Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Osten Ryker.

I received an advance copy of the book by Tony Hsieh, Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose. In the book, Mr. Hsieh relates the story of his journey from a precocious childhood through a series of formidable challenges to the foundation of the Zappos phenomenon: an online footwear, apparel, and accessories provider that is breaking all the rules of business as usual.  Last fall, Zappos was acquired by Amazon behemoth, forming a strategic alliance that is bound to alter the very face of retail distribution. Apparently, I’ve been the recipient of a “random act of WOWness” as they say in the Zappos vocabulary, because the book was one of the most inspiring and insightful I have read for quite some time.  Mr. Hsieh displays a penetrating acumen for discerning the direction of cultural and corporate evolution. The model he and his associates have build demonstrates a much needed transformation in the “standard operation procedures” of traditional methods.

This book is so profound and utterly enlightening, I felt compelled to compose this testimonial of my impressions and touch on several topics his story brings to mind. For purposes of placing my reflections in context, I should say I am currently an inmate at a federal correctional institution serving a 20 year sentence for “Conspiracy to Interfere with Interstate Commerce”.  I have been incarcerated for almost 12 years now. My “crimes” were committed with only the best of intentions. I resorted to unconventional financing tactics to attempt to save my struggling business.  I engaged in multiple expropriations or unauthorized withdrawals (the called them “robberies”)  from what I considered a corrupt banking system. I’ve had plenty of time to think about my actions and to devote my energy to discovering more acceptable alternatives for attaining financial security.

I have always been an avid student of social issues. During my time in prison, I have continued my studies of politics, economics, and the American culture as these topics affect the distribution of prosperity and the eradication of poverty. I have researched countless volumes on economic theory, including numerous tomes on suggested business strategies from the past to the present day. I’ve found most of them too aggressive, mechanical and sterile for my predilections. I prefer a more organic humanistic approach as do most of the younger generations. Not until I read Mr. Hsieh’s book have I found a more succinct and poignant description of the evolving cultural mindset that is changing the way companies should be run.  The Zappos model lays out the direction corporations must take if they are to remain dynamic and flexible enough to weather the increasingly volatile economic storms of the coming century.

I was very impressed by Tony’s approach to business, both novel and refreshing when compared to the thinking of the past few decades. Somehow he has been able to retain his personal values, refusing to compromise his principles in the face of extraordinary pressures to conform to conventional techniques. He has even been able to radiate those values outwardly to the people with whom he built the Zappos success. Repeatedly, he emphasizes that his passion is not simply about earning money or beating the competition, but about building fluid organizations and architecting(sic) memorable experiences ( to use his words).  I commend him on his ability to remain true to his ideals while negotiating the typically vicious arena of the marketplace. On many occasions, he refused to bite the lure of immediate gain, walking away from the big money to devote himself to the long term goal. He is obviously inspired more by the prospect of creating something new and exciting than chasing after the emptiness of the mere bottom line or simple social status.

Over the coming days and weeks, I’d will continue to expound on the impact of Delivering Happiness. Stay tuned!!!

~ submitted by Osten Ryker


The Me-First Mentality

(Part 2 of 2; continued from yesterday)

As evidenced by the ancient Egyptians, leaders have prioritized self-preservation for thousands of years. Regrettably, self-preservation runs contrary to the true nature of leadership, which involves serving constituents. By operating with a me-first mentality, leaders deprive and exploit those they lead instead of equipping and inspiring them. In the process, they provoke resentment, lose respect, and accomplish little.

Although self-preservation sabotages leadership, throughout history men and women in authority have been preoccupied with protecting their position and status. What drives leaders to be so inwardly focused?

Root Causes of a Self-Preserving Leader

1) They Fear Change
Change can be viewed as a threat or an opportunity. Either way, it’s inevitable. A self-preserving leader dreads change and erects barriers to it whenever possible. After change proves to be unavoidable, the self-preserving leader is jostled and has trouble coping with new realities.

2) They Stop Growing
Leaders who stop growing eventually start clinging to position instead of merit. These leaders rely on experience and seniority to compensate for their decline in knowledge and ability. The lure of self-preservation sucks them into the narrow confines of their comfort zones, and, as a consequence, they dodge assignments that require learning new skills or breaking with the usual routine.

3) They Lose Self-Belief
Insecure leaders place others at arm’s length and guard their turf. Having lost self-belief, they fear being exposed as incompetent. These sorts of people live with a tremendous sense of vulnerability. For this reason, they respond poorly to failure, seeing it as an indictment of their ineptitude rather than a learning experience.

In Conclusion
Whatever the source, self-preservation causes leaders foolishly to expend their energies and influence fortifying their own position. In doing so, they malnourish the persons they should be serving. By neglecting the effectiveness of their people, self-preserving leaders indirectly minimize the extent of their own influence.

By Dr. John C. Maxwell