Wednesday, May 30, 2007

What Got You Here, Won't Get You There - Marshall Goldsmith

This book proposes to help us "Discover the 20 Workplace Habits You Need to Break." And I discovered I have quite a few of the 20. I listened to this as an audiobook, and then wanted to quote something out of it for a newsletter I was writing, so I ended up buying the actual book as well. I discovered that listening to books can be an excellent way of absorbing new ideas and an enjoyable way to add dimension to my daily walks with my dog. But it's hard to go back and "look things up." As a person who marks interesting passages with post-it flags, the audiobook experience has presented some challenges for me as a "reader." I was so excited about finding Execution on this little iPod like device that I had to show it to my 19-year-old daughter, who rolled her eyes in exasperation and pointed out that I could just buy an iPod and download whatever books I wanted to. (Educating old people exhausts and frustrates her.) Okay, so DUH! I got an iPod and started downloading books! It's technology stupid.

This book is so enjoyable and very practical. We all have habits that need improvement, and he points out in this book that not everyone has issues so severe they need to be fixed by an executive coach of his caliber. Nevertheless, there are things we can all improve, and making some minor adjustments in habits, attitude and perspective can net very big returns in the workplace and at home. He gives real life stories and case studies from his many years of experience coaching and training corporate executives. He also uses his own issues to illustrate how even an executive coach can fall prey to bad habits. There were things that made me laugh out loud. Like his discussion about office suck-ups. He gives a very funny example of how the family dog is the ultimate suck-up and we train them to be that way. It's the same for the suck-ups at the office.

The one idea that made the biggest impression on me was the idea of an informal accountability coach. Goldsmith has a longtime friend who calls him every night, no matter where he is in the world, and asks him a list of questions that he put together for himself. These questions are designed to help him stay accountable to his own goals: did he exercise, did he eat high fat foods, did he write that day, did he say something nice to his wife and to his kids? He goes over the list of his own questions and explains that his friend Jim only asks the questions. No commentary or criticism is allowed by the questioner. He said this book would never have been written without Jim calling daily to ask, "Did you write today?" I really loved this idea and told my mother that she could be my accountability coach. I talk to her every evening anyway and I think this will help her feel like she is playing a greater role in helping me be successful. Which is in fact the case. But I had to tell her that she cannot criticize or comment no matter what the answer is to the question: How many glasses of wine did you have tonight?" I'm working on making sure the answer is always "one."

This book is one that I will listen to more than once. Mainly because now that it's on my iPod, I just have to select it and it's there. And beyond getting the concepts the first time around, I think it's important to continually reinforce those concepts. How we get along with those around us impacts our ability to be successful - in our careers and in every other relationship we have. This book was an excellent investment of my time and I would highly recommend it.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done

I didn't actually read this book, I listened to it. I found this neat little device at the bookstore, sort of like an iPod only smaller, that had the whole book on it. I believe this was a stroke of good fortune for me because the book is full of fairly weighty material. Listening to it as read by the authors - Larry Bossidy, Ram Charan and their collaborator Charles Burck - made it much easier to digest I think. I started listening to it after Christmas while walking my dog in the early pre-dawn hours of the morning. Walking in the dark listening to this book was actually a wonderful experience. I enjoyed every minute of it.

The reviews on for this book tackle the concepts in wonderful depth and I have no desire to repeat what has already been written there. If you want several great summaries about the book, I suggest that site as an excellent resource.

Here's what I came away with: dysfunction in organizations is not unique. This is something my new boss at the time kept telling me. Dave assured me that it was not any worse than many other privately owned large organizations he was familiar with. But I can tell you that when it's your own organization, it just feels like it has to be worse than average.

Larry Bossidy was formerly from General Electric and Allied Signal, and came out of retirement to take the helm of Honeywell when their merger with GE failed to gel. He has a career's worth of stories to tell. I really enjoy books that give lots of case studies, stories and examples to illustrate their points and theories. That is definitely a strength in this book. To listen to the authors is tell it themselves adds a great deal as well - they own their words and convey the message in a very compelling way. They clearly articulated the why, how and who of strategy execution - both well done and poorly done.

One of the reviewers on Amazon said this was a book that needed to be read more than once to really absorb it all, and I agree. I'm no longer with a large company and ponder whether I would ever choose to work for one again. It's very frustrating to be in a position where I can see what needs to be done, but know that it's not within my purview to affect change in a positive way. And that's certainly something they cover very well in the book - having the right people in the right positions and aligning all aspects of a company's strategy so that each supports the overall goals of the company. Execution is indeed a discipline and managers and corporate leadership need to excel in this regard. This book is an excellent primer on the subject.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Field Notes on the Compassionate Life - Marc Ian Barasch

Subtitled: A Search for the Soul of Kindness. I don't know too many people who would automatically think that "compassion" and "business" go hand in hand. (Take a breath and visualize Starbucks.) It would be convenient to think we could truly compartmentalize our lives into neat boxes and sort out feelings and beliefs according which feelings are appropriate for which box. Like it's okay to be compassionate in dealing with children, the elderly and the ill. And it's equally okay to be ruthless, hard edged and self-serving in business. How many would argue with that? It's just not so simple.

There were echoes in this book of many principles set out in two other books I previously reviewed here (November 2005): Leadership and Self Deception and The Bonds That Free Us, both by the Arbinger Institute. Who we are doesn't change from one location and situation to another. Our behavior might change, and the choices we make might depend heavily on the context in which we make them, but we take who we are everywhere we go and what we give out affects what we get back - at home, at the office and in the community.

I could spend a great deal of time talking about this particular book because I found it so profoundly affecting for me. I will put it into some kind of context for you. I read the book in the cold winter month of December '06 just after Christmas. I was walking my dog for an hour every morning in the pitch dark listening to the audiobook Execution:The Discipline of Getting Things Done by Larry Bossidy, Ram Charan and Charles Burck and read by the authors. (More on that later.) The book was highly recommended by my brand new boss, and it was indeed a good read that touched very much on the types of challenges (and dysfunction) all large companies face - including ours. So I would listen to Larry & Ram talk about corporate alignment first thing every morning for a over a week, go to the office to deal with the very things they were addressing, and then I would come home in the evenings and read Field Notes for about an hour before going to bed. My whole day was full of changing perspectives and valuable insights.

Shortly after finishing Execution and while I was still finishing Field Notes, I went to spend a week with my mother in Georgia for New Years. She is battling lung cancer and had fallen and fractured her arm making her almost immobile. I read the book on my flight there and finished it the first morning I was with her, reading while she napped in her chair. I spent most of that first afternoon reading parts of it aloud to her. It's that kind of book - one that you want to share with other people. It is full of wisdom and hard truths about the choices we make based on how we see the world. Compassion is not something that comes easily to most people - including me. I consider myself kind, I believe that I am, but true compassion and those who practice the deepest type of giving and forgiveness are well out of my league.

The one concept from this book that I will always carry with me is this: "Hate is like drinking poison, and expecting it to kill the other guy. But it doesn't kill them, it kills us." It is one of the most profound concepts I have ever come across. And I know that it's true. Not just hate either, but all that is negative, hurtful, base and unkind. It doesn't have to be hate to be poisonous. Pay attention to the newscasts, the reality TV shows, the celebrity gossip, how people in the office talk about one another, how people in general treat one another. Increasingly, we are surrounded by so much that is negative and hurtful. And when we choose to embrace that focus on negativity - personally, professionally or culturally- we are planting the seeds of our own self destruction.

Shortly after returning from Georgia, I heard the Christina Aguilera song on the radio Hurt. The very first time I heard that song, it made me think of my father - deceased now for two years. And when I went out to to search for it, I found that the music video for Hurt was indeed about a father and daughter. My sister says it's sad that this song reminds me of him, but I don't think it's sad at all. I don't feel sad. It reminds me that hard lessons are better learned late, than never learned at all. We don't hurt other people without hurting ourselves in the process. Which is why compassion matters in all aspects of our life, which includes our business life as well.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Little Red Book of Selling - Jeffrey Gitomer

Subtitled 12.5 Principles of Sales Greatness: How to make sales FOREVER, it delivers what the title promises. For many people, this book is certainly not new at all having been published in 2004, but it was a gift to me the last week I worked for my previous employer, and so I sat down and read it again. Jeffrey Gitomer knows how to communicate. His book is the closest thing to an interactive experience I think that it's possible to have in a printed work. The content is simple and to the point. He didn't invent the successful sales process. He communicates it well and ties the book back to his website by offering additional information for each chapter. In addition to being a successful author, his syndicated weekly column is published widely throughout the U.S. and he is a much-in-demand speaker and trainer. But his writing style is very forthright, engaging and pretty much in-your-face. He doesn't mince words, and while the cartoons and format give the content some punch, humor and interest, you find that it's the ideas and principles are solid as rock.

Gitomer gives credit to all those who came before him and their classic works that are still relevant today - Earl Nightengale, Edward de Bono, Dale Carnegie. He has endeavored here to synthesize volumes of valuable information into a handbook that he fully expects to be read regularly and often. There is no question that he is a product of his own research and practice, he lives his own philosophies quite successfully.

The book is a modern classic and should be the handbook he intended it to be for anyone who is in sales. It's not a difficult read and well worth the time invested.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Made to Stick - Chip Heath & Dan Heath

Not to be overly dramatic with this, but I think Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die is the new age Bible of effective communication. I'm not sure I need to say anything more than that (but of course I will.) This book came out in January of 2007 and immediately became a bestseller. In the February 2007 issue of FastCompany Magazine, the Heath brothers debuted their monthly column, which is every bit as good as the groundbreaking work they did in their book.

Communication is the foundation of all else. If you can't get this right, whatever else you do well will be lost. In an age when we are constantly bombarded with information, communication has become paramount. Here's the thing: most people don't know there is a difference between information and communication. People will give you information (my loathing of PowerPoint is well documented), and they will talk at you and present you with facts and figures, and a dynamic presentation to go with it. But what good is any of that, if not a single idea can be recalled afterward. And if it can't be recalled, can it be acted upon? Uh . . . most likely not.

This book is such an engaging read, but very practical as well. It's really a "how-to" book on communication, and the building blocks of their fundamental theories culminate in a final chapter that will in fact "stick" with you long afterward. For me, it affected not only how I communicate ideas to others - verbally, visually, and in writing - but I evaluate almost everything I see, read or hear according to how "sticky" the message or idea really is. The truth is, we are just inundated with excessive use of language every day that is nearly meaningless when you get down to what we actually remember or use. It makes sense that when we master the skill of communication, we insure a much higher level of success in all else we undertake. I just loved this book!