Three’s The Charm: Don’t Just Get Mad – Get Better, With ‘The Three Laws of Performance’

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Dr. Warren Bennis of USC, a pioneer in business leadership, utilizes a series of books about the reinvention of leadership. “The Three Laws of Performance” by Steve Zaffron and David Logan is the newest book in the Warren Bennis line-up. As an activist in human rights and development, this is a book I’ve been starving for. I now consider it a must-read not only for people in corporations, but also for those of us who are passionate about leadership in government, schools and nonprofit organizations.

I’m not a book reviewer, per se. However, I scout out books that impact quality of life and the ability to turn ideas into action. Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point” is an example of a book that permanently shifts the way people relate to projects. Our culture has now incorporated a lot of Gladwell’s concepts, including the notion of a “tipping point.” I predict that “The Three Laws of Performance” will become a classic — and generate a tipping point for transforming corporate culture from “profit only” to profit that includes global and individual well-being.

A perfect emblem for the ideas presented in “The Three Laws of Performance” was on a bumper sticker I saw last year: “Don’t believe everything you think.”

Law 1: How People Perform Correlates To How Situations Occur To Them. (You’ll have to read the book to get the others. Sorry!) A boiled down version of Law 1: Mr. Roberts, a teacher, believes that his student Henry is impossible to teach. Mr. Roberts’ belief about Henry literally takes over and appears to be the “truth,” not a belief. In other words, how Henry “occurs” to Mr. Roberts will dictate the actions the teacher takes with Henry in the classroom. Henry may “occur” completely differently to other teachers.

As a child, I got below-average grades and was labeled a problem until I got to third grade. There, my teacher — Sonja Erickson Staley — saw genius in me and related to me as gifted. I excelled in school from then on. How she related to me was through her own unique view of me, not my past or the assessments of others.

While the authors of “The Three Laws” don’t use educational settings or nonprofits in their case studies, they use industries that are REALLY hardcore and typically testosterone driven. As I read along, I kept thinking, “Wow, if these methods can transform a mining operation, wait until this approach gets introduced into less volatile but no less important environments.”

The story of the Lonmin Platinum mine in South Africa — whose leader, Brad Mills, employed the Three Laws in real life — prompted Nobel Laureate Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu to say this about “The Three Laws”: “An inspiring, practical book that will assist all who seek to rewrite the future of our world.”

Lonmin Platinum had to have its future rewritten… or else. It was doomed to become a disaster because of accidents, violence, HIV/AIDS, poverty, horrific management and disintegrating union relationships. Now the company has literally been taken from the brink of despair to a miraculous recovery with all included to envision a sustainable, hope-filled future for everyone, including the families of the miners — a group typically ignored by corporations. Mr. Mills refused to be a villain, the role that many corporate leaders take almost by default. He created an atmosphere of partnership and shared humanity.

As a non-practicing lawyer, journalist and human rights activist, I have been on the boards of nonprofits for decades. One of them, Consumer Watchdog (, formerly called the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, is designed to sniff out and expose corporate miscreants and misdeeds in the insurance, health care and utilities industries. (Think Enron or people dying from health care denial.) My colleague, friend, and founder of Consumer Watchdog, Harvey Rosenfield, wakes up each morning with this thought: “What can I do today to get the bastards?” Me too! Many of the nonprofit corporations are designed to remedy or reform the problems that corporations themselves create. Instead of partnerships between nonprofits and for-profits, the current state for many of us is that of policing and “getting the bastards” before they get too many of us.

What if the corporations themselves were to transform and basically incorporate so-called “nonprofit” values into their own charters? “The Three Laws of Performance” has the practical know-how to guide conscientious participants in corporations through a long-lasting, not “airy-fairy” inside-out metamorphosis of their workplace and mission.

The United Nations Eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) will never be accomplished without corporations getting on board ( Indeed, the eighth MDG is: “Develop a global partnership for development.” I know for a fact that many of these corporate fellows (yes, most are fellows) aren’t inherently bad. They too have the potential for greatness. If the guys in “The Three Laws” can be heroes, so can they.

So now when I wake up in the morning with “What can I do today to get the bastards?” my answer is: send them a copy of “The Three Laws of Performance,” because, you see, we actually need them.

Contact Ellen at

Consumer Watchdog
Consumer Watchdog
Providing an effective voice for American consumers in an era when special interests dominate public discourse, government and politics. Non-partisan.

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