sigma.... Do you think I could imagine the need to give speeches in defense of business as a morally upstanding way to earn a living? I did not. And then there was Enron.

In an increasingly complex and interconnected world, business leaders must pause and contemplate the way our businesses can best interact with the nonprofit and public sectors. It's not unlike the way the ancients looked at the skies: some just saw stars, but others saw the patterns of dogs, bears, goddesses, and hunters. They connected the dots, and we'll never again see the sky in the same way.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.

Margaret Mead (U.S. Anthropologist)

The Sunday School Lesson

Of all the gifts given to me by my father, the greatest was personal responsibility.

Our family always went to church on Sunday, and because I was in the seventh grade, I attended Sunday school classes instead of the main service. One day, after a particularly chaotic class with flying spitballs and little or no order, I announced to my parents on the ride home that I was quitting Sunday school and from then on would be going to the main sanctuary with the adults.

Instead of praising my maturity, as I thought he would, my dad pulled off the highway, turned around, and said, "You what?" When I repeated my complaint that Sunday school was of little value, he looked at me sternly and said, "Then change it." Keep in mind that I was only 13 and my father was ordering me to fix a Sunday school that even the adult teachers couldn't control!

My mother tried to intercede and for her trouble was given the job of setting up a meeting with the Sunday school superintendent so that I could present my ideas for fixing things. When the day came, she drove me downtown to the big meeting. I was nervous, to say the least. But the superintendent was pleased to hear my ideas, and together we "fixed" Sunday school.

From that early lesson I learned that if something needs to change in our homes, schools, workplaces, or churches, it's up to us to change it rather than wait for "they" or "them" or someone else to do it.

Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts.

Daniel P. Moynihan (U.S. Senator)

As a Matter of Fact

Part of my college career was spent studying international economics and political science at the Institute des Hautes Etudes Economiques et Politiques in Geneva, Switzerland. Away from home in that stimulating setting, I was filled with confidence and idealism.

I learned a great deal that year, but one lesson in particular has served me well throughout my business career.

One day, my professor asked a classmate and me to debate two sides of an economic philosophy in front of a very large audience and in French, no less. I painstakingly translated my points and rehearsed until I could recite my side of the argument fluently. On the day of the debate, I laid out a compelling case, illuminated by my personal belief.

At the end of my energetic and colorful presentation, the audience applauded wildly. I felt supremely victorious and certain of my success—until I received my grade. It was the worst grade I'd ever received.

Perplexed, I confronted the professor. "I don't understand," I said. "My argument was a huge success. You were there. The audience loved it."

"Yes, Marilyn, your performance was brilliant," he conceded. "But your facts must equal your passion."

Even the winner of the argument has a hard time sleeping

Takashima Gyokutoro (Japanese Poet)


In my second year at Smith College, I agreed to arrange a mixer at a downtown ballroom on behalf of my class. The tradition at the time was for the girls to submit the names of boys they knew who were going to schools in the area. The boys wouldn't know which girl invited them, as the invitation went out from the "Sophomore Class of Smith." When the RSVPs started coming in, we realized our boy–girl ratio was falling short.

In the second round of invitations, I remembered the name of a handsome Harvard pre-med student, Glen Nelson, who was from my hometown of Edina, Minnesota. A couple days later, Glen called me, insisting that I had submitted his name. I denied it. (What nerve!) Anyway, who cared? (Besides the two of us, that is.) Glen accepted the invitation. And to punctuate my indifference, I told him to bring a couple of other guys to fill in.

He showed up an hour and a half early with two cars full of star athletes and announced that they were all there for dinner. I still don't know if I was more furious that my hair was uncombed and I wasn't dressed for the event or that, as the hostess, I was responsible for paying per head.

I stormed upstairs and announced to my classmates that guests were starting to arrive, and by the way, I wouldn't be joining them for dinner. There was a stunned silence. When I got to the part in my rant about who would be at dinner, I lost every sympathetic ear. The requests came in a flurry about who wanted to sit next to which athlete.

I heard that the dinner was lovely. Some new relationships bloomed. How nice. Every place was taken. I know; I paid the bill. And in the end, I eventually did get even with Glen Nelson. I married him.

It's never too late to be what you might have been.

George Eliot (British Novelist)

Wanting It All

WHAT I KNOW NOW: Letters to My Younger Self is a unique book of advice letters from successful women such as Maya Angelou, Madeleine Albright, and Queen Noor written to their "younger selves." Here's an excerpt from mine:

Dear Marilyn:

You have ambitious dreams that seem to include every possibility under the sun. You want to be a mother. You want exactly four children. You also want to be a political leader or diplomat. You want to serve as a community leader and you want one day to have a meaningful role in your family's business at Carlson.

Those who know you wonder why you think you can do it all. How can you possibly reconcile all those dreams into one lifetime? Maybe you should let some go. What I know now is that women can actually come pretty close to having it

Excerpted from How We Lead Matters by Marilyn Carlson Nelson. Copyright © 2008 by Marilyn Carlson Nelson. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Marilyn Carlson Nelson is chairman and CEO of Carlson, a global group of companies providing travel, hotel, cruise, restaurant, and marketing services, including such brands as Radisson® and Regent® hotels and resorts, Country Inns and Suites By CarlsonSM, Park Inn® and Park Plaza® hotels, Regent Seven Seas Cruises®, Carlson Wagonlit Travel®, Carlson Marketing®, and T.G.I. Friday's® restaurants.

Deborah Cundy, an assistant dean at the Carlson School of Management, has worked with Marilyn Carlson Nelson for nearly 20 years as a former vice president at Carlson and speech writer. She assisted Ms. Carlson Nelson in the founding of the Center for Integrative Leadership at the University of Minnesota.

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