BOOKCASE: Listen: The Don Rowlands Leadership Guide

• Keith Davies
• David Ling Publishing
• RRP $29.95

Homespun it may be, but former Fisher & Paykel chief executive and Mainfreight managing director Don Rowlands life story, and his take on leadership, is worth the couple of hours required to read this delightfully candid book.
Rowlands is an iconic New Zealand manager and leader. Now in his late 70s, he is still an independent director on the Mainfreight board and, according to all accounts, still making valuable contribution.
Rowlands’ views on leadership are practical, proven, experience-based and profoundly sound. Davies tells the story in down-to-earth style that Rowlands no doubt feels comfortable with.
Listen: The Don Rowlands Leadership Guide is refreshingly free of jargon, high-church management theory and perceived academic wisdom. But his observations on, for example, the current state of management and governance strike resonant note. “Want to know why this world is in mess?” he asks. “The Knitting Club” – the name he gives to boards of external directors and “people who haven’t cut their teeth” in engineering, or manufacturing or industrial relations. “I have real difficulty respecting their opinions,” he writes.
Listen is valid personal tale that allows Rowlands to share his leadership secrets and put them in values context. He learned his craft by listening to and observing people, then applying the real life lessons to workaday situations.
At F&P he helped build global enterprise, repeating the exercise at Mainfreight. The catalogue of instances that support his leadership beliefs are too numerous to list here, but I suspect every manager that reads this book will relate to goodly number of them.
Listen is classic leadership advice, accessible and sensible. It is drawn from Rowlands’ personal journey as successful executive, an international rowing champion, committed Kiwi, and humane individual who couldn’t cope with “bullshit” but seldom raised his voice at anyone who screwed up – so long as they didn’t repeat the performance.
On the other hand, “he knew that if you have to spend time managing people, you have the wrong people”. You can buy it online by visiting

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