Review: Bad Blood

Bad Blood, John Carreyrou. New York: Vintage, 2020.

Summary: The account of Elizabeth Holmes, the blood testing company Theranos, and the ambition that led to lies upon lies deceiving famous investors, pharmaceutical companies, and business publications until an investigative reporter on a tip discovered the house of cards on which it was all built.

Elizabeth Holmes knew from childhood what she wanted to be. Rich. A billionaire. She broke off one romantic relationship because it hindered her in the single-minded pursuit of a dream.

The dream. To create a device that could perform an array of blood tests from a few drops of blood obtained from a finger stick. Anyone who has regular blood draws understands what a revolutionary idea this is. She dropped out of Stanford after only a year to pursue the dream fueled by repeated rounds of investor fund-raising. She drew luminaries around her–Jim Mattis, Attorney David Boies, George Schulz, Henry Kissinger, Hilary and Chelsea Clinton, Rupert Murdoch. All the time, she managed to conceal a fundamental problem. The devices didn’t work. They gave wildly inaccurate readings on the few tests they could run, and served as collection devices for conventional labs on the tests they couldn’t run.

The problem. Accurate blood tests require a volume of blood drawn from a vein. Finger sticks draw from capillaries and are susceptible to hemolysis, the rupture of red blood cells spilling their contents into the sample, rendering readings inaccurate. The typical lab panels doctors run require various processes. That’s part of why so much blood is needed. All the tech people at Theranos never figured out how to get around that problem.

Holmes could not let go of the idea, or pivot because of the fundamental problems with the machines her company developed. And so began the lies. Wildly optimistic prospectuses for investors. Falsified lab-certification results. She convinced the military, Safeway Stores, Walgreens, and even the prestigious Cleveland Clinic to invest in her machines at points. Business publications like Forbes, Fortune, and Inc. bought Holmes carefully crafted myth, further attracting investor interest. She even suppressed problems when they went “live.” Over 100,000 people were tested on the machines. Meanwhile, she and her second in command (and romantic interest–also problematic) enforced a culture of secrecy and intimidation and confidentiality agreements within the company.

How did this all happen? John Carreyrou was a Wall Street Journal investigative reporter who was contacted by a pharmacy blogger suggesting that all was not as it seemed. Eventually troubled former employees risking lawsuits came forward with key evidence of what went on in Theranos labs to fool inspectors. Careful investigative work while intimidated by high-powered lawyers from David Boies firm led to the story that revealed that the empress had no clothes, a story of massive fraud and deceit from 2003 to 2018.

When legal investigations opened things up, Carreyrou was able to write the whole narrative of this company. But how did it happen? No small part of this was due to the force of Elizabeth Holmes character–so sincere in her dream as she spoke, so riveting with her large blue eyes, and unnaturally deep voice. So like her idol, Steve Jobs, in her black turtlenecks. The same powers of persuasion were exerted over investors and employees. Sadly, the latter also saw the lies, the coverups, and the Machiavellian use of power that only increased when Sunny Bulwani, romantic interest and second in command showed up. There was an utter lack of corporate governance. Despite the impressive names of Mattis, Boies, Schulz, and Kissinger, they basically gave Elizabeth free reign to do what she wanted, no questions asked. When Tyler Schulz left and tried to plead with his grandfather, his grandfather refused to listen, leading to an alienated relationship.

The story also reveals the critical importance of investigative reporting backed up by editorial oversight and legal support. Where due diligence on the part of investors, corporate governance, and government regulators failed, a reporter given the time and resources and support to tell the story ferreted out the lies that made up the house of cards that is Theranos. What the book also reveals is another aspect of great reporting in the tradition of Ida M. Tarbell who exposed the monopolistic practices of Standard Oil–that unraveling such a story makes for a great read as we wonder whether Holmes will “fake it until she makes it” and will she gets away with her lies. It is a tale both riveting and sad, one every MBA and start-up entrepreneur ought read.

Review: Institutional Intelligence

Institutional Intelligence: How to Build an Effective Organization, Gordon T. Smith. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2017.

Summary: Believing that institutions are essential to human flourishing, unpacks the intelligence necessary to work effectively within organizations, and the different elements of organizational life that must be navigated wisely.

Institutional intelligence. On first hearing, some would think this is an oxymoron. Institutions have gotten a bad name. One thinks of words like bloated, hidebound, unfeeling, and corrupt. Gordon T. Smith, president of Ambrose University, thinks differently:

“But is there another way to think about institutions? Can we perhaps actually recognize that institutions are essential to human flourishing? Rather than see them as a problem or as a necessary evil, can we appreciate instead that institutions are the very means by which communities thrive, individual vocations are fulfilled, and society is changed for the good? Can we consider that we are all enriched and we all flourish when we invest in sustainable institutions? And more, could it not be that we can view this capacity as a good thing–as vital part of our personal development? Could it be that institutional intelligence–the wisdom of working effectively within an organization–is an essential vocational capacity for each of us?”

Gordon T. Smith, p.3.

Gordon T. Smith would answer all these questions in the affirmative, and after his apologetic for the importance of institutions, he addresses how we might work effectively within them, exercising institutional intelligence.

He does this by addressing the key elements of institutions we must learn to navigate intelligently:

  • Missional clarity and understanding how our role in the organization relates to its mission.
  • Governance processes and how to engage these constructively
  • Recruiting, hiring and developing top notch talent, and managing transitions out of the organization constructively and gracefully.
  • An institutional culture of hopeful realism fostered by all connected with the institution.
  • Financial health and resilience to which all are committed.
  • Built spaces that enhance the flourishing of those who work within them.
  • Strategic partnerships and collaborations consistent with the organization’s mission

Smith delineates in great detail the intelligence needed with each of these elements with examples drawn particularly from churches, non-profits, and educational institutions, but also relevant to for-profit enterprises.

This is a surprising book from an author whose other publications focus around one’s spiritual formation. Yet on further consideration, this makes sense for someone who cares for such matters but also leads significant organizations, like a Christian university. While one finds many of the same issues addressed here that one would find in many business texts, the attention throughout is on the formation of an institutional character, as well as of the persons working within it or served by it.

One of the places, early in the book, where this stood out was his discussion of institutional charisms. He admits that this is much like discussions of “brand” but distinguishes it as the distinctive gift God is giving the world through a particular organization, that extends through the organizational history to the present. Understanding this charism and stewarding it under God is critical for those who work in institutions and it elevates an organization’s vision. I appreciated the attention to governance structures and the recognition that organizations cannot be leaderless in some “we are all servants” ideal. Likewise, the cultivation of an organizational culture of hopeful realism recognizes both the flawed nature of all human efforts and the redemptive element of hope that fosters joy, laughter, and esprit de corps among people in an organization.

Most fascinating to me was the attention given to built spaces. Implicit in his discussion is a theology of built spaces reflecting how physical space reflects identity, is hospitable to people, enabling them to flourish, and aesthetically and environmentally is sustainable in its physical setting. In so doing, he invites us to look beyond building construction and maintenance to who and what is served by our built spaces, considerations at once both noble and practical.

Don’t skip the appendices. The first contains valuable wisdom about the relation of boards and presidents and their executive leadership and the tasks of each and avoiding confusion. The second more specifically addresses the spiritual dynamics of organizations. The last is a bibliography of essential works on the matters covered here.

Lack of trust in our institutions and the people who lead them is endemic in our time. Perhaps one of the reasons people so question truth is that its purveyors are perceived to front for toxic organizations, and perhaps embody hypocrisy themselves. Might part of fostering a culture of truth amid a world of lies consist of building institutions like those described in this book, where an institution’s messaging is simply reflective of its mission, and its truth is reflected in the flourishing of both the employees and clients of the organization? This book serves as an excellent primer for this good and godly work.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Discover Joy in Work

Discover Joy in Work

Discover Joy in WorkShundrawn A. Thomas. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019.

Summary: A response to the widespread lack of engagement in work, exploring the changes to our approach to our workplace, our work ethic, and our work life that foster joy in work that is more than a job, more than an occupation, but rather a calling.

Shundrawn Thomas is the president of a trillion dollar global investment firm, who has worked in many other settings before attaining his present position. He has found deep joy in his own work and is concerned about the statistics that show that the majority of workers are not engaged with their work.

Thomas contends that the discovery of joy in our work has little to do with the job we are in and everything to do with the person doing that work. He writes:

However, only one person determines your joy: you. If you want to truly experience joy in your work, you only have one person to deal with: yourself! You are the only person standing in the way of experiencing joy in your work.

He begins with our approach to our workplace. He starts with changing our attitudes, our perspective on our workplace that shapes our feelings and actions, that when content and positive, sustains us through our workday. He proposes that we need to alter our approach, including proactive preparation, prioritization of our time, and partnering well with others. He advocates for raising our aptitude, working with talented people, and involving discovery, development, and deployment. Finally, we can take steps to ensure achievement by avoiding distractions, and working together with resolution to achieve team goals.

He then turns to our work ethic, what motivates us to put in the effort for excellent work. He addresses the love of money and how money may both be a primary and yet inadequate motivator when we recognize the value of time, the satisfaction of work that aligns with our gifts and interests, the greater value of our health and sense of worth, and the sharing rather than amassing of wealth. We can work for the praise of people, but growth occurs not only through praise but also through criticism. The most satisfying work is not what is praised but is praiseworthy. We may work for respect but greater joy comes when we are motivated from within and concerned more about doing good work for the benefit of others and modest about our own self-importance.

Finally, he talks about the fruits of our work life. Work reveals purpose when we allow it to perfect us rather than looking for the perfect occupation, and give ourselves diligently to it. This means work requires effort, calling on all our physical, mental, and spiritual efforts, undeterred by setbacks. Work promotes growth through training, advanced degrees, certifications, workshops, and seminars as well as cultivation of professional relationships in which one regularly receives and welcomes feedback. Work develops our skills, particularly the four skills of listening, visualizing, collaborating, and leading that are critical for success. Work fosters relationships of trust, transparency across a network of personal connections. All this comes together in producing value as we set goals that answer the questions of which opportunities we will pursue, what problems we will solve, and who we will serve. Most of all, work may glorify God as we combine all these qualities in work offered to God in service of others. Work becomes calling in which our efforts answer to God’s bidding.

This is a book chock-full with principles that feels a bit like reading Proverbs. Each paragraph, sometimes each sentence is worth reflection. Thomas has written a book rich with “work wisdom.” It also reflects a conviction of the inherent goodness of work, that it is not a curse, but done rightly, with the right attitude, can afford deep satisfaction within the greater joy of glorifying God. He does offer many examples, and each chapter concludes with a summary of key insights, valuable because each chapter, though short, is so full of these insights. If one reads too rapidly, or feels one must implement at once all that Thomas advises, this could be daunting. Listening for the one insight that resonates right now and considering what changes this means for one’s work life may be more helpful. This book could be dynamite read together with colleagues sharing a commitment to live transformatively in their work place.

Most of all, this book rings true with over four decades of my own work experience. I’ve found that I can never depend on an organization or workplace to make work joyful. Joy has much more to do with the perspective, the work ethic, the investment I bring to my work, than what I find there. Surely, work places are never optimal, and sometimes far less than that. Sometimes this means changing employers or at least jobs. It is apparent from the book that Thomas himself did so. Years ago, an executive search consultant advised me not to relinquish responsibility for my career path to my employer or anyone else. Shundrawn Thomas would add that we not relinquish responsibility for our joy to others.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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.”