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Book Review: Start With the Answer and Other Wisdom for Aspiring Leaders by Bob Seelert

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As he worked his way up the ranks at General Foods, Bob Seelert acquired his share of wisdom over time. Start With the Answer compiles stories and essays from his 40+ years in management. In his career serving as CEO of five large organizations, Seelert earned his reputation as a turnaround expert, reviving businesses and brands in trouble. He is now chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi, a global advertising company.

With the recent focus on a down economy, Seelert’s writing seems almost prescient, when he illustrates the effects of poor leadership, rampant in our financial system today.

Seelert started with the answer in graduate school when, instead of applying for jobs across all industries, he figured out exactly the company he wanted to work for. Once he had that answer, he set out to get hired there and stayed for decades.

“You can waste a lot of time and money implementing solutions if you don’t know where you’re going,” he says. “So, you have to know where to be. Start with the answers and work your way back to the solution.”

Touching on the complex elements of leadership success with his folksy, practical insights, Seelert’s book delves into the core strengths you need to succeed with eight universal aspects of personal development in business life:

  • Preparation
  • Building and managing a career
  • Business strategy
  • Business operations
  • Finance and economics
  • Leadership
  • Culture and communication
  • Personal spirit and style.

Many sections, such as preparing for a business career will especially help those corporate executives moving up the ladder. Seelert will make an impression on new MBAs, who will appreciate the simplicity of his advice to avoid using these two words: always and never. “They’re dangerous words when having to make assumptions,” says Seelert. Perhaps Pres. Obama read Seelert’s chapter on the importance of the “first 100 days” on the job in setting standards and establishing your tone. “If there are problems, fix them and get the bad news behind you quickly.”

Start With the Answer contains brief essays, many only 300 words, but they portray an honest account of the challenges Seelert faced throughout his career, and impart subtle wisdom for winning strategies such as “Outsmart your competition” and “Don’t settle for either/or – go for and/and.”

One of the most relevant notions in Start With the Answer is to tell the truth. “When things are not going well, until you get the truth out on the table, no matter how ugly, you are not in a position to deal with it.” So, perhaps this book is equally suited to today’s politicians, as well as entrepreneurs and corporate executives.

With over ninety stories in Start With the Answer, we’re sure to spawn a few new leaders who benefit from Seelert’s inspiration and wisdom. This is a wise compendium of common sense approaches to decision making, delegation and leadership.

The full-color hardback makes an impressive gift, but there’s also a link below to the Kindle edition for those who want to take Seelert’s wisdom on the road.

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About Helen Gallagher