The book Good Power: Leading Positive Change in Our Lives, Work, and World by Ginni Rometty was a gift from my husband’s financial advisor Will Garrity to me. Will knew my husband wouldn’t be interested in this J.P. Morgan Summer 2023 reading list book yet assumed I would be.
Frankly, it wasn’t a book I would have selected. Business memoirs generally don’t appeal to me. But I decided to read it since my late mother trained me to have good manners.
And Good Power was a terrific read from three different angles:
- A “memoir with purpose”: That’s how the former Chair and CEO of IBM defines the book about her unusual life story and career. Even better, she wrote the book with candor, self-awareness, and humility.
- Lessons learned: She shares a number of life and business lessons that are applicable in many situations. One favorite: “The only mistakes you should ever regret are the ones you don’t learn from.” She also writes about how she has used power for the greater good.
- Deep personal and professional growth and development. She explains how she pushed herself – and sometimes was reluctantly pulled – into stretch assignments over her career and also into her retirement. Many of these challenges tested her abilities yet presented her with out-of-the-ordinary opportunities that were ultimately rewarding.
As a result, I highly recommend the book for these three angles. The additional plus is that the book is well-written, accessible, and inspirational—not necessarily what you might expect from an engineer who writes about recognizing early in her career her needing to improve her communication skills. It helped that Rometty earned her engineering degree from Northwestern University, which prides itself on providing students with a strong liberal arts education as well as encouraging them to learn skills. (I can relate as my journalism degree is from Northwestern.)
Besides explaining what it’s like being a CEO for a 100-year-old company that had to reinvent itself in a volatile industry, Rometty does an excellent job of highlighting her own life-long continuing transformation. In particular, she demonstrates the heart and power of vertical stage leadership development in action without ever using this clunky term.
For example, the organizing structure of her book Good Power shows how Rometty widened her perspective from “me” to “we” to “us” over her career. The book’s three sections are “The Power of Me: Changing a Life,” “The Power of We: Changing Work,” and “The Power of Us: Changing Our World.”
The book’s section titles illustrate how vertical development is based on stages of deepening your thinking and building your character. These stages are different from horizontal development, which involves incremental acquisition of skills and knowledge. Adults tend to do both horizontal and vertical development, although the amount, degree and pace of development is voluntary, especially compared to child development.
Here’s how Rometty transformed herself. As a young girl dealing with a challenging childhood, Rometty used education to change her life’s trajectory. Once she established herself in her career, she widened her focus to her work teams and her company, continually challenging herself and them. Her goals were to be in service to them as she stewarded good tech while delivering value.
Then as she became the first and only woman to date to serve as IBM’s CEO and Board Chair, Rometty broadened her attention even wider and made a much bigger impact. While she and her teams within IBM were figuring out how to reskill employees for new jobs, they discovered a way to improve society as well. By valuing lifelong learning and skills over the attainment of four-year degrees, they realized they could open the workforce to millions of underrepresented people who hadn’t graduated college. She became the champion of what has become the SkillsFirst hiring and training movement.
After retiring from IBM in 2020, Rometty is now dedicated to SkillsFirst through OneTen, a coalition committed to upskilling, hiring, and promoting Black Americans and creating a more equitable world. This new book Good Power also supports her power as she advances this purpose.
As for vertical stage leadership development, it’s near and dear to me because of its power to make sense of our complex, multi-cultural, diverse fast-changing world and work in more positive ways. Basically, vertical development begins when individuals start to embrace complexity willingly, rather than avoid it.
Individuals, like Rometty, who lean into vertical stage development start viewing themselves, others, and the world from a more involved multidimensional perspective. They think in more complex and nuanced ways, searching for greater purpose, deepening their self-awareness, and building more resilience. They build greater capacity to make changes as they also gain clearer insights, more compassion, and more wisdom. Even more important, their decision-making scope expands from tactical to strategic to visionary.
And as Rometty shows, personal transformation has a multiplier effect. As she has widened her aperture to see more, she has grown more. And through her visionary decision-making and actions, she has touched so many more people in more positive, powerful ways. It’s a gripping, inspirational life story about an admirable human being.