‘Power’ is shot through with guilt

Los Angeles Times - - MARKETPLACE - By Emma Ja­cobs Emma Ja­cobs is a writer for the Fi­nan­cial Times of Lon­don, in which this re­view first ap­peared.

Peak au­then­tic­ity? I thought that had come some time ago. Busi­ness lead­ers, coaches and “sto­ry­tellers” have long harped on about the po­tency of be­ing your­self. Rob Gof­fee and Gareth Jones led the charge with their 2006 best­seller, “Why Should Any­one Be Led by You?”

Yet nine years later, we have “The Power of Be­ing Your­self: A Game Plan for Suc­cess — by Putting Pas­sion Into Your Life and Work,” by Joe Plumeri. It is pub­lished by Da Capo Life­long Books. A for­mer boss of Wil­lis Group, a global in­sur­ance bro­ker from New Jer­sey, Plumeri has a rep­u­ta­tion as a charis­matic and en­ter­tain­ing speaker.

The in­tro­duc­tion to the book by Joseph Cal­i­fano, U.S. sec­re­tary of Health, Ed­u­ca­tion and Wel­fare un­der Pres­i­dent Carter, re­counts one oc­ca­sion when Plumeri spoke at a fundrais­ing event for ad­dic­tion.

“As he spoke, some guests cried. Some cried so hard they had to leave the room to com­pose them­selves,” Cal­i­fano wrote. “Over the months since, many who were there that night told me Joe’s talk had pro­foundly af­fected their own lives.”

This may be true. Af­ter all, Plumeri tells us later that when Mitt Rom­ney was run­ning for pres­i­dent in 2012 he came to meet him in his New York of­fice. “‘You’re a great speaker,’ he told me. ‘Is there any­thing you can tell me?’ ”

Read­ing this book is at times like be­ing cor­nered in a bar by a tin-eared stranger. “You’ve read this far… and if you’re like peo­ple in groups I speak to around the coun­try, chances are you’ve been do­ing a lot of nod­ding your head at the points I’ve made through­out this book.” No. “I know I made some of you smile,” he con­tin­ues. No, no.

This is a book, Plumeri says, to be en­joyed with friends over tea or a bot­tle of red. “Call up friends and loved ones or col­leagues and read a para­graph or two out loud … take turns read­ing, and then talk over some of the points.”

It is dif­fi­cult to imag­ine whom this is aimed at. A teenage re­cruit to the Ro­tary Club? There is lit­tle in this book that has not been in many busi­ness books be­fore.

Yet there is some­thing ir­re­press­ibly guile­less about the au­thor. This makes him lik­able, which demon­strates the power of be­ing your­self, per­haps.

Also, amid the re­lent­lessly up­beat calls to es­pouse your vi­sion and pas­sion, the plea to en­ter the fray and try things out, there is a dark un­der­cur­rent.

In 2008, Plumeri’s old­est son, Chris­tian, died sud­denly af­ter bat­tling anorexia and drug ad­dic­tion. Not sur­pris­ingly, this had a pro­found ef­fect on the busi­ness­man. The book is shot through with guilt.

Chris­tian “was al­ways look­ing for some­thing to fill the void but never find­ing it,” Plumeri writes. “Noth­ing could work for long be­cause what he re­ally wanted was the ba­sic love and sup­port that I failed to give him when he was a boy.”

Long hours at the of­fice and de­vo­tion to busi­ness are to blame, he writes. “I got so caught up in my ca­reer that I was blind to my kids’ needs.”

No one can ever know whether things would have been dif­fer­ent if Plumeri had spent less time in the of­fice.

Yet, ul­ti­mately the stronger mes­sage is not about be­ing your most au­then­tic self, it is to pay at­ten­tion to life be­yond work. As the au­thor writes: “I have to live with fail­ure — but you don’t. There’s still time for you.”

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