Swendsen reflects on the leadership qualities of key figures in his life in this debut memoir.
During the 1940s, the author worked for his father at the family gas station. He writes that his dad was his “first real boss,” and a man who “treated his employees fairly and thoughtfully.” Yet not all of Swendsen’s “early bosses” displayed such positive leadership traits. His high school basketball coach, for example, played favorites, and his chemistry teacher “always did things his own way,” and accidentally blew the windows out of the classroom lab. Swendsen went on to graduate from college and join the U.S. Air Force. During flight school, he stood up to his sometimes abusive superiors. After marrying his sweetheart, Jackie, he began a long career as a park warden, where he says he had supervisors of varying quality. He remembers Bill, one of his favorites: “During the many night rides when Bill rode with me he acted like my able assistant, not my boss.” From this experience, the author concluded that “[r]eal leaders are able to put themselves in the hands of a subordinate.” Swendsen includes plenty of anecdotes about other good and bad bosses, and dozens of personal photographs. At the end, he adds several chapters about “operationally effective leadership” and a list of famous quotes about the subject, which feel tacked on. He concludes with a poem dedicated to his “quiet leader”––his late wife, to whom he was married for 58 years. This sincere memoir effectively demonstrates how various leaders influenced Swendsen’s life. However, it’s likely too personal to interest general readers, and the editing sometimes falls short; for example, he writes that one boss’s “dependency on alcohol caused him uneasy problems in running his business.…Documented accounts show that George Washington drank in moderation and was outspoken against the overuse of alcohol.” Such asides feel too didactic, inviting readers to consider that “show, don’t tell” might be sound advice for good writers and good leaders.
An uneven hodgepodge of a memoir, featuring numerous lessons on leadership.