Mendoza School of Business

New book shows leaders how to use values to be more effective

Published: August 25, 2008 / Author: Carol Newswriting

One of the case studies presented in the book “Getting It Right: Notre Dame on Leadership and Judgment in Business” involves turning around a bankrupt blood bank. To get back to financial health, the organization’s leader could choose to discontinue unprofitable products and stop serving area hospitals that weren’t paying off.

But what if the blood bank’s mission is to serve all hospitals and all patients in need?

“Well, those values would constrain the possible solutions,” says book co-author Ed Conlon, associate dean and Edward Frederick Sorin Society professor in the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame. “Discontinuing products or service would not be possible. We would have to look for another way to turn around the organization.”

Finding “another way” illustrates the central premise of “Getting It Right” by Conlon and Viva Bartkus, associate professor of management at Notre Dame. Leadership means not only solving tough business problems, but solving them within a framework of well-examined values in order to bring about the best result for the organization and everyone it serves.

“Without a system of values, a leader cannot even determine whether there is a problem, let alone begin down the path of preparing a solution,” Bartkus said. “A leader’s values proscribe the space where he or she can look for solutions, establish priorities and lay the foundation for necessary change.”

“Getting It Right,” published this month by Jossey-Bass, departs from much of the recent literature on leadership, which often focuses on a leader’s personality. The book instead presents real-life case studies that demonstrate how problem solving is an essential yet often overlooked leadership quality. Further, Bartkus and Conlon provide a framework for solving complicated business problems utilizing management principles taught at Notre Dame. The problem-solving framework shows how to find solutions by examining the problem’s symptoms, move from analysis to action, and drive the solution through the organization.

The authors spent four years working on “Getting It Right.” It is based on Bartkus’ work as a consultant for 10 years with McKinsey & Co., as well as Conlon’s 30 years as a scholar and professor at the University.

“From the scores of presentations made by executives in my classes, I have learned that a key litmus test for leaders is how they handle the truly tough problems produced by uncertain and highly competitive business environments,” Conlon said. “Our book captures and illustrates many of the tactics that produced happy endings to these stories.”

Each chapter introduces and explores a theme of the problem-solving framework from the real cases. When these themes are practiced diligently, Conlon and Bartkus say the framework helps the reader develop habits of mind and the confidence to discover solutions that are both good and good enough, to where more analysis is not likely to yield a greater impact. The chapters conclude with essays by notable people in business and academia – including Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, C.S.C., president emeritus of Notre Dame – who reflect on the thorny problems they weren’t able to solve.

Insights from the book include:

  • Politeness can be the biggest killer of effective problem solving.
  • To avoid “analysis paralysis” and move to a solution, ask yourself, “How wrong can I be?” And “How does that change my answer?”
  •  Not sure your solution is the correct one? Try story telling. In your mind, pick your toughest critic and convince them of the solution with a story.
  • If a leader is not committed to a solution, everyone else can go home. Nothing will be accomplished unless a leader is fully committed.

Prior to joining the Notre Dame faculty, Bartkus spent a decade at McKinsey & Co. serving clients on their strategic, operational and organizational challenges; the last four as partner of the firm. Bartkus graduated summa cum laude from Yale University with master’s and bachelor’s degrees in economics, then completed her doctorate and master’s in international relations at Oxford while on a Rhodes Scholarship.

Conlon has served as the chair of the Management Departments at Notre Dame and the University of Iowa. A graduate of Penn State and Carnegie-Mellon Universities and former editor of The Academy of Management Review, he has spent the last three decades teaching and studying how leaders make choices and change their organizations.

Contact: Viva Bartkus, 574-631-9997,; or Ed Conlon, 574- 631-7685,




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