Review: Relationomics

relationomics

RelationomicsRandy Ross. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2019.

Summary: The health of relationships within organizations and with customers is directly connected to productive and profitable economic activity.

The odd title of this book, Relationomics, is the author’s way of communicating the vital importance of healthy relationships to healthy organizational economics. He defines relationomics as:

“…the study of the observable impact that relationships have on economic activity. It’s an assessment of the value created by relationships as opposed to simply a fiscal transactional analysis. In the marketplace, a significant causal correlation exists between the strength of the relationship and the flow of resources. The stronger and healthier the relationships, the more productive and profitable the transactions between those parties tend to be” (p. 36).

I found this an extremely practical and wise book that rings true to my years as a director in a religious non-profit, and challenged me to take a look at my own relational practices. The book is organized around four relational qualities, with several chapters under each of the following: intentionality, humility, accountability, and sustainability. I’ll share some of the most valuable insights and takeaways for me from each section.

Intentionality. As a kid who grew up as something of a loner, his chapter on The Great Deception names a lesson I’ve had to learn–that growth comes in relationships as we have others who encourage, sharpen, and challenge us. He calls the effort to grow outside of relationships the “Luciferian lie.” When organizations treat people as pawns and foster cut-throat competition rather than collaboration, they suffer. He argues that effective leaders foster remarkable cultures where people “believe the best in one another, want the best for one another, and expect the best from one another” (p. 63).

Humility. Humble leaders know themselves well and are comfortable in their own skin, which breeds in turn authenticity and empathy. He describes two kinds of growth spirals. One is descending characterized by defensiveness, rationalization, stagnation, and alienation. The other is ascending, characterized by openness, honest evaluation, solution orientation, and inspiration through unity. He also proposes a Poor Man’s 360 question that I intend to use: “What’s it like for you to be on the other side of me?” He also states that there are two kinds of leaders in organizations. There are value creatorswho bring more to the table than they take away, enriching the lives of others and their relationships. There are also value extractors, who get more from you than they offer. It shows up at networking events, and Ross proposes a practice he calls “NetWeaving,” of looking for ways, to connect others with common interest, “paying it forward,” as it were. Often we don’t lead like this because of fear, which great leaders transcend when they decide that being open-handed actually creates for them a greater capacity to receive as well as give.

Accountability. Good organizational relationships flourish when everyone’s OAR is in the water: when there is ownership, accountability, and responsibility. Good organizations have accountability in how they engage in workplace conflicts, the goal of which is to avoid throwing sand. He gives five practical suggestions in this regard:

  1. I will talk to you before I ever talk about you.
  2. I will engage in candid conversations with humility, knowing I have room to grow.
  3. We will seek objective input if we come to an impasse.
  4. I recognize that the objective of the conversation is to seek understanding, resolve issues, and move toward unity.
  5. I will forgive quickly [with some qualifications about destructive behaviors] (pp. 177-183).

Sometimes this means practicing RAW conversations. These Reveal reality, Advance creative dialogue, and Wrestle with solutions. This last seems particularly important–that both stay at the table (with time outs if it gets too emotional) until there is resolution.

Sustainability. This circles back to the idea of leaders who move beyond self-interest in their leadership. They are grounded leaders who are emotionally mature, have established convictions, and are determined. They are “rooted in reality, emotionally centered, relationally rich, results-oriented, other focused, mission-minded.” He offers a great example in the founder of Chobani, Hamdi Ulukaya, who is committed to high wages for his workers, and a share of the enterprise. His insights about the revolving door of employee turnover focuses on how most organizations hire too quickly, and he contrasts Chick-fil-A, where hires are interviewed by every person they will directly relate to in the organization over an extended period.

Each chapter includes reflection questions to help one crystallize the chapter content and apply it to one’s own situation. The writing style is clear, personal, filled with illustrations and acronyms to help remember the content. If that is not sufficient, Ross includes a glossary at the end of the book. For those looking for an approach to relationships that is faith-based, you may recognize biblical allusions and principles in the writing. But because this seems directed to a wider audience, there are no Bible references or discussions of faith in the workplace.

There are lessons here for any relational context, including marriage. This is especially valuable for anyone who leads a team or an organization–whether a sports club, a work group or business, a task force, or a church or non-profit group. Unhealthy relationships can suck the life out of an organization. Healthy relationships with a high performing team can be exhilarating. Randy Ross’s book can help a leader, who is ready to learn, to develop the latter.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

 

 

 

Review: Originals

originals

Originals: How Non-conformists Move the WorldAdam Grant (foreword by Sheryl Sandberg). New York: Viking, 2016.

Summary: A study of the characteristics and practices of those who make original contributions in personal and professional life.

Why did Seinfeld barely escape the cutting room floor to become the most successful comedy ever? Why might enemies make better coalition partners than friends? If you have a truly innovative idea, you should drop everything and risk it all–right? Are there times when procrastinating pays off?

Adam Grant explores all these questions and more in Originals. The subtitle of the work gives away a key thread that runs through the book. Those who come up with powerful new ideas and innovations are marked by a basic non-conformity. You might even by able to determine that by what browser they use on their computer. Those who use browsers like Chrome or Firefox might well be “originals” because they do not choose the default browser. They are people who are not content to choose defaults, and often may be either at the bottom or top of an organization, not in the comfortable middle. They are also savvy in managing their “risk portfolio.” They may start a new company (like Google) while keeping their day jobs.

Grant suggests that often, the “originals” succeed in what seem to be counter-intuitive ways. People may innovate in an area where they do not have much previous experience because of taking a fresh look at the problems. People who pursue hobbies in the arts often bring unique perspectives to how they look at a problem. The guy who saved Seinfeld didn’t work in comedy. Sometimes the best way to sell an idea is to show people what is wrong with it, turning them into defenders. Originals learn that you either need to speak up or leave to succeed. Hanging in there or becoming indifferent will never cut it. Sometimes the early bird doesn’t get the worm. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “dream speech” is a classic example, written the night before in the mood of the moment, and improvised when Mahalia Jackson urged King to tell them about the dream.

Grant also explores why ideas fail. Everyone from Jeff Bezos to Steve Jobs thought Dean Kamen had a great idea with his Segway. Kamen was a technical wiz who had developed innovative medical devices from a portable dialysis machine to a drug infusion pump. Yet his Segway was a flop and illustrates some important lessons. One is that creators are not always good at judging their own ideas, and in Kamen’s case, he listened to people who didn’t know any more about transportation than he did. He also illustrates the “kissing frogs” principle. You have to kiss a lot of frogs to find Prince Charming! Not all risks succeed, in fact most don’t.

Finally, Grant explores how families and organizations might cultivate the non-conformity that leads to original contributions. An interesting statistic is that one thing most of the great base-stealers have in common is that they are laterborns. Often laterborns compete by finding a different niche in which to succeed than the firstborn. Parents tend to be less strict with laterborns, and emphasizes the importance of parents giving children freedom to be originals–focusing less on rules than moral values–praising them for good behavior more than disciplining bad behavior. Also, focusing on the significance of actions for others, rather than just for oneself enhanced things like hand-washing in patient care. Likewise, good organizations to entrance, rather than exit interviews, getting the fresh perspective of new hires. They foster atmosphere where saying hard things needed to improve performance to bosses is rewarded rather than punished. They learn how to foster a sense of urgency.

Grant illustrates his ideas from a variety of domains from sports to politics to engineering and entertainment. The book is valuable to anyone who wants to be entrepreneurial, and all those who want to encourage an entrepreneurial spirit–parents, teachers, company leaders, coaches and mentors. Grant sums it all up in an “Actions for Impact” section with actions we can all take, how we can learn to champion our ideas, how we can spark original ideas in organizations, foster cultures of originality and what parents can do. Grant’s book suggests that we are all “originals.” and that it is not beyond any of us to be people who make original contributions in our part of the world.

Review: Business Coaching & Mentoring for Dummies

business coaching and mentoring

Business Coaching & Mentoring for Dummies, 2nd edition, Marie Taylor and Steve Crabb. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2017.

Summary: A detailed overview of the nature of business coaching and mentoring offering resources for assessing potential client opportunities, working with mind-sets, vision and planning processes, and marketing oneself as a coach.

For those who follow this blog, you may have noted I’ve been reviewing books on coaching periodically, an area I am reading up on. As part of the “Dummies” series, you might think this would be the first I would read, and that it would be fairly elementary. Rather, I found it a fairly comprehensive resource on business coaching. I highlight “business” here because there are different kinds of coaching–life coaching, performance coaching, etc. and this book focuses with working with those in executive positions in the business world, in start-ups, small companies, and larger corporations.

The book is divided into five parts, each consisting of several chapters:

  • Part 1: Getting Started with Business Coaching and Mentoring
  • Part 2: Developing the Business Leader’s Mind-Set
  • Part 3: Coaching and Mentoring to Get a Business on the Right Track
  • Part 4: Creating a Successful Business Identity with the Support of a Coach
  • Part 5: The Part of Tens

I found the material in Part One the most helpful. Particularly key is the distinction drawn between coaching (“the art of co-creation”) and mentoring (“the art of imparting wise counsel”). Both can be valuable but need to be distinguished and often may be confused in the mind of a client. Throughout the book, the authors make a point to maintain the distinction while offering material for both situations. This part also dealt with professional training of coaches, making the case for coaching, assessing the potential needs of clients and contracting (including what goes into a contract). One of the most valuable pieces of advice is to know your limitations and don’t be desperate. Several models of coaching are also introduced including the CLEAR model (Contracting-Listening-Exploring-Action-Review).

Part Two focuses on the business leader’s mind-set. We are introduced here to Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), a coaching approach one of the authors is trained in. Various exercises are introduced in this and the next two parts that seem to be versions of mindfulness training. One of my friends who has worked in business mentioned the relevance of the Enneagram, a tool used extensively in spiritual formation circles, to the business coaching world. Low and behold, a whole section of one chapter in this part was devoted to the Enneagram, particularly in dealing with the “I did it my way” leader.

Part Three focuses extensively on the vision, mission, values, and planning of a business, beginning with the stories businesses tell of themselves. There are extensive grids, sets of questions and guides for a variety of different clients one works with here.

Part Four was all about branding, both for the client and for the coach. For businesses, the grid offered on managing stakeholder relationships was helpful. For coaches, much of the advice might be summed up in the six-step model they offered:

  1. Identify the desperate needs of your potential clients.
  2. Identify your needs.
  3. Create a coaching solution to the desperate needs of your clients that satisfies both your needs and theirs.
  4. Position yourself as a niche specialist in providing the solution.
  5. Market and sell your services.
  6. Charge appropriately for your services.

Part Five consisted of several chapters of “tens”–online resources, tips for leaders who coach or mentor, tips for hiring a business coach, and ten questions for keeping a business on track.

Like any “Dummies” book, there are icons throughout highlighting particular types of information: Business owners, tip, remember, example, warning (very useful!), and technical stuff. Here’s one good warning:

“Coaches who are new to the profession often go looking for problems to fix. Don’t go looking for what’s not there — that’s making coaching about your own personal needs and not the needs of the client.” (p. 94).

I’ve highlighted some of the resources in each section I found helpful. I found the book chock-full of tools and resources and insights that probably make this a good basic reference for those engaged in business coaching or mentoring. You won’t be able to keep it all in your head. The writers emphasize how good coaches keep growing themselves, keep developing new skills, and access new tools. This book is a good place to start and worth having on the shelf.

 

 

Review: Co-Active Coaching

co-active coaching

Co-Active CoachingHenry Kimsey-House, Karen Kimsey-House, Philip Sandahl, and Laura Whitworth. Boston: Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 2011 (3rd edition–link is to 4th edition published in 2018).

Summary: A model of coaching in which coach and client actively collaborate to accomplish the clients needs, and the cornerstones, contexts, and core principles to realize those outcomes.

There are a variety of models for coaching and versatile coaches draw upon different models to meet the needs of their clients. In reading this book, what I found, which is described as a model, really seems to be a description of the ethos of coaching, the framework of practice within which a coach teams with his or her clients to accomplish the client’s goals. That’s not surprising since the authors (one now deceased) have been involved in coaching work since the 1980’s. This work was first published in the late 1990’s and is now in its fourth edition (my review is of the third edition).

The “co-active” refers to the kind of relationship that exists between coach and client, in which each actively collaborates to accomplish the client’s goals. Coaches are fully engaged in attentive listening, drawing upon their own curiosity and intuition. Clients are fully engaged in identifying their goals and aspirations, and doing the work that coach and client identify are necessary to pursue those goals. The authors talk about a “coaching power triangle” consisting of the coach, the client and the coaching relationship. It is the coaching relationship that is powerful, not the coach, and the power each grants to the relationship is directed to the empowering of the client. It strikes me that this is what all good coaching strives for, whether under the “co-active” label or not, but the term highlights the shared agency of both parties.

The model works around four cornerstones, five contexts, and three core principles

The four cornerstones provide the structure for the co-active relationship:

  1. People are naturally creative, resourceful, and whole. The assumption here is that clients are capable of discovering and implementing actions toward their goals.
  2. Focus on the whole person. While there may be a problem to solve or a business goal to attain, the client brings all of who they are, and the most effective coaching relationships address that whole person.
  3. Dance in this moment. This is to be fully present with the client in the moment, to what is happening in the conversation.
  4. Evoke transformation, not just “ahh” but “aha”–deeper awareness and expanded capacity to act in the client.

The five contexts are aspects of the coach’s contact or presence with the client:

  1. Listening: There are three levels of listening. Internal is the coach listening to their own internal dialogue, focused is the coach attentively listening to the client, and global goes beyond what is said, to everything around that, the subtle nuances and the total context of the client. Good listening is at the latter two levels.
  2. Intuition: This synthesizes attentive listening, subtle cues, and our experience, and often presents as a gut sense or hunch.
  3. Curiosity: Asking questions, exploring in open, inviting, playful, and companionable fashion that creates the sense of safety to explore even the dark and unknown spaces.
  4. Forward and deepen: “Forward” refers to moving the client forward in action. “Deepen” emphasizes learning that goes beyond the action to core principles of the client.
  5. Self-management: Mostly this means the ability of the coach to not make it about them but about the client. It’s not about being right about insights and hunches. It is about the client

The three core principles have to do with the whole life of the client:

  1. Fulfillment: what the client values and how they define their purpose in life. In co-active coaching, the “wheel of life” exercise is one tool used to help people identify the degree of fulfillment they are experiencing in different areas of life.
  2. Balance: often clients get stuck being out of balance. Coaching opens up new perspectives, helps clients choose a different perspective, figure out what to say no and yes to, to act out of that new perspective, and commit to that plan.
  3. Process: It is easy to focus only on results in coaching and lose sight of the process occurring in the coaching relationship, celebrating the person the client is, and is becoming along the way.

A chapter of the book is devoted to each of the five contexts and three core principles with coaching dialogues that illustrate each of these as well as many personal examples from the authors’ coaching practice. Additional resources are offered throughout the book in an online Coaches Toolkit that may be accessed for free and used freely at: http://www.coactive.com/toolkit — a huge resource for coaches.

What I liked in this book is the emphasis on coaches bringing their full selves, including their intuitions and curiosity to the coaching relationship. I also appreciated the idea of clients as creative, resourceful, whole people, who often know far more than the coach about the situation in which they are being coached. I also appreciated the focus on the whole person and not just business problems or goals. The generous resources of the online Coaches Toolkit are another asset.

What I would have liked more help with is how one negotiates the focus on the whole person with the business goals, particularly if it is an organization, and not the individual who has hired you. This book also seems to play down the role of fluency in the types of organizational or business situations one is coaching in (start-up versus large organization, local business versus global, etc.). It focuses on the “soft” versus “hard” skills of coaching, it seems, and I wonder if some caveats here might be helpful.

As I commented above, I think, of the several books I’ve read (I’m by no means an expert in this area), I thought this book did the best job describing the ethos or fundamental nature of coaching. The authors provide a helpful description of the environment of a good coaching relationship, the nature of coaching and what transformation looks like for the client. It left me more excited about the coaching aspects of my own work.

 

 

Review: The Coaching Habit

The Coaching Habit

The Coaching Habit, Michael Bungay Stanier. Toronto: Box of Crayons Press, 2016.

Summary: Kicking the advice habit, asking questions well, and using variations of seven key questions can lead to more effective leadership coaching.

Over the next few weeks, I will be mixing in reviews of books on coaching, part of some reading I am doing for my own development. I’ll take the risk of reviewing these because all of us influence others in some way, and it is never a loss to learn how we might do that with greater effectiveness that helps others flourish.

One of the key ideas of this delightfully straightforward and easy to read book is that many leaders tend to give directions, answers, and advice far more than ask questions. This thwarts effectiveness by promoting dependency rather than autonomy in those we lead. It leads to more time being absorbed in this unproductive activity, and at worst, leaders become bottlenecks in their organizations.

Another critical insight is that deciding to ask more and better questions is not enough if the leader doesn’t recognize what triggers the advice-giving habit. With each of the seven questions that follow, the author asks us to identify the triggers that activate habits that derail us from good coaching and to identify a new practice that will be come a new habit.

The core of the book is seven great coaching questions:

  1. The Kickstart Question: “What’s on your mind?” Ask this early, with a minimum of chit-chat and this gets to the reason for the conversation. Often this will be about one of the 3Ps: Projects, People, and Patterns, all linked to each other.
  2. The AWE Question: “And what else?” This question draws out more information, often identifies more options, buys time, and keeps the “Advice Monster” at bay.
  3. The Focus Question: What’s the real challenge here for you? Often what is on one’s mind is nebulous, or there are many challenges mentioned. This question gets concrete and personal and prevents “coaching the ghost” of discussing someone not in the room rather than what is facing the person in front of you.
  4. The Foundation Question: “What do you want?” Often the coachee is not clear on this and it is not clear in the situation. Once clear, it is possible to have an adult conversation where it is possible to answer “yes,” “no,” “give me time to think about that,” or perhaps, “not this, but that.” Also, it is critical to recognize the difference between wants and needs, the latter often being the reasons behind the wants. The question can also be a mutual one, particularly in a management situation where two people can get clear on what each wants in a situation and then get on with figuring out how to respond to that.
  5. The Lazy Question: “How can I help?” It question calls upon the person to make a direct request, and it delivers you from being the perpetual rescuer. A blunter way to ask this question is “What do you want from me?” Instead of deciding for a person how one can be helpful, it allows them to say what really would be helpful, and it allows you to decide whether you can offer that help. It is lazy because it saves us from providing all sorts of unwanted and counterproductive help.
  6. The Strategic Question: “If you are saying yes to this, what are you saying no to?” This chapter offers some great help in figuring out how to say “no” when it is very hard to do. It also helps us figure out what we will be saying “no” to if we choose a strategic direction, and what else we may need to say “no” to in order to fully embrace the “yes” rather than over-commit.
  7. The Learning Question: “What was most useful to you?” This recognizes that debriefing is where learning really takes place, and clarifies the most important outcomes to your discussion. It also has the side benefit of increasing the perception that the coach as useful!

Stanier includes psychological research at the end of each chapter explaining why the questions are effective. He also sandwiches a “Question Masterclass” between each question that explores how one asks questions as well as what questions we ask–things like cutting the intro and asking the question, sticking to “what” questions, getting comfortable with silence, listening to answers, and acknowledging them.

The questions ring true with my own leadership and coaching experience–these are good questions. The insight on the “advice monster” is one most leaders need to heed. There is a refreshing contempt for truisms like “work smarter, not harder.” I do wonder about the author’s claim that “Coaching is simple” and that this book will “give you most of what you need.” Is this hype, or simply an author with a lot of chutzpah? What I can say is that this was a quick read, offered good questions and reasons for using them, and didn’t bury its message in a ton of verbiage. That’s worth something.

Review: The Accidental Executive

Accidental ExecutiveThe Accidental Executive, by Albert M. Erisman, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2015.

Summary: A former Boeing executive reflects deeply on the biblical character of Joseph in Genesis 37-50, and amplifies on these reflections from his own experience in business leadership and interviews with other executives in a highly readable account suitable for discussion groups in business and church settings.

Over the years I’ve seen many people write books that are a variation on the theme of “leadership lessons from the life of….” What sets the good ones apart from others in my opinion is how carefully and closely the author actually remains to the biblical text, not forcing it to affirm things it does not say or speculating or over-psychologizing the text.

This is one of the better examples of this genre in my opinion. It is evident to me that the author, a former Boeing executive, has spent a long time soaking in the narrative of Joseph’s life from his immature beginnings and lack of awareness of how his brothers perceived him, to his formative experiences as a slave where he feared God, worked responsibly and fled sexual temptation, to prison years where he devotes himself to the task at hand, trusts God over the long years as he awaits deliverance, and then forthrightly, and without regard to personal position advises Pharoah with divine insight and good strategic insight cultivated through years of service. Then we see how he copes with fantastic success, confronts the thorny issues of reconciliation with those who betrayed his trust, and his later years.

I thought it of particular interest that Erisman questions some of the later decisions and the lack of apparent consultation on Joseph’s part when he institutes policies that enslave all of Egypt (while his own family enjoys special privilege) and how this might have contributed to the eventual enslavement of Jacobs descendants. This was a new thought to me and I thought reflected well on approach to scripture that doesn’t see accounts of lives like Joseph’s as unvarying hagiographies but rather descriptions of people who both walked with God and made mistakes.

Erisman enriches his reflections by drawing upon his own experience in industry as a Director of Technology for the Boeing Corporation. Discussing Joseph’s patience for example, he talks about a strategy that his R & D folk came up with to make production processes more efficient that was squashed by conflict between two divisions but adopted five years later when assembly was bogged down and needed this solution. He describes meetings he held with his division during a downturn as an example of dealing with fear through utter transparency that did not withhold bad news nor what steps were being taken by the company.

While Erisman’s own experiences often make him aware of subtleties in the text of Genesis, the stories that came out of his interviews with other execs, orginally appearing in ethix.org, gave memorable illustrations that particularly underscored the quality of integrity that ran through Joseph’s life. Perhaps most moving was the example of Wayne Alderson, who turned around Pittron Steel through his “value of the person” campaign, where he provided an office for the union president, spent regular time on the shop floor with employees and regularly thanked them for their work as they finished a shift. Through this he made Pittron profitable, and a buy-out target. When the new owners expressed appreciation for what Alderson had done but did not want him to continue the practices that accomplished these results, Alderson walked away rather than compromise. He also tells the story of Sherron Watkins, who was the whistle-blower at Enron who exposed its fraudulent accounting, at the cost of her job.

Not all the execs lost their jobs however. We also have narratives of Gloria Nelund in the banking industry, Alan Mullaly at Ford, Bill Pollard at Servicemaster and Bonnie Wurzbacher at Coca-Cola among many others who talk about the challenges and opportunities for influence in the business world. And this underscores a final value of this book in revealing that there is no sacred-secular dualism where spiritual work is better than work in the world of business. Erisman concludes his book with a discussion of calling that argues that people can answer the big call of God on their lives in corporate life and the world of business.

The book’s chapters are short and make this ideal for discussions in business and professional groups considering the ethics and spirituality of work. The format also lends itself well to personal reflection and the book, printed on high quality paper, makes a great gift for the business person in one’s life. Church groups that want to gain an appreciation for the world of work and the opportunities for spiritual faithfulness will also find this book a great resource.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”