The Grey Chronicles


Street-Smart Manager

Confessions of a Street-Smart Manager

Confessions of a Street-Smart Manager

David Mahoney, president of Good Humor Corporation and has served as an adviser to three U.S. presidents, wrote Confessions of a Street-Smart Manager (1988). Mahoney was once a mail clerk and became a CEO of a multibilion-dollar conglomerate, Norton Simon, through street-smart management.

Hereunder are some quotable quotes from his book:

Bad-News Good-News LeadershipBad-news leadership is where the boss tries to motivate subordinates, team, or organization by saying how bad things have gotten. The boss tries to convince people that the organization’s problems are their fault and that it is their responsibility to make the situation better. Good-news leadership is where the boss points out the problems, all right, but then puts the emphasis on the positive side of the picture. He or she makes people feel proud of their successes, rather than ashamed of their failures. He convinces them that working together as a good team, there is no problem that they can’t fix.”

Annotations: Bad news never solve the problem but only demotivate people. Good news further increase innovation.

On Experience “Some people can have a lot of experience and still not have good judgment. . . Others can pull a great deal of value out of much less experience. . . A person with street smarts is someone able to take strong action based on good judgment drawn from hard experience. . . Being street-smart means recognizing where there is a need, a vacuum to be filled, and filling it, whether it be with a product or service. People who fill vacuums are highly rewarded, financially and in all sorts of other ways.”

Annotations: Experience and judgment are not synonymous. Experience is not even tantamount to expertise.

On Change “Success comes to us when we are in a situation that calls for our best skills and talents. When change brings about a situation requiring talents we don’t have and probably cannot develop, it is time to let someone else take over. It is time to change when you don’t have any new ideas.”

Annotations: As they say, change is constant, thus innovation should also be continuous.

On Numbers “A number doesn’t tell you anything. And by the time you get them most numbers aren’t even real. . . We become slaves to numbers. We have manage by them and we are judged by them. But they are not real—not by a long shot.”

Annotations: Even people become numbers: statistics, employee number, production metrics, etc. Numbers do not make the mills run, create innovation, or find ways to make life or work better; only people can.

On People “The secret of all management is the successful utilization of all resources through people. . . Everyone — and I mean everyone — has something good to offer you if you are astute enough to find it. Sometimes it means picking a small kernel out of a lot of chaff, but the kernel is always there. . . People have their own needs, their own problems, their own priorities, their own agenda, their own self-interest.”

Annotations: An organization is basically made up of people, not machines to be turned on and off. Ah . . . Desiderata, every man has a story, the wisdom of crowds. Leaders who underestimate the power of their employees generally overestimate their own.

On Specialization “All knowledge is applicable . . . if the world ever was one-dimensional, it certainly isn’t anymore. Today you can’t succeed by limiting your knowledge to one specialized area and wearing blinders for the rest. . . We need specialists as well as generalists in this world, but even a specialist can profit by walking down more than one lane. For one thing, spending all your time and all your life on one path could be very boring. And it limits your perspective, and thus your experience, and thus, your judgment..”

Annotations: In a globalized world, it pays to know a little something out of almost everything. The Internet comes in handy, and reading pays off in the long run. But remember, being all knowing is not a human quality.


Mahoney, David (1988), Confessions of a Street-Smart Manager. New York: Simon & Schuster, January 1988. 208pp. back to text

Disclaimer : The posts on this site are my own and doesn’t necessarily represent any organization’s positions, strategies or opinions.


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