by Robert D. Austin, Richard L. Nolan, and Shannon O’Donnell
Harvard Business Review Press, 2012
In Harder than I Thought, Austin, Nolan, and O’Donnell walk the reader through the life of Jim Barton, the CEO of a large public company. Written in the parable style of such books as The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, the authors offer a very readable story of the challenges and tribulations of the Chief Executive role.
What makes the book work is its readability. By setting the story in a fictional company, the authors have given us a relatable story and have created characters—particularly the protagonist—whom we care about. As a fast-moving story filled with challenges for our hero, the book reads like a novel on a summer reading list. The authors are comfortable in this milieu, having covered this ground before in The Adventures of an IT Leader, the book in which they first introduced the Barton character.
Now promoted to CEO, Barton is our entrée into the world of the executive suite. With a number of It’s-Lonely-at-the-Top situations and Who-Can-You-Trust dilemmas, the book keeps the reader involved in the story throughout.
While its readability is the book’s strength, the lack of relatability is its greatest problem. Though the story is interesting, it’s hard for most readers to relate to what it might be like to be the CEO of a large public company. And while it’s fun to put ourselves into Barton’s shoes, few of us will ever end up there.
Still, for those who have ever been curious about what it’s really like to be a CEO, the book offers numerous insights while telling an interesting and compelling story.