Category Archives: Book Notes

Book Notes: Peak

Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise by K. Anders Ericsson, Robert Pool
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Fundamentally the book is highlighting that the people who can achieve more do so by focussing on developing skills through deliberate practice which is at odd to the more standard approach of teaching knowledge. This is because it is easier to teach and examine knowledge, however knowledge itself is not useful – the mental model so that you can perform skills are what you actually need. The book presents that the best way we know to build these mental models are through practice.

Deliberate practice is different to just doing something – just doing something longer does not automatically make you better at it. Just repeating something does not make you better and more junior people will likely have more up advanced teaching which they could be ahead of you.

Deliberate Practice is the best way to develop skills. Identifying areas you want to improve and focussing on actively getting better using measurable goals & data to provide feedback and committing regular dedicated time to the practicing pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone.

Ideally working with the best to understand their approaches will speed up your acceleration. When you hit plateaus try various techniques to try to find new mental models to go further.

Natural talent does not exist. There is no link between IQ and ability in e.g. Chess. The only places where there is a link between IQ and the result is where IQ is used as an initial filter – meaning we are missing out on people who could be very successful.

Book Notes: It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work

It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work by Jason Fried, David Heinemeier Hansson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is specifically about the way their start up is run, which is great but if you have external shareholders etc then some of the tips may be harder to do. If you are trying to carve out your own corner of calm there are still items in the list of tips can still be useful.

Your company is a product. Yes, the things you make are products (or services), but your company is the thing that makes those things. That’s why your company should be your best product.

  • Curb Your Ambition
    • Bury the hustle – busy should not be the badge of honor you have to enjoy life
    • Happy pacifists – work is not about big fights, be content with your own world
    • Our goal: No goals -you don’t need fake goals to achieve something great
    • Don’t change the world – set out to do good work in a fair way
    • Make it up as you go – don’t try to plan out too much, let things evolve
    • Comfy’s cool – discomforts not the aim, delivering productively is
  • Defend Your Time
    • 8’s enough, 40’s plenty – cut out what’s unnecessary then you have time
    • Protectionism – protect what matters, your employees time and attention
    • The quality of an hour – make quality time, like long 3-4 hours of concentration
    • Effective > Productive – when you’ve finished stop, don’t fill time unnecessarily
    • The outwork myth – don’t try to out work others by working longer its a myth
    • Work doesn’t happen at work – make a way to let work happen at work
    • Office hours – set aside time to help people on a schedule, not 24/7
    • Calendar Tetris – make booking meeting tough so only key meetings happen
    • The presence prison – stop keeping people updates where you are just work
    • I’ll get back to you whenever – don’t expect immediate responses
    • Fomo? Jomo! – keep informed in a condensed form not continuously
  • Feed Your Culture
    • We’re not family – the best companies support your time with your family
    • They’ll do as you do – workaholism is a contagious disease, lead by example
    • The trust battery – build the trust battery it’s key to work relations
    • Don’t be the last to know – be proactive finding small issues before they grow
    • The owner’s word weighs a ton – realise the weight of your words on people
    • Low-hanging fruit can still be out of reach – thing appearing easy might not be
    • Don’t cheat sleep – nearly everything can wait until morning
    • Out of whack – allow people to balance, as in give and take not just give
    • Hire the work, not the résumé – see what people have done not just their CV
    • Nobody hits the ground running – everyone takes time, there are no quick wins
    • Ignore the talent war – grow and nurture your own tallent
    • Don’t negotiate salaries – pay the same for the same work, pay market rate
    • Benefits who? – give benefits to get people out the office not stuck in it
    • Library rules – around working areas treat them like libraries to get things done
    • No fakecations – actual disconnection to revitalise
    • Calm goodbyes – explain why people leave so people don’t fear they are next
  • Dissect Your Process
    • The wrong time for real-time – real-time sometimes, asynchronous most times
    • Dreadlines – dates are fine but allow scope to be cut rather than over working
    • Don’t be a knee-jerk – don’t meet, write. Don’t react, consider.
    • Watch out for 12-day weeks – watch for weekend working
    • The new normal – things become the norm quickly, don’t “just this time”
    • Bad habits beat good intentions – start as you want the culture to be
    • Independencies – don’t wait for web & iOS.. to be ready release independently
    • Commitment, not consensus – “disagree & commit”. Decide, explain, go
    • Compromise on quality – not everything need to be “airworthy” but “fine”
    • Narrow as you go – as you progress narrow the scope of what you are doing
    • Why not nothing? – doing nothing can be the hardest choice but worth it
    • It’s enough – don’t flog yourself, what is good enough that people are happy
    • Worst practices – there is no single best way so don’t just adopt best practice
    • Whatever it doesn’t take – “what will it take?” not “whatever it takes”
    • Have less to do – if it does not add value then stop doing it
    • Three’s company – three is the perfect number for meetings, not more or less
    • Stick with it – get things finished or take a break but don’t move on till it done
    • Know no – you can change your mind, but if you say yes then you can’t
  • Mind Your Business
    • Risk without putting yourself at risk – measure risk and gamble with care
    • Season’s greetings – work with the seasons, shorter in summer etc
    • Calm’s in the black – don’t push too hard, enjoy the calm and grow with it
    • Priced to lose – don’t become dependent on a key account think product
    • Launch and learn – don’t use focus groups get your product in use
    • Promise not to promise – it ties your hands and reduces your options
    • Copycats – that’s life move on, your direction not a snapshot in time is key
    • Change control – don’t force everyone to upgrade, they can stay comfy
    • Startups are easy, stayups are hard – don’t burn out, slow and steady wins
    • “No big deal” or “the end of the world”? – one for you one for the customer
    • The good old days – you don’t have to grow, if you happy stay there

Book Notes: Essential Kanban Condensed

Essential Kanban Condensed by David J. Anderson & Andy Carmichael
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a really brief but neat book, although it goes into the Kanban board/cards etc the piece which I felt was a very nice and useful summary was its values, principles etc.

Kanban values

  • Transparency – The belief that sharing information improves the generation of business value.
  • Balance – The understanding that different aspects, viewpoints, and capabilities all must be balanced for effectiveness.
  • Collaboration – The focus on the way people work together.
  • Customer Focus – Knowing the value which the system brings to its users.
  • Flow – The realisation that work is a flow of work leading to value generation, whether continuous or episodic. Improving the flow improves generation of value.
  • Leadership – In Kanban leadership is needed at all levels to achieve value delivery and improvement.
  • Understanding – Kanban is an improvement method, and knowing the starting point is foundation.
  • Agreement – The commitment to move together toward goals, respecting differences of opinion or approach. It is key to note that this is not management by consensus, but a dynamic co-commitment to improvement.
  • Respect – Valuing, understanding, and showing consideration for people.

Agendas

  • The Sustainability Agenda looks inward to the organisation. Its goal is to balance demand with capability thus improving the performance. Where demand outstrips capability making work visible and limiting WiP will have a positive impact on the amount of work completed, the time needed to complete work items, and staff morale.
  • The Service Orientation Agenda focuses attention external to the organisation on performance and customer satisfaction that meet and exceed customers’ needs and expectations.
  • The Survivability Agenda looks into the future and is concerned with staying competitive and adaptive.

Change Management Principles

  • Start with what you are doing now
  • Agree to purse improvement through evolutionary change
  • Encourage acts of leadership at all levels

Service Delivery Principles

  • Understand and focus on customer needs and expectations
  • Manage the work let people self organise around it
  • Evolve policies to improve outcomes

General Practices of Kanban

  • Visualise.
  • Limit work in progress.
  • Manage flow.
  • Make policies explicit.
  • Implement feedback loops.
  • Improve collaboratively, evolve experimentally

Book Notes: Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There!

Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There!: Ten Principles for Leading Meetings That Matter by Marvin Ross Weisbord, Sandra Janoff & Jack MacNeish
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

We spend a lot of time in meetings so making them more effective will likely greatly improve the performance of bussiness, however people are rarely taught how to run meetings well.

  1. Get the whole system in the room
    • Who should be in the meeting
      • The decision makers
      • Data – contracts, time or money
      • Expertise in the issue or field
      • Information about the topic (where the expertise is missing)
      • Affected parties who can speak of the consequences
    • Match the timeframe to the agenda
    • Give people time to express themselves
    • Differentiate then integrate
      • Differentiate into functionally similar groups to clarify their stakes
      • Integrate with the whole group or mixed groups
    • Where it is not possible to get the whole system ensure you have at least three levels and three functions. Providing access to other functions and levels speeds up the whole system.
  2. Control What You Can, Let Go What You Can’t
    • Know your role – Do you have content? Are you managing the meeting?
      • No No – You are only observing and commenting
      • Yes No – You are likely an expert who is providing advice
      • No Yes – You are facilitating the meeting
      • Yes Yes – You assume great deal of responsibility for process, content and results.
    • Clarify the purpose yourself
    • Monitor the meeting
      • Seek fight or flight
      • Check for someone being excluded
      • Arrange seating for the style
      • Establish time management norms in breaks
  3. Explore the “Whole Elephant”
    • A “go around” – get input from everyone who wants to contribute
    • Use timelines – get all the history from the many peoples views
    • Make a mind map – get all the points out so people have a common view
    • Group flowchart – get all the flows e.g. processes on the table so their is common understanding of the environment
  4. Let People Be Responsible
    • Accept everyone is doing their best
    • If people have hidden agendas that is their choice
    • Do less so others will do more
    • Encourage self management
    • Contain your “hot buttons”
    • Encourage dialogue
    • Legitimise opposition in tense meetings
  5. Find Common Ground
    • Hold off problem solving
    • Get conflicts into the open and leave them there
    • Focus on the future
    • Back cast from the future
    • Stay with anxiety and ambiguity
    • Depersonalise conflict
  6. Master the Art of Subgrouping
    • Ask “anyone else … ?”
    • Differentiate then integrate
    • Listen for integrating statements
  7. Make Friends with Anxiety
    • The four rooms of change
      • Contentment
      • Denial
      • Confusion
      • Renewal
  8. Get Used to Projections
    • View things in perception not in objects by making yourself the subject. such as It this and that become I or me. e.g. “I’m bored” is “I bore me”.
  9. Be a Dependable Authority
    • Everyone reacts to authority – could be good or bad
    • Recognise dependency – going along with everything
    • Recognise counterdependency – not happy with everything
  10. Learn to Say No If You Want Yes to Mean Something
    • Be dependable only commit to things which will be done and no to the rest

Book Notes: Nine Lies About Work

Nine Lies About Work: A Freethinking Leader’s Guide to the Real World by Marcus Buckingham, Ashley Goodall
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lie #1 People care which company they work for

Truth #1 People care which team they’re on

Statistically there is a bigger range of differences between teams which are at the same companies than the average between companies. As such the team you are in and how you feel there is key to your feeling about the company you work for. ADP present eight questions (similar to the ones below) which identify how an employee feels about the team they are in.

  1. I am very enthusiastic about the mission of my company.
  2. At work, I clearly understand what is expected of me.
  3. In my team, I am surrounded by people who share my values.
  4. I have the chance to use my strengths every day at work.
  5. My teammates have my back.
  6. I know I will be recognized when I do excellent work.
  7. I have great confidence in my company’s future.
  8. In my work, I am always challenged to grow further.

Lie #2 The best plan wins

Truth #2 The best intelligence wins

Planning gives a false sense of security – there is no way that the plan can cover all eventualities and fully reduce risk. The solution is to boost intelligence within the teams by

  • Liberating as much information as you possibly can, as fast as possible
  • Watch carefully to see which data your people find useful and improve it
  • Trust your people to make sense of the data

You should catch up with all of your employees once per week to understand their priorities and how you can help. This should limit the number of people you have working for you – the number you can catch up with weekly.

Lie #3 The best companies cascade goals

Truth #3 The best companies cascade meaning

An example is a sales person – giving them a quota does not mean they will sell any more, instead if they reach their quota they will slow or stop selling so they have more orders for next year. For those who can’t get to their quota they face pressure and fear which can turn to inappropriate and sometimes illegal tactics to meet their goals.

Another challenge is that progress towards a goal is not linear – the example used is you can’t be 68% complete on a marathon as you still might not actually finish in which case you achieved 0 marathons.

Finally it’s impossible to compare people not doing the same task as there is no way to calibrate against each of them or understand their own local markets

Instead cascading meaning is more successful through the expression of values, rituals and stories.

Lie #4 The best people are well-rounded

Truth #4 The best people are spiky

Competencies are impossible to measure, and as such it is impossible to prove or disprove that people who excel in a role have particular skills or competencies. These well rounded people are fictitious – in the real world high performers are unique, distinct and outperform exactly because of their differences.

If you think of a range of top singers – they are a range of diversity and that is why some of them can perform some songs better than others. No footballer is equally good with both feet.

Lie #5 People need feedback

Truth #5 People need attention

Giving negative feedback is 40 times more effective than ignoring people, however positive feedback is 120 times more effective than ignoring people – it helps people be more engaged and more productive.

Negative feedback triggers the flight or flight behaviour, as such negative feedback inhibits learning.

Lie #6 People can reliably rate other people

Truth #6 People can reliably rate their own experience

When rating people the ratings people give are more related to the rater than the recipient (Idiosyncratic Rater Effect). The more complex the rating system the more we revert to our own natural rating pattern. Given that the rating system is more about the rater than the recipient it makes it very concerning that we then use this performance measure to significantly impact the recipient in terms of pay, opportunities etc.

Secondly the rating rate tends to come from a small number of people and they are not all well-informed sufficiently to be able to provide valid data so we have data insufficiency.

  • Human beings can never be trained to reliably rate other human beings
  • Rating data derived in this way is contaminated because it reveals far more about the rater than it does of the person being rated
  • The contaminated data can not be removed by adding more contaminated data

Although we are not reliable to rate other people, people can reliably rate their experience. As such questions like “Do you turn to this team member when you want extraordinary results? this is a question where you look inside yourself – you can’t be right or wrong as this is a feeling the data is humbler and at the same time more reliable (does not fluctuate randomly, does not mean accurate).

Lie #7 People have potential

Truth #7 People have momentum

Potential is a very binary differentiator – in reality individuals are unique and they have a momentum in their own unique direction at their own speed. If we start speaking to people to understand them better then we can also both work with them better, give them more appropriate opportunities, they will enjoy themselves more and ultimately give more.

Lie #8 Work-life balance matters most

Truth #8 Love-in-work matters most

We seem to split work and life from each other – meaning we need to balance them. Research has shown that if you spend more than 20% of your time on activities you love then you feel stronger, perform better and bounce back faster.

Lie #9 Leadership is a thing

Truth #9 We follow spikes

Leading id defined by whether anyone else is following – it is a question of human relationships, namely why would anyone choose to devote his or her energies to and take risk on behalf of someone else. Missing this misses the entire point of leadership.

We follow people who we believe in, it is a feeling we have and no two people can cause us to have the same feeling. So leaders should embrace their own idiosyncrasies and use these as part of their own unique leadership style.

We follow leaders who connect us to a mission we believe in, who clarify what’s expected of us, who surround us with people who define excellence the same way we do, who value us for our strengths, who show us that our teammates will always be there for us, who diligently replay our winning plays, who challenge us to keep getting better, and who give us confidence in the future.

Book Notes: Mastery

Mastery by Robert Greene
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book pulls together some historical examples of learning to gain Mastery by people such a Edison and summarises some of the stages from these.

  • Calling – you need to identify what is your passion, not one based on circumstances or one enforced on you by someone else.
  • Apprenticeship follows three phases
    • Deep Observation – where you are watching others to understand what to do
    • Practice – trying out your understanding
    • Active – pushing yourself to get feedback from peers or the public
  • Strategies for apprenticeships
    • Value learning over money – the best apprenticeships might not pay (well)
    • Keep expanding your horizons – push yourself to look broadly
    • Revert to a feeling of inferiority – be open to new learnings
    • Trust the process – invest the time, gaining skills is quick
    • Move towards resistance and pain – invest the effort, gaining skills is not easy
    • Learn in failure – what can you learn from failure when they happen
    • Combine the “how” and the “what” – seek to understand the how not just what
    • Advance through trial and error – experiment, see what works and what not
  • Mentors are key to you being supported through your apprenticeship
    • Choose the mentor according to your needs and inclinations
    • Gaze deep into the mentors mirror – we become overly optimistic with our abilities, you need a grounding to reality
    • Transfigure their ideas – it is not about copying your mentor but absorbing the relevant parts and adapting
    • Create a back-and-forth dynamic – where mentor and mentee learn from each other so that the relationship evolves as the mentee grows their own ideas
  • Social intelligence
    • The seven deadly realities – envy, conformism, rigidity, self-obsession, laziness, fightiness and passive aggression
    • Speak through your work – convincing people with quality work not fighting
    • Craft the appropriate persona – so that you can be consistent to listeners
    • Suffer fools gladly – don’t lower yourself to their level or fight them
  • The Creative-Active
    • Creative Tasks – choose your task wisely, one which you can obsess about, engage deeply and emotionally commit
    • Creative Strategies – we like to do the same things, it’s easy for us.
      • Negative capabilities – embracing mystery and uncertainty, suspending judgement and admit that we wound up in our own ego and vanity.
      • Allow for serendipity – random external stimuli lead us to association we can not come to on our own.
      • Alternate the mind through “the current” – cycling between speculation and observation/experimentation to dig deeper resulting in a theory which explains something beyond our limited senses.
      • Alter your perspective
        • Search for the “how” not just the “what”
        • Investigate details, don’t just generalise
        • Look into anomalies
        • What is absent, not just what is present
      • Revert to primal forms of intelligence – e.g. drawings and models
    • Creative Breakthrough – sometimes we need some distance from the problem to come back with fresh ideas and perspectives
  • Mastery
    • Connect to your environment
    • Play to your strengths
    • Transform yourself through practice
    • Internalise the detail
    • Widen your vision
    • Submit to others – get an inside perspective
    • Synthesize all forms of knowledge

Book Notes: Great At Work

Great at Work: How Top Performers Do Less, Work Better, and Achieve More by Morten T. Hansen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The book presents a small number of techniques which they have found to be correlated to high performance at work.

  1. Do less, then obsess – Top performers carefully choose which projects and tasks to join and which to flee, limiting the focus is only half of the challenge the second is to channel effort and resource to excel in the few chosen.
  2. Redesign your work – focus on the value which others receive from our work and look at how we can get more value out of it from the same amount of time. Our goals should be driven by the value. Being busy is not an accomplishment. Value of a person’s work = Benefit to others X quality X efficiency. We can improve value with:
    1. Less Fluff – eliminate or reduce existing activities of little value
    2. More Right Stuff – spend more time on existing activities of high value
    3. More “Gee Whiz” – create new activities of high value
    4. Five Star Rating – improve the quality of your chosen activities
    5. Faster, Cheaper – find ways to do your chosen activities more efficiently
  3. Don’t just learn, loop – this is about quality learning through deliberate practice not just quantity of time learning. Using work activities such as meetings or presentations as learning opportunities.
    1. Carve out the 15 – Pick one skill to develop and take 15 minutes per day to focus on improving it.
    2. Chunk it – break problems down into much smaller chunks to tackle
    3. Measure the “soft” – look for ways to measure the results of “soft” skills
    4. Get nimble feedback fast – quality feedback needs to identify what was good and what needs improving soon after the event.
    5. Dig the dip – taking on challenges initially cause performance to drop but these have significant longer term benefits that outweigh the initial dip.
    6. Confront the stall point – as soon as things become easy we are no longer learning, you must push the boundaries even when you are on top.
  4. P-Squared (passion and purpose) – people with passion and purpose achieve more than someone with only passion.
  5. Forceful champions – inspiring people by evoking emotions and circumventing resistance with “smart grit”, perseverance in the face of difficulty and overcoming opposition by understanding others perspectives. Showing people, not just telling people to maximise emotion.
  6. Fight and unite – the success of the team is how well people debate in team meetings and how fully they commit to implement decisions. When teams have good fights in their meetings team members debate the issues, consider alternatives, challenge one another, listen to minority views, scrutinise assumptions and enable every participant to speak up without fear of retribution. After the fight team members commit to a decision made and all work towards it without second-guessing, backroom politics or undermining it – improving its likelihood of success.
  7. The two sins of collaboration – the sins are the extremes – under collaborating where people work in silos and over collaboration where there is an information, time and effort overload to collaborate. Disciplined collaboration aims to provide a middle ground. Establish a compelling “why” collaboration is beneficial, if it’s not don’t do it but if there is value then collaborate.

Book Notes: Get to the Point!

Get to the Point!: Sharpen Your Message and Make Your Words Matter by Joel Schwartzberg
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What is the point? Can your point fit into this phrase to form a complete sentence? “I believe that _______________.” For it to be compelling it needs to pass…

The “So What” Test roots out points that pass the “I Believe That” test but may be too shallow to serve as the foundation of a meaningful presentation. You can tell if your point is too shallow or a truism by asking two questions: “Is there a reasonable counterpoint?” and “Can I spend more than a minute defending this point?”

Ask “Why?” to avoid badjectives which make your point vague e.g. “is important”, why is it important? join the two to form a point.

Two ways to Enhance your point

  • Have a single, if there are two points pick your strongest.
  • What’s the greatest impact your idea will effect? If your idea can save lives, protect the peace, or make tons of money, why not use those magic words to sell your point?

Sell your point, don’t share it.You are here to sell your ideas.

A sharer will often say:
“Today, I want to talk a little about X.”
Compare that to the seller:
“Today, I’m going to explain why doing X will lead to Y.”

Making the leap from sharing to selling doesn’t require another college degree, just sharp awareness of your strongest point and its highest value proposition.

Sell with:
I propose . . .
I recommend . . .
I suggest . . .

Knowing what your audience wants from you. e.g. Information, Insight, News or updates, Inspiration, Appreciation, Empathy, Explanation or Comfort.

“power periods” end sentences with a . not (what sounds like) a ?

Present strongly. Remove anything which can get in the way and speak loudly. Pause to help points as you can speak quicker than the audience can understand. End with your point and give it some space.

Five enemies of your point:

  • and – keep your point short and succinct
  • Nonsense words – umm, ah, so
  • All apologies – never apologize or even say “excuse me.”
  • Speed – speak slowly, with greater volume, and with simpler language
  • ignore your inner saboteur –
    • Know your point. Anyone who doesn’t know his or her point should be nervous.
    • Know that the moment is not about you, or even your speech; it’s about your point. All you have to do is deliver it.
    • Practice out loud (not in your head or by mumbling). The key training is having your mouth and your brain collaborate on the conception and conveyance of a point. That can only happen if you’re actually using your mouth.

Tips for presenting

  • Don’t write a speech, it locks you in too tightly.
  • Don’t treat your point like a climax or spoiler
  • Notes should be just your main point and detail you might forget, nothing more
  • Practice out loud
  • Did you tell a story? one that proves, clarifies, or illustrates your point. Explain how the point is relevant to the story
  • Does each slide contribute to the point?
  • Am I prepared to explain the relevance of each slide?
  • Remove or shorten complete sentences
  • Five-and-five – a slide should have no more than five bulleted lines and no more than five words per line.
  • Are your slides readable from the back of the room?
  • Are my slides supporting me or am I supporting my slides? Good presenters don’t let their tech toys make points on their behalf. They stand in the centre of the speaking area, fully in the light, conveying points supported by the slides behind them.

Tips for EMail

  • Put your point in the Subject line
  • Use more bullet points
  • Paragraphs should be no more than three sentence
  • Are the facts correct?
  • Is it grammatically correct?
  • Did I end with a suggestion, a recommendation, or a proposal?

Executive comms

  • Don’t bury your point
  • Keep it tight
  • Did I end with aspiration?
  • Did I remember to say thanks?

Tips for Meetings

  • Know your point.
  • Prepare in advance.
  • Be loud.
  • Use pauses for precision.
  • Say “I recommend” and “I propose.”
  • Mind your word economy.
  • Remember your #1 job: deliver your point.

Tips for Performance reviews

  • Did I start with a general overview?
  • Did I clearly communicate my employee’s challenges and offer examples?
  • Did I offer recommendations for improvement?

Tips for Conference Panel

  • Did I prepare my points in advance?
  • Do I know who I answer to?
  • Do I know everyone’s names?
  • Do I have supporting data in my head?
  • Am I ready to jump in?
  • Did I bring a strategic story?
  • Am I conveying my points or rebutting theirs? As I mentioned earlier, if the conversation takes a wrong turn, don’t follow it down that rabbit hole.
  • Am I showing the audience respect?
  • Am I speaking in complete sentences?
  • Am I responding or reacting? A response is a point formulated to fill a knowledge gap with targeted insight: “Here’s what I believe.” A reaction is a more spontaneous reply, sometimes emotionally driven and defensive: “No, that’s not true at all!”
  • Am I aware of myself? Remember, the audience is always watching you (and cameras may be as well), so for as long as you’re in that seat, look interested, nod at others’ good points, and don’t do anything that would embarrass your mother if she were in the audience. Speak up. Sit up straight. Don’t talk when others are talking. Don’t touch your face.

If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.

Book Notes: 5 Conversations

5 Conversations – How to Transform Trust, Engagement and Performance at Work by Nick Cowley & Nigel Purse
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The book kicks off by highlighting that leadership is a relationship – trust, stewardship, concern, understanding and humanity you display towards people and the safe environment you create for them to flourish and grow in.

The book proposes the following definition of engagement:

  • Organisational citizenship – being proud to belong to their organisation and being advocates of its products and services to other potential employees and customers
  • Discretionary effort – to be willing to go the extra mile or put in those additional hours when needed
  • Intention to stay – coupled with a belief that they have room to grow and fulfil their potential and career aspirations within the organisation

What drives high engagement:

  • A strong narrative – where has the organisation come from and where is it going. A clear purpose and vision that individuals are clear where they fit in and contribute to.
  • Engaged managers who
    • Focus their people and give them scope to innovate and contribute
    • Treat their people as individuals – and build individual relationships
    • Coach and stretch their people
  • Employees are heard – information and ideas don’t just flow downwards from the top but travel upwards too. Employees views are actively sought out and are listened to.
  • Organisational integrity – the values on the wall reflect day-to-day behaviours at all levels and in all context both formal and informal.

Relationships are key to humans, we have evolved in a social way:

  • Leaders need to avoid (consciously or unconsciously) demonstrating behaviour that people will perceive as a threat, risk or danger. Humans sense these and kick into a closed, defensive and suspicious state.
  • Leaders need to build positive conditions to appeal to the rewards systems of peoples brains through authentic, honest, two-way conversations and through instilling a trusting environment.
  • Building relationships is key, people are good at detecting insincerity. You need to genuinely understand and relate to the other person. This is not about being soft, but is about honestly seeking a meaningful, high quality relationship.

The book proposes there are five key conversations:

  1. Establishing a trusting relationship
  2. Agreeing mutual expectations
  3. Showing genuine appreciation
  4. Challenging unhelpful behaviour
  5. Building for the future

Smart leaders today engage with employees in a way that resembles ordinary person-to-person conversation more than it does a series of commands from on high.

Leadership Is a conversation, Groysberg and Slind, Harvard Business Review

Sample questions

Establishing a trusting relationship

  • What’s really important to you at work?
  • What do you feel most strongly about?
  • What are you most passionate about?
  • What do you consider your greatest strength?
  • What are you most proud of?
  • What do you think is your greatest limitation?
  • What do you really want to be known for?
  • What is it that you really stand for?
  • What’s important to you in building relationships with someone?
  • What matters most to you when trusting others?
  • When do you tend to feel most badly let down by colleagues?
  • What sorts of things destroy a relationship for you?
  • To what extent do you tend to open up to others at work?
  • How easily do you trust others?
  • What one thing could I tell you that would help you trust me?
  • Tell me about a good day at work?
  • What gives you most satisfaction at work?
  • What energises you?
  • Tell me what a bad day at work looks like?
  • What causes you to lose sleep at night?
  • Which emotions do you experience most often?
  • What one question could I ask you that would enable me to really understand you?
  • What one thing can you tell me that might be helpful for me to know about you that I don’t already know?
  • Do you have any unrealised ambitions?
  • What do you most value about working here?
  • What one thing would you change about working here and why?
  • What would you like to be most remembered for?

Agreeing mutual expectations

  • Let me give you an overview of what I’m trying to achieve over the next period, and especially why this matters for me…
  • Can you talk me through the same thing from your point of view? What are you trying to achieve and why is it important to you?
  • Can we explore how we can support each other in achieving our goals? e.g resources, influencing, coaching etc? What would be most useful?
  • How do you think you can best support me?
  • How might we get in each other’s way? Is there anything we should be aware of to avoid this?
  • Can we summarise the expectations we have of each other and how we can hold each other to account for delivering on these expectations?

Showing genuine appreciation

  • Understand and appreciate
    • What’s going really well for you at the moment? What’s been your biggest success in the last few weeks? What’s been your biggest achievement recently? What’s been your biggest challenge?
    • What was the situation? What were the key challenges you faces?
    • What did you say and do that led to success?
    • How did you feel as this was happening/
    • What strengths, talents and skills of yours contributed most to this outcome?
    • What’s the learning you take from this experience?
    • How are you feeling right now?
    • Thank you! I really appreciate your contribution you are making and the skills and commitment you bring to our team
  • Explore
    • What other opportunities are there for you to use these strengths, talents and skills?
    • How else can we play to your strengths?
    • How do you want to develop these skills further?
  • Consolidate
    • What’s the key insight you have gained from the discussion?
    • What learning points should we both take away?
    • What are the action points that we both commit to follow up on?

Challenging unhelpful behaviour

  • Observations – what you saw
  • Feelings – how this made you feel
  • Needs – what are your needs? e.g. support and protect, respect, harmony, reassurance, support
  • Request – the clear request of what you want

Building for the future

  • Purpose/Meaning – understand their need to make a difference
  • Autonomy/Freedom – understanding their needs for freedom e.g. job content, hours
  • Mastery/Learning – what and how do they want to grow
  • Innovation/Exploring – opportunities for creative, discovery, innovation and exploration
  • Collaboration/Inclusivity – how important is this for them to work or lead a team
  • Achievement/Recognition – the need to win, succeed or achieve
  • Work-Life Balance/Wellbeing – what do they want this balance to be or change
  • Advancement/Promotion – the desire to climb the corporate ladder
  • Financial Reward/Security – peoples drive for financial security and benefits
  • Status/Power – understanding their drive for power and satisfaction to exert influence over teams, functions or organisations

Book Notes: Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders?

Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders? (And How to Fix It) by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Research finds that there are lots of bad leaders and these leaders have huge impact on the teams which they lead. As such improving leaders has a huge impact on the business. The book also highlights that people who tend to be self-centered, feel entitled and narcissists tend to emerge as leaders taking control of resources and power.

Confidence Disguised as Competence – people naturally feel that people who are more confident are more competent however there is no link between how good you think you are doing at a job and your actual ability. Being overly confident can have huge consequences – such as making a bad decision then pushing it too much.

Narcissism

  • An unrealistic sense of grandiosity and superiority, manifested in the form of vanity, self-admiration and delusion of talent.
  • Narcissists’ have high confidence but fragile so crave validation and recognition from others.
  • They have less interest in others and as such lack genuine consideration for people other than themselves.
  • High levels of entitlement – when you think you are better than others you perceive unfairness where there is none.
  • They are perceived to have high levels of creativity, but in reality there is no difference to others they are just better at selling their ideas.
  • They are worried about how they look – masters of imanage memagement coming across as attractive and confident.
  • Assuring people that their own personal brand is bigger than the firms is a classic narcissistic statement.
  • Narcissistic tendencies are more likely to get in your way than to help. They have a particularly bad long-term effect on other people.

Psychopathy

  • A lack of moral inhibition, which at an extreme is manifested in the form of strong antisocial tendencies and an intense desire to break the rules, even just for the sake of it.
  • When psychopaths break the rules they feel no guilt or remorse.
  • People with psychopathic tendencies are prone to making reckless behavioral choices. This reduced concern for danger will put them and others at risk.
  • A lack of empathy – they don’t care what others think or feel, despite being able to understand those feelings.
  • Psychopathy offers few advantages to effective leadership – most psychopaths are incompetent as leaders. This poor overall performance is largely because of their lack of diligence, disdain for deadlines and processes, their failing to assume responsibilities resulting in them being rated poorly by both their bosses and subordinates. An inability to build and motivate team members, an unwillingness to accept blame and responsibility, a lack of follow through and impulsive unpredictability.

Charisma

  • Unlike Narcissism and Psychopathy which are personality traits – Charisma is in the eye of the viewer.
  • People naturally like charismatic people, so this clouds how people perceive how a leader is actually performing and are evaluated more favorably.
  • Charismatic leaders excel at giving people hope – charisma is great for selling a vision.
  • However charisma has no strong link to performance but can easily, and incorrectly, end up being used as a proxy measure for leadership. This would then lead to us ignoring other leadership signals such as competence, integrity and self-awareness.
  • Humble leadership tends to cascade down turning leaders into genuine role models. They display more modesty, admit mistakes, share credit with others, and are more receptive to others’ ideas and feedback.

What good leaders look like

  • Intellectual capital
    • Domain specific expertise, experience and good judgement
    • Such people can rely on their instincts regarding work problems because experience and expertise have made their intuition more data-driven.
    • This boosts team morale and employee engagement.
    • Companies sometimes over-rely on technical expertise, it does matter but EQ and “soft skills” are also important especially when moving from an individual contributor role to a leadership position. As AI takes on more of the data work technical expertise will likely reduce in its importance.
  • Social capital
    • The network and connections that leaders have – leaders with wider and deeper connections within and outside of their organisation are more effective.
    • “a great person attracts great people and knows how to hold them together”
  • Psychological capital
    • How individuals will lead
    • Good characteristics
      • How people act on their best days, constituting of their general learning ability (intelligence) and major personality traits (curiocity, extraversion and emotional stability).
    • Bad characteristics
      • Distancing traits – being highly excitable and moody or having a deeply skeptical, cynical outlook which makes it hard to build trust. Additionally passive-aggressiveness.
      • Seductive qualities – assertive, charismatic leaders gaining followers and influence bosses through their ability to manage up. Narcissism and psychopathy – hindering a leaders ability to build and maintain high-performance teams and contribute to the long term success.
      • Ingratiating traits – these can have positive connotations in followers but rarely do in leaders. Someone who is diligent might be great when a lone worker but can translate into a preoccupation with petty matters or micromanagement. Someone who is dutiful and eager to please those in authority can easily become too submissive.
    • The inside
      • Their values – their internal moral compass, e.g. people valuing tradition will struggle in a disruptive innovator.

Having intellectual, social and psychological capital results in more potential but it is not guaranteed. The context in which they are working is a key to their success, or failure.

  • Dominance – cultures embracing assertive, overconfident and authoritarian leaders.
  • Spontaneity – the level of acceptance of spontaneity and improvisation, how accepting of uncertainty.
  • Individualism – what is values higher the contributions of the individual or the results of the team. In individualism environments more people aspire to be leaders to stand out personally.
  • Status – how the power is regarded between individuals, in status oriented cultures those higher up are always better off.
Aspect of leadershipCommon perceptionEvidence-based view
Defination of leaderPerson in charge or with powerPerson who builds a winning team
Goal of leaderGet to the top, be successfulHelp the team outperform rivals
Leader’s performanceEquals leader’s career successDepends on team’s performance
Subordinates’ rolesHelp the leader succeedUnit in the pursuit of a shared goal
Key leader attributesConfidence and charismaCompetence and integrity
  1. Some characteristics are hard to change – 30% of leadership is determined by genetic factors.
  2. Good coaching works – of course not all coaches will work for you but finding the right one can help especially growing EQ potentially by 25%.
  3. Beware of leaders’ strengths – don’t forget the weaknesses and don’t overdo the strengths as these can turn to arrogance, risk-taking and hubris.
  4. Self-awareness is essential – it is key to know have you come across, what you are doing well and what does not work
  5. It is not easy to go against our nature – leaders tend to become more exaggerated versions of themselves. It is key to counterbalance so leaders go against their nature to go to places they would not have gone.
  6. Coachability is an integral part of potential – the people who take up coaching are the people who need it the least, they are the people who are more self aware and looking to improve. It is the bad leaders who don’t feel they need the coaching who actually do.