poniedziałek, 6 sierpnia 2007

"Leadership the challenge" - book review

Mood: Relaxed
Soundtrack: I am easy like Sunday morning


The book tries to be the ready to use recipe for the success by being the superior leader. The whole story is based on the axis of 5 practices and 10 commitments enlisted on page 22:
  • Model the way – Find your inner voice, Be the example of the shared values
  • Inspire a Shared Vision – Envision, enlist others in a common vision
  • Challenge the Process – seek for innovations, search for constant small improvements
  • Enable Others to Act – promote cooperative goals and building the trust, strengthen others
  • Encourage the Heart – appreciate individual experience, celebrate the values and victories
Each of these things are described in details in the following chapters with big number of real stories and examples.

The body

The 5 practises, seems to be a little bit pumped up and the best part of the books are actually short stories and tactics rather than “way of living”. The book says in number of places, as on the page 99, that leading by the story telling is very useful and practical technique. Page 381 mentions the David Amstrong’s book, which contains the collection of
“285 stories […] organized around the themes such as “stories that kick start
urgency”, “stories to make people brave and wise”, “stories about core values”,
“stories to inspire innovation””!
The book tries to be something more, but in fact, it seems that is the competitor of that book.

Instead of describe each practice or commitment, I will describe the best stories and tactics. The stories will be scored:
1 is I need to mention it, but nothing else
3 is I need to remember it
5 is Good story
7 is Very good story
9 is Excellent story

The stories

Lindsay’s story about the customer service – page 5; score 5
Lindsay highly improved the customer service in repair vehicles sector (women manager in man world) – couple of weeks after reading the book I remember the sample of the worker who drove hundreds of kilometers to pass the repaired car to the customer. Oh Lord, how much I would love to be their customer! The morale of the story is quite trivial: “it is always about the people”… way it is still forgotten?

Szwarzkopf’s story about the team-building – page 87; score 6
The story is about the new recruits coming into the base. The experienced officer “looking like from Olympics”, run with his team much more than the recruiters used to. The effect is that recruiters run much behind the leader. Szwarzkopf takes the officer on a side and explains him how the new soldiers feels like – they are first day in a new place, first morning run, they try to do us much as they can, then they try more, then they try even harder and they their lungs can not keep the tempo… Their leader, their officer does not even look behind. Where is the team spirit? Where is the unit cohesion? Of course, Szwarzkopf is successful in his couching action and he can see “the light dawned on the captain’s face”. He knew also that “the episode would get talked about around the base”. Ehhh… soldiers :)

Treyz’s Disney story about baking the client – page 88; score 8
Treyz speaks about the ABC-Disney negotiations. Negotiations were hard and long. What unique has happened in here was the personalized customer treatment. During on-going negotiations, Walt Disney (the president) took the Treyz’s wife Janet for whole-day-long personal tour guide to the Disneyland and after the amazing day, he provided Treyz’s kids the personalized gifts (among others Pinochio). The whole effort paid back triple during the on-going ABC-Disney negotiations (Janet convinced the husband to do the deal), couple of years later during the next and the next deal. The power of the personalized customer treatment is proved as nowhere else.

Geof Yang’s story “Vision for the leader is like the vision for the driver” – page 113; score 7
“Imagine you are driving along the Pacific Coast High-way heading south from San Franciso on a bright, sunny day. The hills are on your left; the ocean, on your right. On some curves, the cliffs plunge several hundred feet to the water. You can see for miles and miles” – you have vision, “you are cruising along at the speed limit”.
“Suddenly, without warning, you come around a bend in the road and there’s blanket of fog as thick as you’ve ever seen it”. What do you do? […] I slow way down” – well, you would be stupid to drive fast if you have no vision.

Janus effect – page 119; score 6
When drawing the vision, if you look first on your rear-view mirror you feel much more confident about the future predictions. There is a table 5.1 giving you some hard numbers for it – people asked about prediction gave you on average 3.2 years timeframe instead of to 1.8 years. Before making any vision, think for a while how the previous, similar project in the company or somewhere else looked like!

King’s speech “I have a dream” quoted at page 146; score 7
The whole speech is quoted. Before reading it, I though it is the exaggeration, but during and after… It is truly a great speech.

Ritz’s daily lineup meeting at page 180; score 5
Quick 15 minutes meeting is one of the key points for the agile methodologies. It is funny thing to see it in the Ritz chain across the whole glob. Funny and teaching… and making you to remember to keep the routine done, wherever you are and regardless from the size of your team.

Physicians story about listening more than speaking at page 187; score 9
“The Journal of the American Medical Associations reported on a five-year investigation of why some doctors were sued, and the others not, by parents who had all experienced the same tragedy (the death of their child during childbirth). […] “Physicians who had been sued frequently were perceived by their parents as unavailable, rushed, unconcerned, and poor communicators, while physicians with no malpractice claims were perceived as most available, interested, through, and willing to provide the information and answer questions fully.” Clearly, listening deeply makes a difference.”
If the kid asks why the man has two ears and one mouth, it is the answer. If you are not sure if you keep the proper listen/talk ratio ask somebody about noting it, during some longer meeting.

Urban’s ski story “you must fail to learn” at page 215; score 10
It was the first day of skiing classes. I skied all day
long, and I didn’t fall down once. […] I skied up to the ski instructor, and I
told him of my great day. […] He told me, “Personally, Urban, I think you had a
lousy day […] If you are not falling, you are not learning
Desmond Tutu incremental approach at page 228; score 3
“You can’t eat the elephant with one bite” and if you count 100 cards it seem to take much more effort comparing to counting 10 times 10 cards.

Axelrod strategy at page 254; score 10
“Two parties (individual or groups) are confronted […] they must decide whether or not to cooperate […] There are two basic strategies -cooperate or compete - and four possible outcomes based on the choices players make-win-lose, lose-win, lose-lose, win-win […] The long term winner was the simplest of all strategies submitted: Cooperate on the first move and then do whatever the other players did on the previous move.” – that is truly the first strategy which seems to may work within the rat-race!

Elliot Aronson Jigsaw groups at page 270; score 3
That is about the academic experiment, which have been divided into 5-6 groups of 5-6 students. Each group is working of some sub-part of the whole topic and then it shares the gathered knowledge with the others. “The results are dramatic […] All students do as well or better in their knowledge, the lowest-performing students do significantly better […] the levels of cooperation, self-esteem, compassion, and tolerance increase.”

Joseph Sensenbrenner’s story “It is their duty” at page 289; score 4
In big organization there is often the big bureaucracy problem. The story is about “the fleet with 440 different types, makes, models, and years of equipment”. That happens because the purchase department bought the cheapest vehicles, which were not the cheapest in maintenance, but parts manager could not change it because “[…]controller wouldn’t let us do it” And the controller?” says it is about the attorney… who says it is not a problem if you make strong and clear specification. Joseph changed the flawed system involving the frontline employees and 24 steps purchasing policy was cut to three. Everything would be truly a cool story, unless the whole thing had to be done by the mayor and none first-line employee including the controller could do the thing.

John H. Stanford story about the key to the success at page 399; score 4
Stay in love
The tactics

Other key things, which are something more that just well rounded sentences:
  1. Provide, improve and maintain the two-way communication (page 283), including some practical implementations:
    · a 360 degree feedback mentioned at page 85 and 103 – unfortunately it is just mentioned; no word how to realize it in details (the routines, sample set of questions etc.)
    · the collaboration audit (the only template of the form in the whole book!) form presented at page 267.
    · Passion-compassion game mentioned at page 375; where one person’s role is to speak in passioned way and second’s person role is to listen compassion.
  2. People want leaders who are honest, forward-looking, competent and inspiring (page 111). It is trivial, but important thing is that these are these adjectives and not the others (e.g. funny, self-confident, generous etc.) - worth to remember.
  3. Engage others in planning and analysis (page 142) – it also seems trivial, but many people paid a lot for the lesson, that usually teamwork is better than single heroic effort. It is described well within the Chinese wisdom (page 182): “Tell me, I may listen. Teach me, I may remember. Involve me, I will do it.”
  4. There are some useful tips about how to make public speeches at page 184-185 and advices like:
    “don’t say try, say will and are”
    - Do presentation workshops (including video taping), if you feel it is your weak point – there is a lot of people who has a problem with it and you must not be ashamed if you do
    - You must be enthusiastic, emotional, expressive and personally excited
    - Speak clearly and quickly
    - Make eye contact
  5. “Challenge a process” at page 177 is the story, which I have heard from my colleague from Toyota Bank in Poland – amazing thing, they can achieve really high cost reduction, by making really small (even micro) changes on the production lines. Saving pennies at actions, which happens hundred times daily, can make you saving million bugs monthly and I found exactly the same story in the book (at page 228-229) side by number of the others practical samples:
    - “Pick one major project per quarter. Implement one smaller improvement every three weeks” – page 196.
    ”Eliminate the Dumb Things”. Go find what needs fixing in your organization.
    Wander around the plant, the store, the branch, the halls or the office. Look
    for things that don’t seem right. Ask questions. Probe.
  6. Routine paradox at page 189 – on one hand you want to have one big routine, the process and simple production line on the other hand you must to try making it better, make you and people having fun (page 198, 367; there is even a book “301 Ways to have fun at work” mentioned at page 367) when they work and do some innovative things to keep creativity (page 197). The balance is the best approach.
  7. Let ideas flowing from the outside” at page 193 is definitely a good approach.
  8. Treat every new assignment as a start-over” – page 185
  9. Add a new member or two to the group every couple of years. Rotate some people out and others in.” at page 201 – keep pumping the fresh blood into company’s veins.
  10. Gather the ideas and give the awards for the best ideas – page 202
  11. The weakest muscle in the body is the one between the ears” page 207 – do not let yourself to think that some limitations or beliefs are stronger than you; implement incremental approach in order to achieve the big things. Lu Ann Sullivan at Wells Fargo Bank (page 212) established individual weekly goals and in this way, he could achieve the big win at the end for the whole branch (managing by targets).
  12. Collect yeses” - page 232. Tring to find common point is actually kind of NLP method, which causes very quick connection line and improves the communication between persons.
  13. Conduct pre- and postmortems for every project” at page 234
  14. Rotate team meeting leadership so everyone gets a turn” at page 277; “rotate the chair responsibility” at page 307
  15. Personalize cubicles and award the best ones. It makes people more tied with the work plus the variety makes the workplace special – page 333. Google is quite well-known from doing it at their offices.
  16. Do ceremonies for successful people and make them recognizable – page 345. Make the public board, where you can put the public “award notes” for the employee of the month – page 373. Picking up “the employee of the month” is the challenge itself described at page 377 as looking for “extra mile heroes” by ALL the employees. This action causes the extra achievements histories spread across the organization loudly by the employees themselves.
  17. Be the cheer-manager, the cheerleader among your team – the person who is heating up the team for fight. Do not be afraid to say people thank you if they did a good job – page 345.

The Opinion

All the items mentioned above and number of quotations direct to the conclusion that the book is really cool and practical. Indeed there are fragments where it is, but unfortunately the major part of the book is simple the bubble talk like the one at the page 123 where you find out that you MUST (the word used very often in the book) to listen, read, smell, feel,taste etc. Well… of course you always must to use all of your 7 senses :)

There too many places where you, as a leader, has to be the kind of the saint Santa Claus, who share, cherish and take care of his team mates :) The truth is that the leadership is often about the sweet, stress and all the dirty things, which are not mentioned in the book at all. What about the rat race, which was the plague some time ago and there are still companies which focus on the brilliant individual and not on the team collaboration skills? The “clean laboratory environment” does not surprise actually, as the authors of the book are working for the Leavey School and not for some big corporation, where they could find all of these things. They interviewed number of people, but who washes dirty laundry publicly?

The other problem within the book is that number of sample stories applies to high executives. There is a fragment at the end of the book, which says that anyone can be the leader, but how does it go along with the Joseph Sensenbrenner’s story “It is their duty”. I do not believe that front line employee could change the change in the story. Unfortunately, many stories are told by the chairmen, CTOs and generals – they could do some of the big changes, because they had a power to do it.

The biggest concern is however that unlike “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” the book does not give the full and complex recipe. It seems like the authors collected the very rich set of samples, stories and tactics, but then they did not know what to do with it. Even the proposed way of cataloging them does not seem to work as the same thing is repeated often number of times in various places of the book. Unlike “The 7 Habits …” it does not say also anything about the private life. Can there be the successful professional leader, who is passive in private life?

The book is a big, lost chance to say something more than the bunch of good stories and interesting tactics.

Score: 4(good) /6

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