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Phil's Books blog

Phil’s Picks for September: The God Complex (Do you have it without realising?)

Rarely would I recommend books that I haven’t read. But, when Johnnie Moore recommends them, I’m gonna read them, and will recommend them unhesitatingly. Here are the books he was using in a recent workshop on Creative Leadership. That’s my reading list sorted for a while, then …

Recommended Leadership Books

Podcast: The God Complex

We’ve been experimenting with podcasts in the online leadership development community we run for a FTSE 100 company, but most of them are too long and rambling.

Make or curate?

We don’t see the point in making them if we can ‘curate’ them: find great ones that are relevant to the organization’s leadership competencies and what the community tells us they want to focus on, and point them at the podcast.

Our proposition is ‘micro-lessons’ for leaders who don’t have time; so they come into our community for just a few minutes to pick up a ‘micro-lesson’ several times a week.

Enough 70/20/10 already: it’s old news!

We think 70/20/10 is ridiculously old news and describes what was not what should be. This is the new way to go: picking up lessons a few minutes at a time several times a week, then trying it at work on the fly.

We need to break the barriers – the lean-to-the-right slashes – in 70/20/10; not assume you have to work with those barriers.

We use a development approach of ‘pick up a new thing, try it, see if it works, add it to your leadership toolkit and tweak it if it does, reject it if it doesn’t and try something else tomorrow or later in the week’ .

This approach busts 70/20/10 and consigns it to history, where it belongs.

Stop trying to work within 70/20/10 confines: that was last century for crying out loud.

Anyway, enough preaching.

The great short podcast segment I’d recommend – and we’re using it for our online leadership community we run in an intranet for a FTSE 100 company’s global community of leaders – is economist Tim Harford’s ten minute segment on…

Complex systems thrive on trial and error

God Complex Podcast

It’s perfect for the community we facilitate, as Harford leads in with describing The God Complex : the inability of leaders to admit mistakes or say ‘I could have done that better’.

Until leaders can openly do that, the people they work with won’t either. And it has to happen if Senge’s old Fifth Discipline – the constantly learning and improving organization via Systems Thinking – is to be achieved.

We use tabloid-style headlines like “The God Complex: Do you have it without realising?” to grab the attention of busy executives and get them to buy into spending a few minutes examining that thought, reflecting on how they lead, and testing it.

That’s the key first step – grab their attention for just a few seconds, pushing everything else aside – in an ‘Attention-Based Learning Model’, which is what we use in our online leadership development communities of practice.

So, thank you Tim Harford!

Phil


Phil’s Picks for August: Nathan Lozeron on Deep Work

Things I noticed this month that look useful for leaders …

Nathan Lozeron on Deep WorkDeep Work, Cal Newport

I continue to be impressed by Nathan Lozeron’s animated book summaries. And the one-page pdfs he creates to go along with them.

Unlike the big, corporate, paid-for book summary services, which appear to be written by robots, Nathan’s strength is in engaging with the ideas and highlighting the most powerful stuff AS HE SEES IT – using his judgement.

Read the rest of this entry »


Phil’s Picks for July: Break out of the metaphors

A couple of leaders I work with and respect (thank you Lincoln Barrett and Joerg Boeckler) sing the praises of this book.

I had a quick look at an interview with the author, Liz Wiseman, that John Mattone’s team did. And bought the book, based on Wiseman’s explanation of how leaders are either ‘multipliers’ or ‘diminishers’ in their impact on others.

No surprise there, but there’s real learning in how she explains that we can go around thinking we are multipliers when we are actually unintentional diminishers.

Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter

'Multipliers' Book Cover

I loved Essentialism, and Greg McKeown, author of that, is involved with this book, too.

What particularly appeals to me about Liz Wiseman’s thinking is that it focuses on unintended consequences. Most leaders, in my experience, haven’t yet got to grips with complexity (though they think they have) and still see a clear ’cause and effect’ mechanism in place with themselves, usually, being ‘the cause’.

‘Make it so’ is a myth

This ‘make it so’ assumption in leadership (Jean Luc Picard, the captain in the later incarnations of Start Trek, remember?) is a fallacy and always has been.

But, the need to show that ‘yes, indeed we made it so due to you, dear leader, telling us to’ is so strong in most corporate cultures that it generates a kind of mythical story about what is happening, which runs alongside reality and slightly separate from it.

Until reality wins.

Think ‘acts of leadership’ not ‘leader’

Leadership is in acts that people do within complex large systems. Those acts of leadership emerge and are directed by and within a web of common purpose. Leadership does not sit in a person ‘at the top’ of the organization, making decisions, which the rest of the organization enacts.

Even ‘the top’ is a mental construct. There is no ‘top’. There is no physical height.

When Stephen Covey said “The leader is the one who climbs the tallest tree, looks around and shouts down ‘wrong jungle'”, he wasn’t making a literal height-based point; the top of the tree equating to the top of the organization.

Our minds are so full of metaphors and constructs about how organizations work – pyramids, top of the organization, front line, middle managers – based on imposing physical shape – verticality in particular – on something that doesn’t have a physical entity, that we start to act and think in those metaphorical terms.

Break out of the metaphors and be real!

Wiseman’s book helps us break out of this tired (but persistent: take away the ‘vertical’ model of thinking and people get scared and want their ladder-like framework back) old view of structure – where the analogy becomes ‘real’ in our heads, with bosses somehow at ‘the top’ of something.

Another thing I spotted this month

Well, actually, it was the tail end of June, but it had its impact on me this month.

Words of wisdom on leadership from Queen Elizabeth II, aged 90, who said this last week: Phil'sBlogQueen

“One hallmark of leadership in a fast-moving world is allowing sufficient room for quiet thinking and contemplation, which can enable deeper, cooler consideration of how challenges and opportunities can be best addressed.”

Wow; smart woman our Queen 🙂 . The faster markets move, and the more overwhelmed with ‘incoming’ information we are, the more we are tempted to respond with ever-faster decision-making.

Obviously that’s appropriate sometimes to avoid missing a fast-moving opportunity or to sidestep a fast-moving market threat.

But, we are in danger of losing the discipline of taking time to think properly, and making fast knee-jerk decisions to clear the modern equivalent of our in-tray.

“You call it procrastinating.
I call it thinking,”
– Aaron Sorkin
Phil

A Book Distillery: Whole leadership books in 5 min animations

From 30SecondsMail (who have undercut me by 30 seconds, but I don’t care as it’s a great idea).

We recently launched our “Book Distillery”: We create super short and crisp 5 minute animated video abstracts of famous business books. There’s no easier and funnier way to digest a whole book in such a short time. And it’s 100% free (and always will be) 🙂 We thought maybe your readers would like to know about it.

There will be one new “video-book” every week.

Here is our first video “Zero to One – by Peter Thiel

Coming up: The Lean Startup, the 4-hour work week and many many more. – Ajie

30Seconds

Check out Aije’s site by clicking here, or try a video by clicking the picture.


Innovation: Starting second can end up first

Who beat Amazon?

Which company created on-line bookselling in the 1990s? Amazon.com? Nope. The first on-line bookstore was set up by an Ohio-based bookseller named Charles Stack in 1991. Jeff Bezos didn’t launch Amazon till four years later.

We’re constantly being told that leaders need to foster a culture of innovation, to move into Blue Ocean spaces where no competitors exist, then profit from the customers before our competitors copy us and move into the space we have created.

Henry Ford said ‘come second to market’

Well, not always. Henry Ford used to argue that it made more sense to be second to market – let someone else take the risks of seeing if something new is what customers will buy. Then, when the market is proven, often at great expense, follow in and do it better. That’s the core argument in this book, and the authors lines up plenty of examples to prove their point.

Fast Second: How smart companies bypass radical innovation to enter and dominate new markets

Fast Second: How smart companies bypass radical innovation to enter and dominate new markets

And they do have one. The argument against them is the first mover advantage argument – That markets move so fast nowadays you need to be first to market with something new so you can mop up the customers. That may be true if there’s only room for one dominant supplier, and if your aim is to be that dominant supplier – the Amazon of your marketplace, if you will. But there’s usually plenty of room for smaller niche players who take the main innovation, tweak it a bit and find a space in the market that way. It’s like ‘the long tail’ argument.

But, do markets move too fast today for ‘be second to market’ to work?

Tom Peters argues that markets move so fast that trying to be second to market means you will just be mopping up the leftovers as those who were brave enough to lead and create a new market take all the prizes. Well, sometimes, maybe. But, not always.

The uncomfortable answer is that sometimes being first to market is the winning strategy and sometimes being second or even third, when the pioneers have proved what works and what doesn’t and lost all their money in the process, is the right strategy.

It seems odd to say ‘Take the lead on being second or third’ but leadership doesn’t always mean being first to market. That’s my view, anyway (in synch with the authors of this book).

Balancing the risk: Being closer to customers increases the chances of success

Nobody can tell you which one works in your particular situation (a strategy of being first, second or third to market). But, the closer you are to knowing your customers’ or potential customers’ needs – to instinctively know what they want even before they know it themselves – the more likely your innovation is to be a winner.

And that, though it doesn’t explicitly say so in this book, is why leaders need to be as ‘close to the customer’ (thank you Tom Peters, even if it was 25 years ago he said it) as possible. That means interacting with customers whenever you can, not receiving reports from middle managers about the customer base, but immersing yourself in the customer base, no matter how lofty your role in the organization is.

End of preachy bit. Anyway, interesting book…

Little bit more about it here: Fast Second on Wikipedia


The Second Little Book of Leadership

…just published on Slideshare. Hope you find it useful.

 


Why Should Anyone Be Led By You?


One of the reasons I like this book is that it is one of the few leadership books that recognizes that ‘leadership’ is not an ability or skill or collection of abilities or skills within some people – leaders. Leadership is a relationship between people. Others have to agree to be led.

And, at times, those others do the leading and you agree to be led.

I also like the lack of emphasis on ‘competencies’ and trait theory – that there are traits or competencies that are common to leaders – and the acknowledgement that leaders are often very different from each other – in fact have more apart than they have in common.

At a time when large organizations arae commonly trying to standardise leadership behaviour, this book is a refreshing reminder that it won’t allow itself to be. Because, again, leadership isn’t something inside a ‘leader’. It’s a relationship between people.

Here are the authors outlining the four qualities inspirational leaders share

“We’ve discovered that inspirational leaders … share four unexpected qualities:

  1. They selectively show their weaknesses. By exposing some vulnerability, they reveal their approachability and humanity.
  2. They rely heavily on intuition to gauge the appropriate timing and course of their actions. Their ability to collect and interpret soft data helps them know just when and how to act.
  3. They manage employees with something we call tough empathy. Inspirational leaders empathize passionately—and realistically—with people, and they care intensely about the work employees do.
  4. They reveal their differences. They capitalize on what’s unique about themselves.

You may find yourself in a top position without these qualities, but few people will want to be led by you.

Our theory about the four essential qualities of leadership, it should be noted, is not about results per se. While many of the leaders we have studied and use as examples do in fact post superior financial returns, the focus of our research has been on leaders who excel at inspiring people—in capturing hearts, minds, and souls.

This ability is not everything in business, but any experienced leader will tell you it is worth quite a lot. Indeed, great results may be impossible without it.”


Little Bets, How breakthrough ideas come from small discoveries, by Peter Sims


 

“In this era of ever-accelerating change, being able to create, navigate amid uncertainty, and adapt using an experimental approach will increasingly be a vital advantage.

The way to begin is with little bets.” – Peter Sims

I love this book.

One sentence book summary: You innovate to keep changing and improving by a constant series of ‘little bets’ – affordable experimental changes or mini pilots – taken at all levels of the organization: if you are not trying at least one new thing or new approach at any one time, then you will stay the same; maybe you’re ‘good’ already so play safe most of the time, but since ‘good’ is no longer good enough, you may look like you’re succeeding, but you are actually slowly slipping behind. (Wow, what a long sentence…)

Why this is so important: Fundamental to the little bets approach is knowing that you will get something wrong, learn why and improve it. It’s because it’s new that you don’t know if it will work. And you ‘learn by doing’ – smart business leaders call this ‘failing forwards‘ – It looks like failure but it teaches you something you didn’t know and teaches you how ‘it’ will work, and you then fix it and find you now have something no competitor has. You created it.

One paragraph on why you will think this is wrong compared with the way you are used to working: NONE of us are comfortable with this approach as it ‘ups’ what looks like our failure rate. We all want to be in charge of the unit or department or organization that rarely gets anything ‘wrong’ – the safe pair of hands.

That old-fashioned view of what success looks like just means you will stay in safe territory where you know how to do what you are doing. So, you will not progress fast enough. As Picasso said, he was always trying new things that he didn’t know how to do, in order to learn how to do them. That’s the only way we move forward.

Fundamental to the little bets approach is that you:

1. Experiment: Learn by doing. Fail quickly to learn fast. Develop experiments and prototypes to gather insights, identify problems, and build up to creative ideas, like Beethoven did in order to discover new musical styles and forms.

2. Play: A playful, improvisational, and humorous atmosphere quiets our inhibitions when ideas are incubating or newly hatched, and prevents creative ideas from being snuffed out or prematurely judged.

3. Immerse: Take time to get out into the world to gather fresh ideas and insights, in order to understand deeper human motivations and desires, and absorb how things work from the ground up.

4. Define: Use insights gathered throughout the process to define specific problems and needs before solving them, just as the Google founders did when they realized that their library search algorithm could address a much larger problem.

5. Reorient: Be flexible in pursuit of larger goals and aspirations, making good use of small wins to make necessary pivots and chart the course to completion.

6. Iterate: Repeat, refine, and test frequently armed with better insights, information, and assumptions as time goes on.

Great book. Busts the ‘innovation is only noticeable if it’s big innovation’ thinking and shows how to create a continuously innovating culture that improves – a continuous improvement ‘engine’ if you will.

More on Peter Sims’ website>>>

Peter Sims talks about the book on his website (I’m a link. Click on me).

 


How to Lead in 2012: Follow Happy Henry’s Recipe

Relax! A Happy Business Story

By Henry Stewart, Cathy Busani and James Moran

You can download a free pdf copy of this book on this link:

http://www.happy.co.uk/about/free-publications/

60-Second Main Learning Points

In this fictional tale, a highly stressed small business owner discovers a new way to run his company.

Prologue

What would your organization be like if you completely trusted everybody? What would you have to do to get to that point?

Chapter 1: About Trust and Information

  • Without information, people cannot take responsibility – with information, people cannot avoid taking responsibility.
  • Agree principles that everyone can work within.
  • Train the staff to do the jobs you’re trusting them to do.
  • Trust them to do it.

Chapter 2: Celebrate Mistakes

  • Celebrate your mistakes and learn from them.
  • Imagine what it would be like to work somewhere where you never got blamed for your mistakes… where mistakes were seen as positive things, as outcomes of risk and innovation.
  • You can’t learn from your mistakes if you don’t make any mistakes – go make some.

Weekly Mistake meetings – people talk about the mistakes that they made and how they could do things differently. Admit when you, the boss, make a mistake.

Chapter 3: What to Judge Your People On

  • Look at how your people’s targets fit within the company principles and targets – get your people to see the big picture.
  • Judge your people on the results they achieve, not the number of hours they work.
  • Recognize when people have done good work, give your feedback personally and make it specific.

How are they going to know how much you appreciate them unless you tell them? Recognize when anyone does a good job and make sure they all know that you’re pleased with their work. By showing that you appreciate them you’ll increase their motivation and enthusiasm and consequently improve their morale.

Chapter 4: Listening is Different From Hearing

  • It’s not enough to hear, you have to really listen to people.
  • People say more than they actually “say”.
  • If someone is acting out of character, ask them what is really wrong – and how you can help.
  • Frame conversations to help people listen better.

Chapter 5: Believe the Best

Always believe the best of your staff. Believing the best should form the basis of every communication.

  • Believe the best of people.
  • Give them the benefit of the doubt.
  • Listen without judgement or assumption.
  • Ask how you can help them.

Chapter 6: Hire For Attitude Train for Skill

  • Hire people your existing staff will be happy working with.
  • Skills can be learnt, a good attitude is either there or not there.
  • If somebody is not happy in their current job, see if they can do something else better.
  • Set your staff up to succeed – exploit their strengths, not their weaknesses.

Chapter 8: Job Ownership and Full Involvement from Everyone

  • Create a framework which gives people ownership over their jobs.
  • Get everyone involved in the decisions that affect them.
  • If people are involved in decision, they will be more committed to making those decisions work.

Chapter 9: Work/Life Balance

  • Help people to balance their home lives with their working lives.
  • If people are happier with the balance of their lives, they will be more motivated and produce better work.

Chapter 10: Putting it All Together

  • People work best when they feel good about themselves.
  • How would your organization be different if management focused on making people feel good?
  • Ask your people for ideas – they may know how things work better than you!

Author of this book, Henry Stewart, in these videos, talks about some of the learning from the book:

http://thinkers50.com/sharing/video-library/ ( 5.24)

http://thinkers50.com/sharing/video-library/ (2.28)


The New Capitalist Manifesto by Umair Haque


The New Capitalist Manifesto: Building a Disruptively Better Business, by Umair Haque

What can I say, other than that I completely agree with the premise behind this book by Umair Haque – that the way too many large corporations are led delivers ‘thin value’: value spread thinly at the top and not encompassing all of the stakeholders – and that it’s time for new leadership and a new value proposition. Some companies are doing it already. Time for more. Here’s the blurb from publishers Harvard Business School:

“Welcome to the worst decade since the Great Depression. Trillions of dollars of financial assets destroyed; trillions in shareholder value vanished; worldwide GDP stalled.

“But this isn’t a financial crisis, or even an economic one, says Umair Haque. It’s a crisis of institutions-ideals inherited from the industrial age. These ideals include rampant exploitation of resources, top-down command of resource allocations, withholding of information from stakeholders to control them, and a single-minded pursuit of profit for its own sake.

“All this has produced “thin value”-short-term economic gains that accrue to some people far more than others, and that don’t make us happier or healthier. It has left resources depleted and has spawned conflict, organizational rigidity, economic stagnation, and nihilism.

In The New Capitalist Manifesto, Haque advocates a new set of ideals:

(1)Renewal: Use resources sustainably to maximize efficiencies,

(2) Democracy: Allocate resources democratically to foster organizational agility,

(3) Peace: Practice economic non-violence in business,

(4) Equity: Create industries that make the least well off better off, and

(5) Meaning: Generate payoffs that tangibly improve quality of life.

Yes, adopting these ideals requires bold and sustained changes. But some companies-Google, Walmart, Nike-are rising to the challenge. In this bold manifesto, Haque makes an irresistible business case for following their lead.”

Yep, I’ll buy into that.

Phil Dourado