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Powerful leadership learning and current thinking on coaching

Welcome to our book reviews

Take a look at the books that have stood the test of time in leadership and coaching.  

You'll find reviews and author interview clips below.

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Bob Hughes, Forton Group CEO & Creator of the Leadership Book Club

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Book Reviews

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The Strengths Focussed Guide to Leadership by Mike Roarty and Kathy Toogood

The Strengths Focused Guide to Leadership

Identify your talents and get the most from your people

This book is designed as a toolkit for leaders who want to get the most out of the jobs that they do, by maximising the possibility of doing what they love doing, what they are good at and what makes for success. It’s a practical guide which has the possibility to radically change how leaders think and behave. Not surprisingly, given the title, underpinning all of this is a focus on strengths.

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Stewardship - Peter Block

Stewardship

Although first published in 1993, the second edition, published a couple of years ago shows how relevant the concept of stewardship remains in this complex and ever-changing world of leadership that we work in. It addresses the distribution of power, purpose and rewards within the workplace and the need to do this has become increasingly relevant as we move away from traditional hierarchical structures to more distributed ones that unleash creativity. The culture change the many organisations are seeking will only be cosmetic without addressing these core issues.

It’s a well-structured book that talks us through the theory, the actions that are needed and then some logical steps to get there. It ends by exploring the wider impact on society that this approach might have and fits therefore neatly into the fort and groups model of leadership addressing all four elements; the personal, the team, the organisational and society at large. I also like the way the book is laid out; the pages broken up with interesting quotes and sidebars and navigation is made easier by some side titles; all very useful to avoid the book getting bogged down in being just another textbook.

When I talk to the boardrooms of organisations we work with and I ask them what outcomes are they looking for from the work we do; how will they know the change program has been successful? I almost always get some variation on the same theme; they want people to take more ownership and more responsibility wherever they are in the organisation. What I like about the principle of stewardship is that at its heart it is about creating organisations where this principle is embedded. It’s all about relationships, but relationships that are built through partnership not hierarchy; based on empowerment not dependency. Peter Block talks about the distinction between partnership and patriarchy.

One of the things that I like about the book is it isn’t just theory; Peter gives a range of different solutions to restructuring and organisation to fit in with the concept of stewardship. I particularly enjoyed the chapter on reward systems that support stewardship. The author starts by challenging and debunking many of the traditional ways that we look to reward people. He talks about the process of ranking people and makes the well judged comment that this is literally a means of keeping people in line. When talking about pay for performance he says that actually a more accurate description based on the fact that it is our boss who evaluates is pay for compliance. So the structure of our reward system has to reflect the kind of organisation we are trying to create. One approach would be to give the people in the organisation the power to decide their own pay system - covering everybody from the top to the bottom.

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Better Under Pressure - Justin Menkes

better under pressure

 

I’m usually a little nervous about books that focus on the attributes of the great CEOs. I think there is often too much emphasis given on the correlation between an organisation’s success and the behaviours and attitudes of the CEO. There may have been a time when the influence of the CEO was high, but in today’s world leadership is necessarily more distributed through the organisation, and success depends on everyone in the organisation showing leadership, taking responsibility and ownership.

To be fair to the author, he makes it clear that he doesn’t believe in a reductionist approach whereby you can predict or select based on three attributes and guarantee success. He sees these attributes as symptoms of the success as much as they are the cause.

Also, the lessons in this book will be applicable to very valid for a wider group than just the CEOs. Justin makes it a good read through the interesting use of stories in the simple structure is created. His approach was to analyse a range of qualities across 200 CEOs ranked by performance and to look for correlation between success and the leadership qualities. These were honed down into three broad categories

The three attributes are realistic optimism, subservience to purpose and finding order in chaos. I can see the value of these factors and how they link in with other similar studies and so this has plausibility in my view

Realistic optimism is contrasted with impervious optimism. A leader has to have a vision and be optimistic about its implementation whilst at the same time being aware of the actual circumstances in which they are operating. I think we can all agree on the danger of impervious optimism and have many examples of our own here.

Subservience to purpose is about the dedication to the goal. The most successful CEOs have an attractive vision that they personally drive through. The same is true of leaders at all levels: having a vision you truly believe in gives you the drive to achieve and gives your team the inspiration to support you. I see a link here to Patrick Lencioni only is model of dysfunctional teams. In this, the top level, results, is about the focus that you put on the success of the that overall unit not your own personal fiefdom

The last one, finding order in chaos, is that ability to maintain clarity of thought even when things are going wrong. The ability to sift out the important information and to make timely decisions based on that. Emotional intelligence is key here. That ability to maintain calm and focus, to avoid the amygdala hijack, whilst still retaining that ability to express the emotions of passion or anger or whatever is appropriate.

Overall, a fascinating read about how great leaders bring out the best in themselves and in others

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From the Ashes to the Summit - Juan Carlos Mejia

Juan Carlos Mejia From the Ashes to the summit

From the Ashes to the Summit is one of those books driven by one person’s personal experience from which we can all learn a lesson. I’m not usually a fan of the “motivational speaker” approach to inspiration; I find they are either stories from people in the sporting world who are successful because they are so much more driven and focused on the average, or some cheesy heartrending life story overly dramatised for impact

Juan Carlos Mejia’s story is different. Being in a coma is not an experience that many people will ever go through but the way that Juan has written this makes it accessible to everyone. Yes, his drivers were somewhat extreme but the accidental nature of it all makes it easier for us to relate to; it is possible to relate traumas and tragedies in one’s own life more easily.

We’ve all had crises and setbacks in our lives, albeit hopefully not on this scale. Juan Carlos writes in a very accessible way and draw some great conclusions about how to survive and thrive during and following a crisis.

One factor he describes is the need to have purpose. Anyone familiar with the Forton group coaching model knows this is where we start. For us, it’s about vision, values, and ideal self. Juan Carlos focuses on vision and uses the phrase I liked “remember that the more detailed, specific, and vivid it is, the easier it will be to evoke it whenever you need it”

From this, his What moves on to alignment with How. Again, I think coaches can see parallels in how we support people with his story. Equally, leaders can take lessons from Juan Carlos’ approach to planning and anticipating when embarking on change projects

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The 7 Principles of Conflict Resolution - Louisa Weinstein

7 Principles of conflict management

The 7 Principles of Conflict Resolution

By Louisa Weinstein

Published by FT Publishing International (2018)

Disagreements are a normal part of life, and a healthy part when we listen to each other and use our creativity and insights to improve. Yet, for many, conflict is an unpleasant and inescapable part of the work environment.

In my own experience, I’m amazed at the sheer volume, breadth and depth of conflict that people can sustain. How they will fuel their own, and others’, grievances in order to maintain their status, position or power.

How leaders and managers often fail to acknowledge their role in supporting their teams to channel disagreement positively, recognise their responsibilities, or use their skills to address issues as they arise.

Having said that, I recognise that I need to develop my own skills (especially my patience) if I’m to be any value to the people I work with.

For all these reasons, it’s great to learn from the expert.

The author heads up the UK Conflict Resolution Centre and lawyer. Her interest in this field came about when she saw the difference mediation can make in her own professional field.

What’s immediately obvious about this book is the title: “Conflict Resolution” is so much more positive than ‘conflict management’, which implies (to this reader at least) a ‘one size fits all’ approach; suppressing the conflict, rather than resolving it.

Her definition of conflict is “the enduring condition where I disagree with you”. That’s the easy part. What the author shows is that, because of our different perspectives on what conflict resolution might look like, your solution may be different to mine. Our sense of ‘justice’ may be rooted in very different moral maps.

‘Resolution’ in this context seems to be about finding peaceful solutions: it’s a form of negotiation, often with additional parties, not just between the people in conflict. The conflicting parties may have tried already to sort things out – but how often do our actions not have the impact we intend?

Those peace negotiations may need to address career, personal, financial, political and/or emotional issues – sometimes more than one single issue or presenting factor.

To address this huge spread of challenges, the author has created 7 principles of conflict resolution, and peppers the book with stories and case studies to show how not every situation has a neat, ‘happy ending’.

What’s good about this book, first and foremost, is that sense of ‘no single right answer’. We each need to navigate our way through the conflict resolution maze, and this is the sat nav we need.

At the centre of the book, under the author also sets outs a series of clear steps towards resolution.

And the first step is as realistic and open as you can get – ask the question as to whether mediation might work, and how it might work.

This leads to the implementation of a support structure which includes a process and the opportunity to engage with mentors or conflict coaches, internal or external mediators, to ensure the process sticks: with the eventual aim of creating learning organisations, as well as skilled managers.

The author also describes the kinds of policies and communications steps that underpin the people and processes steps.

My conclusion from reading this book is that this is a great first step, and my understanding is greatly improved but that so much more is needed. I hear that the author is introducing a new training programme and I look forward to that.

In the meantime, I strongly recommend this book as a positive introduction to the topic of conflict resolution.

 

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