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Book Review Coaching Leadership

Managing Humans

This is Michael Lopp’s first book, now on its fourth edition. It’s sixty chapters, short pieces of advice, anecdotes and stories.

If you are familiar with the blog, then it’s very much like revisiting some old friends, but polished up and putting their best foot forwards.

It covers every core leadership topic, from how to hold a 1-2-1 to how to manage the rumour mill, and on to navigating reorgs and the politics that go with them.

I read through the fourth edition in couple of sittings, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of “just one more” as each chapter really is only a few pages long. However, I’d say the real value lies in dipping into a particular chapter that’s related to current concerns, absorbing the lessons and putting them to use in your context.

Not everything will be valid for you. If you are in a high growth tech start-up then a lot of it will be, in other organisations you might be able to take less overall. Lessons on individual leadership, meeting culture and the needs of people will be universal.

I found that the thread running though the book was less well formed than in The Art of Leadership, which Rands recognises as having the fuller arc.

As a leader, especially in a tech org, if you were only going to read one, I’d point you to Art of Leadership, but I really think you’d benefit from both!

Categories
Book Review Coaching Leadership

The Scout Mindset

Julia Galef gives us “The Scout Mindset“, a book about developing your skills in seeing things how they are, rather than how you hope they might be.

We start off by looking at two types of thinking, the Soldier and the Scout. Soldier thinking is both defensive and aggressive. There’s a truth, I know it already and I need to protect it against the assaults of others. Scout thinking is focused around discovering the truth that we don’t yet know. It’s about exploring, improving the map and throwing the old map away when we learn more.

The Soldier approach has value in some situations, and is usually our default way of approaching problems. The Scout mindset is less common, unfamiliar, but likely to be better for the complexities of modern life. So how do we move from one model to the other?

Julia gives four key stages to moving towards the Scout mindset:

  1. Develop Self Awareness – Understand when you are thinking like a Scout or a Soldier
  2. Thrive Without Illusions – Get comfortable living with how things are
  3. Learn to Change Your Mind – Be comfortable being wrong, and celebrate steps towards the truth
  4. Rethink Your Identity – Don’t let beliefs define who you are, as it makes it harder to accept change

Through these stages, there’s some great deep dives on some surprising topics, ranging from how boundlessly positive thinking can be harmful, to how you might have to do things that aren’t obvious to have the biggest impact.

It’s well written, and the book doesn’t endlessly labour similar points or loop over and over on the key message. There’s lots of practical advice, and a great collection of references and further reading to pick-up on.

Any leader working in complex spaces would benefit from reading this book, and trying to think more like a Scout.

Categories
Book Review Coaching Leadership

Top Posts of 2021

We all get a bit reflective at this time of year, so I’m looking back at my most visited posts over 2021.

  1. Radical Candor
  2. Coaching Tools – Model T
  3. The Coaching Spectrum
  4. Coaching Tools – Scaling
  5. When?
  6. Elevator Pitches
  7. The Advice Trap
  8. Slow is Smooth
  9. I’ll Know It When I See It
  10. Coaching For Performance

It’s another year where book reviews have done well, people are especially keen to keep learning about Radical Candor! Check out my full list of reviews for more, and watch out for some fresh writeups in the New Year.

It’s great to see how many people are honing their craft with my series on Coaching Tools. Given how popular they have been, I’ll certainly be continuing with these, let me know if there’s anything that you like me to cover.

Finally, it’s great to see a few of my more recent posts breaking into the top 10. This is all down to the growth in readership over the last couple of years, so thank you so much for joining me on this journey. If you are new this year, then dive into the archives so you don’t miss out!

Categories
Book Review Coaching Leadership

The Advice Trap

Michael Bungay Stanier gives us The Advice Trap, a guide to understanding your default advice giving behaviours, and a range of techniques to tame them. Instead, he suggests you stay curious for longer, and Michael shows you why that’s important.

It’s another short and punchy book, very much in the mould of The Coaching Habit. It’s not quite a sequel, but it certainly builds on the ideas of the previous book and you might take more from The Advice Trap if it’s not the first MBS book you pick-up.

It’s very much positioned towards leaders rather than pure coaches, and it encourages you towards behaviours that allow your leadership to become more coach-like.

We start with a whistle-stop tour of why giving advice is not a great default position, and how it kills off the Drive of the people you are giving advice to. Next up, we learn a bit about Easy vs Hard change, and how giving less advice is certainly in the “Hard change” bucket.

You get to explore whether you are a Tell-It, Save-It or Control-It type person, although you will probably recognise a bit of all of them in you. I certainly did!

We look at a ways to deflect each of these behaviours to become more coach-like, and also get to see the pain of each type of advice monster. Tell-It means you jump in too early and give answers to the first problem, not the biggest one, Control-It means you avoid risk, so don’t explore new and different ideas, and so on.

You get a whirlwind summary of the Coaching Habit, either as a great summary or enough context to catch-up up if you’ve not read it.

The practical advice continues, digging into a lot of Foggifiers, the tactics and pitfalls that people deploy to get away from the hard work of coaching and bringing about change. You’ll recognise all these behaviours, whether it’s deflecting to other people rather than working on what you can control, or going so big picture you can’t find something that’s actually available to be changed.

We also bring in the TERA quotient, Tribe, Expectation, Rank and Autonomy. By lifting these up, you gain more engagement, and are more likely to then get to great outcomes and big change.

The rest of the book is really about practising and cementing these skills, everything from being generous to finding ways to drop in even more of the coach-like behaviours.

There’s also a bonus chapter of advice on when it’s good to use advice! As leaders we need to know when it’s right to use a range of techniques, and whilst advice is likely to be an overused tool, it’s no good going so far the other way that you never use it.

This is another great book for leaders who want to strengthen their coaching muscles. It’s a quick read that you can dip back into whenever you need to, and the exercises and self-reflection tasks are really powerful ways to take even more from it!

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Book Review Leadership

Made To Stick

This is the classic guide to helping you shape your stories to make them sticky. It gives you a set of simple tools and techniques that enable you to refine your message so it becomes more effective.

The particularly great news is that these skills are something that you can learn, it’s not just the gift of the instinctive storyteller. You can deal with the curse of expert knowledge by taking dense and statistics heavy messages, and turning them into short snappy stories that really resonate with your audience.

You will be introduced to the principle of SUCCESs:

  • S – Simple
  • U – Unexpected
  • C – Concrete
  • C – Credible
  • E – Emotional
  • S – Story

Take any message you want to spread widely, test it against these criteria and refine it until you hit more of them. Do this and it’s certain you will hit more people, and the message will stick better with each person you reach.

Simple and practical, this is a great guide for those of us who default to the position of the expert, and who sometimes need to step back a bit to pull others along on our journey.

Categories
Book Review Coaching Leadership

Top Posts for 2020

At the end of what’s been a really tough year, I’m taking the time to look back over all the visits to the site, so I can share my most read posts.

Hopefully, you’ve already had the chance to enjoy them, but if not, these are the top highlights for you to enjoy.

  1. The Art of Leadership – My Review of the new leadership book from Michael Lopp. Short sharp lessons on doing the small things well. Standout book of the year.
  2. Losing it Hurts More – It’s a lot more painful to lose out on something you thought you had than it is to get something unexpected. Covered in a lot more detail in Thinking, Fast and Slow, but I think a number one takeaway is think about how you communicate changes in benefits or opportunities, especially in uncertain times.
  3. Dedication to Goals – Some ways to understand how to get stronger commitment from a Coachee when they outline their goals. Great reading for people leaders as we get into Annual Review season.
  4. Radical CandorKim Scott’s highly rated guide on an approach to giving feedback in organisations. It’s a powerful skill to learn and really worth putting the effort in to get right. It is especially important to do the learning with this approach, and don’t let “Radical Candor” be a smokescreen for the negatives behaviours of the Jerk.
  5. Strength of No – Get mindful about how you are saying “No”. Is it a hard no, is it a maybe that’s opening a negotiation or is it a disguised form of “Yes”? If you focus on this, you’ll really improve outcomes in all sorts of conversations.

These were my top five posts of the year. Let me know which ones you enjoyed the most, or if one of your favourites didn’t make the list!

See you next year!

Categories
Book Review Leadership

The Manager’s Path

Camille Fournier’s book, The Manager’s Path, is required reading for any technical leaders. Whether you are just starting out or a seasoned professional, there will be something you can take away from the book and immediately use to improve your craft.

It takes you through every level, from what you should expect from a manager, to how to start taking mentoring opportunities to build initial leadership skills. It builds up to leading teams, departments and whole companies, and finishes up with thoughts on how to build up the culture of your organisation.

It’s has a really strong focus on the technical problems that you’ll encounter, from managing familiar personality types, to how to deal with the inevitable tensions of shipping software whilst balancing scope and time to market. If you work with technical people, then it’s still a great read to help you understand the challenges of your Engineering peers.

Camille shares personal anecdotes and stories of times that she’s encountered the issues of leadership, and these personal insights bring the advice to life. It’s also a great way to see where particular options might not be right for you, and which tool you could choose to leave in the toolbox in favour of something else.

The intro suggests that you focus your reading on the level you are currently acting at, whilst encouraging you to skim other sections more lightly. It’s a really good approach, I’d definitely agree that once you’ve read it all you should come back to the parts that are most relevant and useful for where you are now.

Definitely one for the library, it’s one to give to your high potential talent and freshly minted leaders.

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Book Review Leadership

The Art of Leadership

Michael Lopp’s new book has just been released. The Art of Leadership, Small Things Done Well. I’ve had it on pre-order since December, so I was very excited to get it into my hands.

It’s a collection of thirty small things you can do as a leader to build trust and respect in a team. The book is structured around three stages of leadership in organisations, a Manager, Director and Executive.

Lopp takes you through the journey from Individual Contributor, to a Manager leading a team, a Director who is leading Managers, and an Executive who’s accountable for the direction of the company. Each of the small things is especially relevant to a leader at that specific level, but is still something to keep in your toolkit as you move on to greater spans of control.

It covers pitfalls (New Manager Death Spiral) and sometimes unexpected areas of focus (when recruiting, spend an hour per day per open role). Communication is a key theme, whether that’s how to hold effective 1-2-1s, to say the hard thing or how to communicate difficult change through a large org. It recognises that you’ll be bad at each of these roles for at least a few years until you master them, so embrace failures, learn from them and growth through the experience.

If you already follow Rands, then you’ll be familiar with a lot of this content from his excellent blog. The book takes this to a next level, grouping, ordering and curating a common set of advice that is important for all leaders.

It’s a powerful book, it’s easy to read and it’s something you’ll be excited to revisit and dip back in to for years to come.

Categories
Book Review Leadership

Drive

Daniel Pink’s Drive is a short and punchy introduction to the truth of motivation. It cuts through the traditional ideas of ‘carrot and stick’, to look at the intrinsic factors that encourage us to do a great job.

If we’re leading or coaching people, then the thoughts outlined in Drive are a really strong way to open them up to the best chances to grow, achieve and succeed in their endeavours.

This is most especially important with the changing nature of work. As we move away from the algorithmic world of the 20th century, where output and effort were easy to measure, and into the heuristic world of the creative modern workplace, then we must change our approach. When the outcomes you strive for are not easily linked to the outputs, then rewarding people becomes a more complex problem.

Firstly, we must provide the environment for the intrinsic drive to come to the fore. So long as people have their basic needs met, and can see that they are compensated fairly when compared to others, then we can unlock their true potential.

The three strands that form this motivation are Mastery, Autonomy and Purpose.

Autonomy is the power to choose your own goals, to determine how you will achieve them and to make commitments on your own terms. In a commercial context, they must of course be aligned to the needs and goals of the organisation, but beyond that the more power of choice you can give, the better the outcomes will be.

Mastery is the recognition that the journey is often the valuable thing, rather than the final reward. It’s the idea that the goal medal is recognition for great achievement, rather than the goal itself. In seeking mastery you are always looking to learn and improve, and to get better at your craft.

Purpose is the knowledge that your efforts are building towards something greater, whether that’s an endeavour to build something great, or to create a positive change for the future.

If you can give these three things to a group, then they will become engaged, effective and solve problems far beyond their apparent capacity. As leaders, it’s our role to find ways to extend access to these opportunities. As coaches, we might encourage our coachee to find these opportunities themselves.

In the book, we are given a range of techniques to try for ourselves and our organisations, and some tools to check-in on how we are doing. You can pickup the ideas of Drive in a very short period of time, and then return to the resources again and again as you develop your own approach. It gives you a list of over a dozen books for further reading, with brief summaries of each. This is a great springboard for continued learning.

Very much recommended, a great read and an excellent investment of your time.

Categories
Book Review

Never Split the Difference

If Getting to Yes is the book that teaches you how to negotiate with someone who’s looking for the best outcome in collaboration, the Never Split the Difference is the book you need to read to get better at negotiating in adversarial conditions.

The author has been involved in high stakes hostage negotiations, and uses this experience to distil a series of tactics and techniques you can use in daily life to get better negotiation outcomes.

Through each chapter we start with a scenario from the hostage negotiation world, and then translate that into usable advice, with examples of putting it into practice.

The book encourages you to build rapport quickly by mirroring, using empathy to label the pain of the other side and starting off looking for ‘no’ to gain real commitment to any later ‘yes’. It recommends you to seek “That’s right” to show agreement, and how to discuss what is or isn’t ‘fair’. Finally, it pushes on securing commitment, and also uncovering the ‘unknown unknowns’ that can transform a negotiation when discovered.

It ends with a guide on how to prepare for a negotiation, with steps and sample questions you can tune to your own needs.

This was an interesting read, with some new and updated techniques that are great to add to your toolbox. It very much benefits from familiarity with ‘Getting to Yes’ and other books that are referenced in the text, but it can still be read standalone.

I’d certainly recommend it.