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Leadership Wisdom from The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari – Book Review – Subramaniam Ramasubramanian

by on November 11, 2008

Leadership Wisdom from The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari. Robin Sharma. HarperCollins, 1998. 254pp. $18.00. (ISBN: 0-00-638562-1)

The meat of the book is around mastering 8 rituals that are practiced by visionary leaders. The way these rituals are presented to the audience is unique. Yes, as the book title suggests, the rituals are delivered from a Monk. The entire book is revolved around two characters – Peter and Julian, the Monk. Peter is a CEO of a software company called GlobalView and Julian is an old friend of Peter, a successful lawyer, eventually becomes a Monk. Peter’s company is in the brink of failure. The employees of GlobalView begin to agitate among one another. The interpersonal relationship between Peter and his employees also gets worse day after day. In short, GlobalView gets to collapse. At this moment, Peter’s old friend Julian comes back and teaches the 8 leadership rituals that helps Peter to gain the much needed leadership wisdom. According to Robin Sharma, the author of the book, to become a leader, it is important to lead thyself before trying to lead others. Self discipline is the quality that he was referring to. I totally agree with author views, to be a successful leader, one should be a leader of thyself. Developing one’s own character is dependent on cultivating a strict self discipline, perseverance and patience in all the tasks one performs.

In chapter 3 of the book, the author reiterates the importance of having a vision and how important it is to have a vision in one’s life. As I was reading, I was reminded by a powerful quote by Dr. A.P.J Abdul Kalam (Kalam) former President of India where he says “Thinking is progress. Non-thinking is stagnation of the individual, organisation and the country. Thinking leads to action. Knowledge without action is useless and irrelevant. Knowledge with action, converts adversity into prosperity”. I thought the author and Dr. Kalam agreed on same lines. Everybody should think, thinking coupled with knowledge and action wouldn’t be stopped by any force in the world to achieve one’s vision. Only people who have a vision, a dream to be achieved would be successful. Even author of the book agrees to the fact people who have “committed” vision would spontaneously develop actions. By committed vision the author meant to keep one’s vision as a vow. A vision that would be achieved at any cost no matter what happens. A powerful thought indeed. I feel people wouldn’t find hard to set a vow vision. Problem would also not happen for people to take actions or to acquire knowledge. The biggest challenge would arise for people to sustain the thinking capability, to continue the learning and to perform the value aided tasks on a daily basis.

In chapter 8 the monk pitches how important it is for leaders to change. The key problem that the author brings about is that people generally resist change. We the students in current change management class know the reasons for resistance. The solution that the author proposed could have easily been guessed by everyone. Yes, surrender to change is what author said. Right from start of this chapter, I questioned numerous times, why in earth people would want to surrender to change. What factors would motivate people to surrender to change? The answers to the questions were revealed as the chapter went by. As learnt from John Kotter, change management guru, the main reason for resistance to change is fear. The solution well resonated from monk’s solution as well. People are apprehensive to change. The author goes on to say knowledge is the best medicine to fear. In my life I have felt this wisdom to be true in so many occasions. I joined my previous employer as a fresher. With no prior work experience I couldn’t understand the processes that were in place. When entrusted with work, I still remember the stress, the pain that I endured during that time. Management team members probably well understood the situation in prior and to allay my fear I was given training on the processes that were in place and I started feeling comfortable from there on. The point being is simple I didn’t know it was a change management exercise at that time. The scenario just struck when the author mentions “knowledge is power”. Going forward, the author also points to the fact that mere knowledge gaining is not just enough, what weighs more is the degree to which the knowledge gets into practice.

The other most important ritual that the author brings is about personal effectiveness. The Monk when counters with a question from Peter on how to manage time, he was presumably seeking a few effective time management principles. I just got more curious on reading the solution. According to the author, solution to the problem doesn’t lie in time management but rather lies in “Time Leadership”. “Time Leadership”? Yes, as one might have judged, it is about individual’s ability to lead the time. A unique principle indeed I thought. As I was settling to dwell more about the principle, an example from Dr. Kevin Desouza, Assistant Professor, Information School, University of Washington struck. I still remember the day, it was in autumn 2007, and I was enrolled in one of his classes. One day he shared his views on time management to the entire class. According to Dr. Desouza, it’s always easy for everyone to come up with a to-do list for a particular day and achieve the items in the list one after another but the real challenge lies when one tries to create an accomplishment-do list itself and try achieving them. From my understanding, the accomplishment –do list has to do more with associating a value to every task that one intends to do. Yes, creating an accomplishment-do list is a challenge but the results of creating a one and implementing those value based tasks on a daily basis would definitely help achieve one’s vision. I was also able to correlate the above scenario to be the answer for one of the questions raised by Dr. Desouza in the present Change Management class. The discussion was around resource allocation for IT projects. The resource allocation matrix (Desouza, 2007) was at the point of discussion. As quoted by Dr.Desouza, most of the resources are devoted for day to day operations in an IT department. Little or no resources are being invested in business transformation activities. Performing those business transformation activities would bring the real business value of IT. This was the question “how to transform IT from performing doing routine operations to tasks that would have an impact in the business? “. Probably, “time leadership” and execution of an accomplishment-do list are the answers to that question, I thought.

In chapter 10, the leadership ritual that the author brings about is “self-leadership”. To be a visionary leader one has to a leader within oneself – a true adage indeed. Personally I have always tried to bench mark success for myself and tried to achieve it. On achieving success, setting the success bar tougher has always been the goal. Benchmarking success with others doesn’t hold appropriate at all times. “Success on the outside begin within” – a line that made me to retrospect deeply. From a change management perspective while Kotter’s eight-step change process truly paves the way for bringing a change (John Kotter). I believe most of the steps are directed to change others – creating urgency, empowering others rather a bringing a change within oneself. I totally agree with Robin Sharma, visionary leader need to always practice “self – leadership”, a ritual that is very much needed to bring change among others. Another key point that the author tries to bring out is that leaders seek perfection in all the tasks.

In conclusion the book “Leadership Wisdom from The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari” from Robin Sharma is a book to be read. I though agree to the fact that the author really makes readers dragged too much on certain chapters quoting excessive examples from Saint Yogi Raman. At that point I felt the book to be more philosophical and by reading a few examples in the book I almost felt that these principles might just not be suitable in today’s world. However, on the whole, it’s was an interesting book to read and to learn the basics of leadership wisdom.

Desouza, K. (2007). Agile Information Systems. New Delhi: Elsevier.
John Kotter, D. C. The Heart of Change Real – Life Stories of How People Change Their Organizations. Harward Business School Press.
Kalam, A.. Retrieved from Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam :

  1. You can’t over emphasis vision in leadership – creating a mental model allows you to experiment with it, turn it around and most importantly pass it on.

  2. great book reviews, thanks for the effort and hard work!

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