The Art of the Real: An Interview with Tony Schwartz

In 1985, Tony Schwartz ghost-wrote The Art of the Deal, the book that sold over a million copies and turned Trump into a household name. That experience was one of the drivers that steered Schwartz away from journalism to build an ‘energy consultancy’. He founded The Energy Project in 2003 to train executives in strategies for helping themselves and their employees perform better and avoid burnout.

Art Of The Real Tony Schwartz

In the course of the company’s success, Schwartz has worked closely with the leaders of legacy firms, mid-caps and unicorns, from Google and Facebook to Coca Cola, and across sectors as disparate as mining and banking.

Leadership around the world and in every industry has suffered from the ethos of 'more time at work equals more productivity and profit: the boss works long hours and if the staff do too, we all win'.

That model is being fundamentally challenged by leaders who are now achieving success by having a life outside of work, and encouraging their staff to do the same. Schwartz sees himself as a chief usher of this change.

“You could say we’re in a clash of civilisations… of clashing world views, in which a much older more limited, primitive, narrow, one-dimensional world view is under siege”, Schwartz told Amrop.

“In those situations historically what happens is a fierce reaction. That reaction comes from fear and shows up as anger, and that’s when demagogues come along and exploit those fears effectively.”

7 more insights from the interview

  1. Much of the good leadership we see is in Silicon Valley. Why? Firstly because on average it’s way younger. These are people who don’t come with the baggage of many years of doing things one way, and so it doesn't feel like a revolution to change. They come in with no expectations about how it should be run. Both Google and Facebook are good examples, where from day one they were concerned with meeting the needs of their employees. Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t go to Harvard Business School and learn how to be a classic leader. He drops out of Harvard undergrad when he’s 19 years old and starts Facebook, and from day one he’s more concerned with getting the best people and creating an environment that would make the best people want to be there.
  2. The transparency of the world we live in, because of the internet, has given power and influence to groups of stakeholders that didn’t have it before. So the CEO and senior leadership has to contend with customers in wholly different ways because those customers can come along on social media and blow up your business overnight if they’re dissatisfied in ways that are compelling. 
  3. Today, it’s a human drama. At the heart of great leadership today is the fundamental question, is he or she a great human being? Because the problems they face are no longer binary. You can no longer find solutions that are absolute, black and white, they’re much more ambiguous now. To manage your organization over time, the need to be self aware and sensitive to other people's needs is far greater than it’s ever been. 
  4. In the US it’s been historically uncommon to see a senior person also expect to have a senior role in raising his children. Well now there’s a lot of push-back to that. And as a small employer myself I know that if I want the best people, those people are going to use their leverage to tell you what they want, and they do not want to work from early in the morning until late at night.
  5. The sectors that are hardest to reach [change for the better] are the ones with people making the most money by working the longest hours. Because those are the organizations where the cost-benefit ratio of making sacrifices to overall lives is such that it’s not tempting to make those sacrifices. They continue to believe that more money equals more satisfaction, or more money equals a better life. It takes a long time before either they discover that that’s not true - the way a drug user discovers that upping the dose doesn’t give you the same high; or they don’t discover it at all because they remain in a world of confirmation bias where they look only for those things that reinforce what they already believe, and therefore don’t discover that there’s a bigger world in which to live. 
  6. The assumption has been that, other than skills that you can use to operate in the world, your development concludes around the age of 18 years old and you go out and live your life. But actually what development means is having a wider, deeper and longer perspective. If you run to the store and you leave your 5 and 10 year olds home alone and the house catches fire, you definitely want the 10 year old to be in charge and not the 5 year old. You understand the older child sees more, takes into account more complexity, and is therefore more likely to be able to handle the problem. That same potential continues to exist throughout your life. You can keep seeing more and more and more. 
  7. What does it look like to see more? To see yourself in an organization that exists not in a vacuum but as part of a dynamic, living system? And to see yourself as an individual, not living on an island, but again as part of a dynamic living system? That is a progressive, evolutionary, subtle and complex process. And the better you get at it, the more resources you’re capable of bringing to leadership, the more you can deal with ambiguity and uncertainty.

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