Obstacles Welcome by Ralph de la Vega

November 4, 2009 | By | Add a Comment

How do you empower yourself? I think the question really is, how do you keep from disempowering yourself? How do you make the choice not to impose self-limitations by thinking, I can’t do this.  I can’t do that? Why not make the choice to be the very best at what you want to do?

So ask yourself, “If I did X, Y, and Z, could I be the best?”  And if you believe the answer is yes, ask yourself why you are not doing these things.  Why disempower yourself?

Obstacles Welcome, p. 159

In Obstacles Welcome, Ralph de la Vega recounts his journey as a young Cuban immigrant to President and Chief Executive Officer of AT& T Mobility.1  We learn about his initial years in the United States and other highlights of de la Vega’s journey such as restoring network order in the wake of Hurricane Andrew, navigating the Internet Revolution, successfully merging Cingular with AT&T and background on the iPhone’s path to prominence.  The author is no stranger to success.  In this book, he shares why he was so successful and how the reader can overcome obstacles in his or her own life for personal advantage.

The book goes over many concepts covered in goal setting courses and business school.  Work hard.  Persevere.  Empower employees.  Set measurable goals.  Get feedback.  Hold others accountable. Be approachable.  Be resilient. Dream big.  The material is good, but there wasn’t much that I hadn’t heard before.  Apart from a lack of new information, I’m just not sure about the Biblical accuracy of some of this book’s underpinnings.   (This is pertinent because the book is put out by a Christian publishing house.)  Let’s play something I’ll call “Book vs. Bible”.  There will be only one round, because this game is in beta stage.

Book: “Each of us is in control of our own journey.  Deciding what we want and how to get there.” – p. 98

Bible: “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” – Proverbs 16:9

Apart from not exactly squaring with the Bible, there is an overall level of self-determinism in here that books such as “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell make a compelling argument against.  Just how much are we in control over what happens to us?  A scripture in the book of Ecclesiastes puts it this way, “The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.”  Sure, you typically have to work very hard to be successful.  However, there is also something to be said for being in the right place at the right time.  This book leans toward the side that a person can make anything happen if they work hard enough.  This sounds appealing, but try telling that to someone who was born a midget but really wants to play in the NBA.

The book does offer some helpful tips and words of inspiration.  There are continual challenges to not get stuck in old mindsets.  There are charges to break free from self-imposed limitations.  There is encouragement to go for it all.    This is good and commendable.  Sometimes, though, it blurs into the message “get more and you will be happy”.  On the contrary, it is better to have one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil.2  Godliness with contentment is great gain.3

Another thing that bugged me about this book was how the author rarely goes into any personal flaws or shortcomings.  Maybe he focused a little too much on his career at the expense of his family.  Maybe he has had to deal with a lot of pride as a result of all of his accomplishments.  I’m sure there is something he currently struggles with.  Letting us in on this would help us to see him as less of a success machine and more of a human being.  When he does reveal any personal struggles, he quickly discusses how he remedied the situation.

Here is an example of how he comes off looking like a model of perfection:

On some days I’ve shaken as many as one thousand hands (and yes, my hand hurt that night). Long ago I lost count of how many people told me, “No executive has ever come down here and shaken my hand.”  Just as important, I always leave time for dialogue after I speak. (p. 147)

I know that he is wanting to share his advice in order to help others achieve a greater measure of success.  Still, sections like the one above came off as self-congratulatory.

Other chapters felt like they could have been titled, “How to manipulate your employees as much as possible for personal gain.”  I am no advocate for employees slacking off, but it is possible for things to go to the opposite extreme.  In fairness to AT&T, I have no idea how well or poorly they treat their employees.  From the sound of this book, they treat them well.

Though I have been piling on, there were many things I liked about this book.  The focus on character and integrity was great.  The book was clear and easy to read. The summaries at the end of each chapter were helpful.  I also enjoyed the parts where de la Vega went into strategy (e.g. how he handled the merger, how he delegates authority and what changes were put in place for more effective marketing).  My favorite part of the book was in the initial chapter where de la Vega describes his immigration experience.  This part was fascinating and I was left wanting for more.

I have no doubt that de la Vega excels at what he does.  He clearly cares very much about his company and takes great pride in its success.  In the process of describing how he overcome so many obstacles, the author shares concepts in order to benefit the reader.  I just didn’t encounter as many new concepts as I would have liked.  Nevertheless, sometimes it is good to be reminded.

Rating: 3/5: I found the book semi-inspirational.  I wasn’t hit with the full force of the pom-pom and the book primarily focuses on only one form of success.

This book was provided for review by the Thomas Nelson Publishing Group.  To purchase this book on Amazon, click here.

  1. This sentence was stolen from the dust jacket.
  2. Ecclesiastes 4:6
  3. 1 Timothy 6:6
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