How We Lead Matters: Reflections on a Life of Leadership

Marilyn Carlson Nelson with Deborah Cundy

  1. 125 pp.  McGraw Hill, New York.


Often those who have achieved staggering success in their field, like Marilyn Carlson Nelson, seem somewhat distant from the ordinary life that most of us lead. So insights into the world of these famously successful people, whether by auto- or biography, images captured for magazines or electronic postings or their memoires, whatever form they may take, invite our curiosity to check it out for ourselves.

Marilyn Carlson Nelson is former chairman and chief executive officer of Carlson, a global travel and hospitality company. Headquartered in Minneapolis, Minn., with operations in more than 150 countries and territories, more than 100,000 people work under its brands including Quorvus Collection, Radisson Blu®, Radisson®, Radisson Red, Park Plaza®, Park Inn® by Radisson, Country Inns & Suites By CarlsonSM and Carlson Wagonlit Travel. She is the current co-CEO of Carlson Holdings. Nelson has appeared on Forbes magazine’s list as one of “The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women.” She was named one of “America’s Best Leaders” by U.S. News and World Report, and in 2007, Ethisphere Magazine recognized her as one of the “100 Most Influential People in Business Ethics.”

In this book Marilyn has shared stories that “are closest to” her heart as “life is made up of a series of days and choices, and how we lead matters.” It is not a book on leadership but rather quotes and stories that provide glimpses into one woman’s perspective on life. It is an eclectic collection of what speaks to Marilyn heart as being important. Without being dramatic, overly sentimental, it is sometimes vulnerable, insightful, loving, humble and seemingly authentic but without judgement. An ordinary woman born into a family and life path with an extraordinary sense of duty and continuity of the family line, business and legacy. As a result, an extraordinary life evolved.

I particularly found appealing the quotes from a wide diversity of people that opens your soul to the lesson in the story that follows. The stories tend to be short but are grounded in those moments that become fixed narratives of your life because of the life-molding determinants they come to be. Perhaps Marilyn’s words that I resonated a great deal with were the following:

As we confront the most daunting challenges of our time, we need all the creativity, resolve, and leadership we can muster to find sustainable solutions in an increasingly complex world. Men and women must do it together. After all, if the village were on fire, would we expect only the men to help? (p.27)

It is an easy to read book that you can easily pick up where you left off, but the pages are written with thick love. Poignantly the last words of the book are not Marilyn’s but those of one of her children who soon after was killed in a road accident. It is the sharing of a “most previous belonging” of Marilyn’s and as a mother I was moved to hold such a gift. Together both mother and daughter remind us that it is life’s journey that matters, that we enjoy it to the fullest, live it to the fullest and lead in a way that has integrity, caring of others and big dreams that we ought never to give up on.