Okay: so this is a serious and challenging book. You need to know that right from the start. Written by UCLA Professor, Lieberman, who heads the social cognitive neuroscience laboratory, it is a journey into the exploration of our social-cognitive processes. His premise is that some parts of our social mind can be traced back to the earliest mammals whereas other parts have evolved fairly recently and may be a fundamental part of what makes humans distinct from other species. It is replete with the results of experiments conducted by the author, his colleagues and many others in the neuroscience, psychology and sociology world; and, it charts the rich use of technology and neuroscience to nourish our understanding of ourselves and others.
Having had some previous contact with the author, Sebastian Salicru, I was delighted to be given early sight of his new leadership book, which is sub-titled “how to create adaptive leaders and high-performing organisations for an uncertain world”. He is, after all, a highly-experienced business practitioner and thought leader. He acknowledges the significant importance of effective leadership at a time of uncertainty and turbulence for people in organisations and in positions of authority. This book offers a good explanation of this and a number of personal strategies for adapting to the new reality. For some, it may be a slightly uncomfortable read: for many, it will be enlightening and thought-provoking.
As I worked my way through this book, I felt a growing sense of having embarked on a rich journey of discovery. It did not meet with my presupposition that it was going to be a ‘how to’ manual on artful coaching. Yes, it plays the role of a powerful and practical guide on improving one’s coaching skills: however, there is so much more! It takes the reader into a teeming psychological landscape of phenomena that affect coaches, coachees and coaching. It provides some explanation for what might be going on during a coaching engagement and helps the coach to understand what might be playing out ‘behind the scenes’.
It explores issues arising from emotions, cognition, the interaction of body and mind; and much more. It is not for the fainthearted.
Kets de Vries comes with an enviable résumé: as Distinguished Professor of Leadership Development and Organisational Change at INSEAD he combines the application of clinical psychology with the challenges of individual and organisational change. He also edits and writes books, and I have in fact reviewed a couple of his previous works (“The Coaching Kaleidoscope” and “Coach and Couch”). I was therefore hoping once again to be absorbed and enriched with this latest offering, which has an artistic and symbolic front cover that evokes the board game ‘Snakes and Ladders’.
In the foreword, Jamie Lawrence suggests that Gartner has written a book about the “wrongness of work”, a phrase that encapsulates the prevailing view that a majority of people in work are not engaged, or even disengaged with what they do. Indeed, the author sets out to identify the reasons behind the low levels of engagement and to provide some tips for re-engaging our workforce. She also tries to link the development of employee engagement with the growth in productivity; understandably, since without this link the case for engagement falters somewhat!