Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ category

“The Truth about Leadership” by James M Kouzes and Barry Z Posner

January 12, 2021

“The Truth About Leadership: The No-Fads, Heart-of-the-Matter Facts You Need to Know” (2010) by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner is a short, easy-to-read collection of “fundamental principles that inform and support the practice of leadership,” based on the “Leadership Practices Inventory,” a learning assessment tool used in 70+ countries.

Based on the idea is that leadership can be learned, Kouzes and Posner identify 10 fundamental truths about leadership:

  1. You make a difference. Leadership starts by looking inward, taking the first step, and becoming a role model for others. “It’s about what you do.” If you manage others, you have a big impact on their commitment to the company, productivity, and job satisfaction.
  2. Credibility is the foundation of leadership. Leadership continues only if other people also believe in you. You must be honest, forward-looking, inspiring, and competent. The key is to align your actions and words (do what you say you will do).
  3. Values drive commitment. Clarity about personal values has the most significant impact on employees’ feelings about their work. Before you can effectively lead others, you have to understand who you are and what you believe in. Leaders gain consensus on common values and a common cause.
  4. Focusing on the future sets leaders apart. Look beyond what’s in front of you and imagine possibilities. Remind people that there is a larger purpose. Remain optimistic about what is yet to come.
  5. You can’t do it alone. Leadership is about the relationship between leaders and their constituents. You have to make a human connection and inspire a shared vision. It is critical to build a team of people who feel powerful and capable of taking action.
  6. Trust rules (no, this doesn’t mean put your trust in rules). High trust leads to greater influence on group members, greater cooperation, enhanced information flow, and increased willingness to become better group members. People won’t take risks unless they feel safe. The more people trust, the more they’ll risk. Leaders are the first to trust. You can build trust by behaving predictably and consistently, communicating clearly, treating promises seriously, and being forthright and candid.
  7. Challenge is the crucible for greatness. Leadership is about guiding people through uncertainty and change; or in complacent times, about actively disrupting the status quo to pursue new opportunities. People with grit (perseverance and passion) are more likely to achieve positive outcomes and see failure as learning.
  8. You either lead by example or you don’t lead at all. People are always watching, and your actions have to be consistent with your words. Take responsibility for your mistakes and accept feedback.
  9. The best leaders are the best learners. Leadership can be learned and the capacity for learning begins with a growth mindset – the belief that we can become better leaders. It requires deliberate practice and a supportive environment, with five elements of learning: it is designed specifically to improve performance; it has to be repeated a lot; feedback on results must be continually available; it is highly demanding mentally; it isn’t all that much fun).
  10. Leadership is an affair of the heart. The highest performing managers and learners are the most open and caring. Show people you care by paying attention to them. Fall in love with the work you are doing and the purpose you are serving. Positive leadership breeds positive emotions.

What kind of leader are you? What leadership skills can you put into practice today?

“Love is the Way” by Bishop Michael Curry

November 3, 2020

“The way of love is the only way to freedom… It is how we stay decent during indecent times.”

Written by Bishop Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, with Sara Grace, “Love is the Way: Holding on to Hope in Troubling Times” (2020) offers us thoughtful optimistic, and hopeful reflections on love.

Specifically, agape, love for the other, “sacrificial love that seeks the good and well-being of others, of society, of the world.” The opposite of love isn’t hate, Bishop Curry says, it is selfishness. Agape is “love that is a commitment to seek the good and to work for the good and welfare of others.”

Posed as a series of questions, Bishop Curry uses stories, quotes, and poetry to reflect on love. He talks about how “resting” in God’s hands is active, not passive – it takes effort to ask for and receive help; about “making do” – taking a little and making a lot in order to survive and thrive; and about how hope happens “when reality is altered by a new possibility.”

“Love is the way, then, is a journey into the holy and hidden heart of my own life.” Throughout the book, Bishop Curry shares his personal story as the son of an Episcopal pastor in an African American community. When he was 10 years old, his mother went into a coma and never recovered. Family, church, and community pulled together to support them. And he talks about the connection of food, and preparing food with love, as connecting families and teaching children.

He shares his journey through his experiences at St. Simons Church in Lincoln Heights, Ohio and St. James Church in Baltimore, Maryland, and through his election as Presiding Bishop in 2015 – and a brain injury that forced his to learn to read and write again.

The story of the Bishop’s cathedra in New Orleans was fascinating. Bishop Curry chose to reclaim a chair once held by a secessionist and racist, transforming it into a symbol of hope and progress. That took a lot of strength. I talked about it with my family; my son would have changed the chair, my husband suggested burning it, and my first thought was to welcome others to sit in it.

If I remember only one thing, it Bishop Curry’s reminder that our job is to sow the seeds. “Our task is to do our task, not to do every task needed for progress to happen.” We may never see the impact of our actions; but that is not why we do them.

“Change starts with a positive vision,” Bishop Curry says. He offers four steps for creating your rule of life:

1.Recognize. Identify 1-3 core values or principles that you would like to “live more deeply into.”

2. Commit. Write vows that summarize what the values specifically mean to you and why you want to live them more deeply in your daily life.

3. Prioritize. Brainstorm 1-3 actionable habits in your daily life that will allow you practice those values.

4. Schedule. Add those habits to your daily schedule.

What experiences of love have shaped your life? Who do you believe lives a life of love and planting seeds? What seeds of love can you sow today, this month, this year?

“Kaiāulu: Gathering Tides” by Mehana Blaich Vaughan

September 29, 2020

My husband grew up in Hawaii but came to fishing later in life. He enjoys trolling and bottom fishing, he maintains his own boat, and he enjoys eating what he catches.

I am his opposite; I enjoy the ocean from the shore, I get terribly seasick (pills make me sleepy), and I don’t eat seafood. (“You’re welcome,” I tell him, because it means more poke and sashimi for him).

So I was thinking of my husband as I read “Kaiāulu: Gathering Tides” (2018) by Mehana Blaich Vaughan. I knew that he would appreciate the 20 years of research, over 80 interviews and community meetings, fishing studies, and community research gatherings behind this book. And I appreciate that the proceeds from the sale of the book benefit Kīpuka Kuleana, a Hawaii nonprofit.

“This is a book about fishing and the responsibilities of fishing families to care for resources on this beautiful coast,” Vaughan writes. “To bear witness to the changes I have seen and to honor the families who endure… so that the values that make this community unique can be seen below the surface and carry on.”

Each chapter begins and ends with mo‘olelo (story) and shows us different ways of enacting kuleana. Vaughan shares what communities are doing to nurture our ocean resources. She also proposes plans to strengthen our bonds to family lands and our connections with each other.

Vaughan talks about 7 values and responsibilities within fishing communities. The first three values are Ā’ina, Hō‘ihi, and Kahu.

Ā‘ina (“that which feeds”). “A place and its people are one and the same,” Vaughan writes. We need to re-connect with one another and our places, strengthening our interdependence and community ties. Ā’ina is more than the land we live on. It is the place that feeds your family physically, spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. There are responsibilities, not just rights, that come with being of a place.

Hō‘ihi (reciprocity and respect). We need to maintain harmonious, mutually respectful, and interdependent familial relationships with the natural world, including death. Connected to place, we acknowledge that our departed relatives become a part of marine ecosystems, helping living ‘ohana by choosing whether to be caught and choosing konohiki based on character and respect.

Kahu (care and cultivation). We need to harvest from and cultivate growth within specific areas. Families living along the coast have a responsibility to enhance fishing habitat, such as creating imu kai or umu (rocks, arranged in small piles near shore); and protecting the reproductive cycles of marine life; feeding fish and tending limu beds; and rotating harvest areas.

She advocates for creating Kīpuka, protected spaces of reconnection. “These Kīpuka provide places to gather, cultivate local and traditional foods, strengthen community ties, organize to affect policy, teach, and learn.”

What stories do you have about the ocean, in your family and in your life? How are you nurturing future generations of leaders and caretakers?

“Company of One” by Paul Jarvis

September 1, 2020

“Not all growth is beneficial, and some growth can actually reduce your resilience and your autonomy,” says Paul Jarvis, author of “Company of One: Why Staying Small is the Next Big Thing in Business” (2019). “A company of one is simply a business that questions growth.”

Right now, the pandemic has caused us to question growth for an entirely different reason.

The “company of one” mentality helps you look at whether your career – or your organization – is “just right,” with a good balance of work and life, quality and quantity, instead of constantly striving for more customers, more products, more revenue, more employees, more locations.

A “company of one” means “the power to be more self-reliant and more responsible for your own career path.” No one likes to feel powerless. Feeling in control can make you stronger and less reliant on someone else’s priorities.

There are 4 typical traits of people who can thrive in a company of one:

1) Resilience – the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties.

2) Autonomy – the skill set to control your time.

3) Speed – the ability to work smarter and more efficiently, and react quickly to changes.

4) Simplicity – the discipline to keep things simple and question complexity.

In some ways, COVID-19 is a training ground for exactly these things. Building resilience (coping with stress and anxiety); autonomy (staying and home and managing your time); speed (making sense of news reports and changing health guidelines); and simplicity (learning what really matters to you).

Jarvis offers some thought-provoking shifts in our mindset about work. He suggests that we think of work as a series of projects, not a single place of employment. He challenges us experiment with working and earning enough to live for a year, and then taking the rest of the year off (I don’t think I could do that, especially in uncertain times, but it’s an interesting perspective).

It’s similar concept to “Tax Freedom Day,” the day that you stop working to pay taxes and start working for yourself– except it would be the day that you stop working and start focusing on living for yourself.

During this pandemic, the “company of one” – a single owner-employee, working for yourself – approach may be even more imperative.

Have you ever started or dreamed about starting your own business? If yes, what appeals to you about being a business owner? What keeps you small, or what pushes you to grow your company?

“Leadership is an Art” by Max De Pree

June 30, 2020

I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership recently.

When there is an on-going crisis, one that changes the way we live and work, what kind of leader do we need? We may turn to someone who is confident and decisive. We may put our trust in someone who coordinates a team to get things done.

“The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you,” wrote Max De Pree, CEO of Herman Miller Inc, is his contemplative book, “Leadership is an Art” (1989). “In between the two, the leader must become a servant and a debtor. That sums up the progress of an artful leader.”

In his contemplative book, “Leadership is an Art” (1989), De Pree uses compact, precise language to define leadership as “liberating people to do what is required of them in the most effective and humane way possible.”

De Pree is a proponent of servant leadership, in which “the signs of outstanding leadership appear primarily among the followers.” He believes that participative management begins with a belief in people.

During a crisis, it’s easy to think that without good leadership, people will make poor decisions. It can be much harder to believe that people will make good choices on their own.

Do we need leaders who enforce regulations? Or do we need leaders who trust us to follow safety guidelines and help us do what we need to do to be healthy – including having access to food, shelter, and healthcare?

Servant leaders understand how to build healthy relationships, according to De Pree. It begins with five intentions:

1) Respecting people and the diversity of their gifts, so that everyone can contribute in some way;

2) Understanding that values are more important than policy and practice;

3) Agreeing on the rights of work, such as the right to be needed and the right to be involved;

4) Understanding that the best people need covenants, not contracts, based on shared commitment;

5) Understanding that people build trust, not structures.

De Pree spends considerable time talking about the essential rights of work, which is particularly complex during the COVID-19 pandemic. During this crisis, many of us believe in two conflicting viewpoints: that it’s not safe to work with people and that the ability to work is a duty for (“essential workers”), not a right.

When I first read “Leadership is an Art,” the most relevant idea was the diversity of people’s talents and skills within an organization. When I consider the book today, it’s about having a shared commitment to a healthy community.

Who do you turn to in a crisis? What kind of leader are you – within your family, at your workplace, in your community?