May 082014

Book Short: Like Reading a Good Speech

Book Short:  Like Reading a Good Speech

Leaders Eat Last, by Simon Sinek, is a self-described “polemic” that reads like some of the author’s famous TED talks and other speeches in that it’s punchy, full of interesting stories, has some attempted basis in scientific fact like Gladwell, and wanders around a bit.  That said, I enjoyed the book, and it hit on a number of themes in which I am a big believer – and it extended and shaped my view on a couple of them.

Sinek’s central concept in the book is the Circle of Safety, which is his way of saying that when people feel safe, they are at their best and healthiest.  Applied to workplaces, this isn’t far off from Lencioni’s concept of the trust foundational layer in his outstanding book, Five Dysfunctions of a Team.  His stories and examples about the kinds of things that create a Circle of Safety at work (and the kinds of things that destroy them) were very poignant.  Some of his points about how leaders set the tone and “eat last,” both literally and figuratively, are solid.  But his most interesting vignettes are the ones about how spending time face-to-face in person with people as opposed to virtually are incredibly important aspects of creating trust and bringing humanity to leadership.

My favorite one-liner from the book, which builds on the above point and extends it to a corporate philosophy of people first, customer second, shareholders third (which I have espoused at Return Path for almost 15 years now) is

Customers will never love a company unless employees love it first.

A couple of Sinek’s speeches that are worth watching are the one based on this book, also called Leaders Eat Last, and a much shorter one called How Great Leaders Inspire Action.

Bottom line:  this is a rambly book, but the nuggets of wisdom in it are probably worth the exercise of having to find them and figure out how to connect them (or not connect them).

Thanks to my fellow NYC CEO Seth Besmertnik for giving me this book as well as the links to Sinek’s speeches.

 

Jun 142012

Book Short: Alignment Well Defined

The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business is Patrick Lencioni’s newest book.  Unlike most or all of his other books (see the end of this post for the listing), this one is not a fable, although his writing style remains very quick and accessible.

I liked this book a lot.  First, the beginning section is a bit of a recap of his Five Dysfunctions of a Team which I think was his best book.  And the ending section is a recap of his Death by Meeting, another really good one.  The middle sections of the book are just a great reminder of the basic building blocks of creating and communicating strategy and values – about driving alignment.

But the premise, as the subtitle indicates, is that maintaining organizational health is the most important thing you can do as a leader.  I tell our team at Return Path  all the time that our culture is a competitive advantage in many ways, some quantifiable, and others a little less tangible.

A telling point in the book is when Lencioni is relaying a conversation he had with the CEO of a client company who does run a healthy organization – he asked, “Why in the world don’t your competitors do any of this?” And the client responded, “You know, I honestly believe they think it’s beneath them.” Lencioni goes on to say, “In spite of its undeniable power, so many leaders struggle to embrace organizational health because they quietly believe they are too sophisticated, too busy, or too analytical to bother with it.”  And there you have it.  More examples of why “the soft stuff” is mission critical.

Lencioni’s “Recipe for Organizational Health” (the outline of the book):

–          Build a Cohesive Leadership Team

–          Create Clarity

–          Overcommunicate Clarity

–          Reinforce Clarity

And his recipe for creating a tight set of “mission/vision/values” (the middle of the book):

1. Why do we exist?

2. How do we behave?

3. What do we do?

4. How will we succeed?

5. What is most important, right now?

6. Who must do what?

While there are lots of other good frameworks for doing all of this, Lencioni’s models and books are great, simple reminders of one of the CEO’s most important leadership functions.  We’re recrafting our own mission and values statements at the moment at Return Path, and we’re doing it using this 6-Question framework instead of the classic “Mission/Vision/Values” framework popularized a few years back by Harvard Business Review.

The full book series roundup as far as OnlyOnce has gotten so far is:

Jul 072009

Book Short: Bringing it on Home

Book Short:  Bringing it on Home

Silos, Politics and Turf Wars: A Leadership Fable About Destroying the Barriers That Turn Colleagues Into Competitors wasn’t Patrick Lencion’s best book, but it wasn’t bad, either.  I think all six of his books are well worth a read (list at the bottom of the post).  And in fact, they really belong in two categories.

The Three Signs of a Miserable Job (post, link), The Five Temptations of a CEO (post, link), and The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive (post, link) are all related around the topic of management.

Death by Meeting (post, link), The Five Dysfunctions of a Team (post, link), and Silos, Politics and Turf Wars, on the other hand, are all related around the topic of leading a team and healthy team dynamics.  This latest book, which is the last of his six books for me, rounds out this topic nicely, in a fun “novel” format as is the case with his other books.

The book hammers home the theme of an executive team needing to first be a team and then second be a collection of group heads as a means of breaking down barriers that exist inside organizations.  It also lays out a framework for creating high-level alignment inside a team.  The framework may or may not be perfect — we are using a different one at Return Path (the Balanced Scorecard) that accomplishes most of the same things — but for those companies who don’t have one, it’s as good as any.

The most compelling point in the book, though is the point that teams often make the most progress, change the most, and do their best work when their backs are up against a wall.  And the point Lencioni makes here is — “why wait for a crisis?”

At any rate, another good, quick book, and absolutely worth reading along with the others, particularly along with the other two closely related ones.  I’m definitely sorry to be done with the series.  We may try the “field guide” companion to The Five Dysfunctions and see how the practical exercises work out.

The full series roundup is:

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Apr 222009

Book Short: Wither the Team

Book Short:  Wither the Team

I keep expecting one of his books to be repetitive or boring, but Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team held my interest all the way through, as did his others.  It builds nicely on the last one I read, Death by Meeting (post, link).

I’d say that over the 9 1/2 years we’ve been in business at Return Path, we’ve systematically improved the quality of our management team.  Sometimes that’s because we’ve added or changed people, but mostly it’s because we’ve been deliberate about improving the way in which we work together.  This particular book has a nice framework for spotting troubles on a team, and it both reassured me that we have done a nice job stamping out at least three of the dysfunctions in the model and fired me up that we still have some work to do to completely stamp out the final two (we’ve identified them and made progress, but we’re not quite there yet.

The dysfunctions make much more sense in context, but they are (in descending order of importance):

  • Absence of trust
  • Fear of conflict (everyone plays politically nice)
  • Lack of commitment (decisions don’t stick)
  • Avoidance of accountability
  • Inattention to results (individual ego vs. team success)

For those who are wondering, the two we’re still working on at the exec team level here are conflict and commitment.  And the two are related.  If you don’t produce engaged discussion about an issue and allow everyone to air their opinions, they will invariably be less bought into a decision (especially one they don’t agree with).  But we’re getting there and will continue to work aggressively on it until we’ve rooted it out.

There’s one other interesting takeaway from the book that’s not part of the framework directly, which is that an executive has to be first and foremost a member of his/her team of peers, not the head of his/her department.  That’s how successful teams get built.  AND (this is key) this must trickle down in the organization as well.  Everyone who manages a team of group heads or managers needs to make those people function well as a team first, then as managers of their own groups second.

At any rate, another quick gem of a book.  I’m kind of sorry there’s only one left in the series.

So far the series includes:

I have one or two more to go, which I’ll tackle in due course and am looking forward to.

Feb 022009

Book Short: The Joys of Slinging Hash

Book Short: The Joys of Slinging Hash

Patrick Lencioni’s The Three Signs of a Miserable Job is a good read, as were his last two books, The Five Temptations of a CEO (post, link), and The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive (post, link).  They’re all super short, easy reads (four express train rides on Metro North got the job done), with a single simple message and great examples.  This one is probably my second favorite so far.

This book, which has a downright dreary title, is great.  It points to and proposes a solution to a problem I’ve thought about for a long time, which is how do you create meaning for people in their day to day work when they’re not doing something intrinsically meaningful like curing a disease or feeding the homeless.  His recipe for success is simple:

– Get people to articulate the relevance in their jobs…the meaning they derive out of their work…an understanding of the people whose lives are made better, even in small ways, by what they do every day

– Get people to measure what they do (duh, management 101), IN RELATION TO THE RELEVANCE learnings from the last point (ahh, that’s an interesting twist)

– Get to know your people as people

All of these are things you’d generally read in good books on management, but this book ties them together artfully, simply, and in a good story about a roadside pizza restaurant.  It also stands in stark contrast to the book I reviewed and panned a few days ago by Jerry Porras in that it is nothing but examples from non-celebrities, non-success stories — ordinary people doing ordinary jobs.

Brad has blogged glowingly about Death by Meeting, so I’ll probably make that my next Lencioni read next month, with two more to go after that.

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Oct 182008

Book Short: The Anti-Level-5 Leader

Book Short: The Anti-Level-5 Leader

The Five Temptations of a CEO, another short leadership fable in a series by Patrick Lencioni, wasn’t as meaningful to me as the last one I read, The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive (post, link), but it wasn’t bad and was also a quick read.

The book to me was the 30 minute version of all the Level-5 Leadership stuff that Collins wrote about in Good to Great and Built to Last. All that said, it was a good quick read and a reminder of what not to do. The temptations are things that most CEOs I’ve ever known (present company very much included) have at least succumbed to at one point or another in their career. That said, you as a CEO should quit or be fired if you have them in earnest, so hopefully if you do have them, you recognize it and have them in diminishing quantities with experience, and hopefully not all at once:

– The temptation to be concerned about his or her image above company results

– The temptation to want to be popular with his or her direct reports above holding them accountable for results

– The temptation to ensure that decisions are correct, even if that means not making a decision on limited information when one is needed

– The temptation to find harmony on one’s staff rather than have productive conflict, discussion, and debate

– The temptation to avoid vulnerability and trust in one’s staff

I’m still going to read the others in Lencioni’s series as well. They may not be the best business books ever written, but they’re solid B/B+s, and they’re short and simple, which few business books are and all should be!

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