What I’m Reading or Referencing

Recent Good Books:

1. Boundaries for Leaders by Dr. Henry Cloud provides a insights needed for leading a healthy, high-performance team… and a healthy, high-performance self. Here are my favorite excerpts:

In the end, as a leader, you are always going to get a combination of two things: what you create and what you allow.

In an organization that is attending, inhibiting, and remembering, people are forced to grow. There is a focus and there are clear standards of performance, with clear expectations that come from reality. But in organizations where no one is driving attention, inhibition, and remembering, noncontributors can safely hide, drift along, and sometimes stay for years and add virtually nothing to the mission.

Everything we do is either relational or goal directed – or, ideally, both. Basically, we are ‘lovers and workers.’ We have relationships and we do things. We connect and we accomplish tasks. Care and drive. Be and do. Love and work. The love requires a positive relational tone and the work requires drive, expectations, and discipline.

An integrated leader does both at the same time in a way where on affects the other. He provides a positive state of being and tone while aggressively accomplishing things with people. The problem in leadership is when we do one without the other. When we care about people but are not giving them boundaries that lead to aggressive accomplishment – things like structure, goals, and measures of accountability – we fail them.

So the trick here is to give people the direction, structure, and accountability that drive good energy, but to do it in a way that does not create stress. And to do that, you have to watch your ‘tone.’ You can give feedback without engendering fear and stress.

As the person in charge of setting emotional boundaries, your job is twofold. First, do everything possible to create ‘good fear,’ the positive performance anxiety that activates healthy stress. The drive that says, ‘If I get with it, I can get something good and avoid something bad.’ Second, diminish destructive fear, which is communicated through tone, lack of structure, and the threat of relational consequences – anger, shame, guilt, and withdrawal of support. People need to know that you are going to be ‘for’ them, even when they don’t do well.

To what degree have you become a victim of negative thinking? Has the market or any other force caused you to begin to experience any of the ‘three P’s?’

Personal, Pervasive, or Permanent

Research has revealed time and again that a belief that one will be successful is one of the strongest predictors of goal achievement. Great leaders build this belief into their people, teams, and culture. They believe that they can do it, and when things get though, they find a way. They exert what I call ‘optimistic control,’ even in environments where there are many negative realities that they cannot control.

If learned helplessness is about losing the initiative and the grit to persevere, optimistic control is the opposite.

Neuroscience has shown that the more experiences we have of being in control, the better our higher brains function. It is when we are affected by things outside of our control – and cannot regain a sense of being in control of anything that will make a difference- that we hit a real brain slowdown.

We make investments when we trust that someone’s intent is for our good. We trust when they have the character patterns to make us believe that they will behave in a certain way that we know is ‘characteristic’ of them. We trust them when we know they have the capacity to pull off whatever we are depending on them to do. And lastly, we trust when they have a track record of good results and positive behavior.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics says that everything in the universe is running down, running out of energy, and becoming less organized and more disordered. But an important aspect of that law is that it only applies to a closed system, meaning that it applies to things that are left unto themselves and shut off from outside intervention.

You can have fears without being ‘fearful.’ ‘Fearful’ is when you let your fears make your decisions for you, so… don’t let fear make your decisions for you! Having fears is normal. Being ‘fearful’ is dysfunctional. Fearful leaders – that is, those who respond out of fear – are the worst leaders, period.

2. The Soft Edge, Where Great Companies Find Lasting Success, by Rich Karlgaard provides a helpful playbook for retaining a competitive and sustainable advantage. Here are my favorite excerpts:

Lead with integrity. Trust your people. Provide a true, meaningful purpose. And make it safe to experiment and speak up.

The “Soft Edge” elements are: Trust, Smarts, Teams, Taste, and Story.

Salespeople who make more calls will almost always outperform salespeople who make fewer calls. But here is the key point: this happens not just because the act of making more calls mathematically raises the chances of success. It turns out, making all those calls has additional benefits. The most frequent callers, by facing up to the gritty task of making a call, put themselves on a faster learning curve. They more rapidly learn what works and what doesn’t. They more rapidly learn techniques to overcome rejection. Thus their success yield will improve – that is, double the calls, triple the sales. The act of making lots of calls also develops self-regulatory skills such as self-discipline, delayed gratification, and, maybe most important, self-regulated learning.

The last thing a doctor would do with such a money-making asset was share it or give it away. But the Mayo brothers saw it differently. In 1889, they started the world’s first private integrated group practice.

Research has shown that we demonstrate pronounced neuroplasticity – the ability to change cognitive structure – and neurogenesis – an ability to generate new neurons – throughout our adult lives. Both types of neural modification occur through learning a new skill, whether it’s juggling or playing golf.

Exercise also improves cognition. Do it outside, in a setting scientists call an “enriched environment” – say, riding a real bicycle on a twisty road – and the benefit will be compounded. Add a social aspect to your exercise, and now you’ve turbocharged your cortical remapping and neural generation.

“With storytelling the thing that we love is watching someone transform,” said Nancy Duarte. “The classic three-part story structure is that there is this likable person who encounters these roadblocks and emerges transformed. I think that storytelling creates that tension and release that is so important to create change.”

3. The Lost Art of Closing by Anthony Iannarino unlocked something big for me. It’s the clearest path to sales and influence informed by the way people make decisions today. The book provides a step-by-step process and excellent language for gaining commitments to partnership that drive productive change. Here were my favorite excerpts:

The six key components of the right mindset are confidence, caring, persistence, speaking from the client’s mind, embracing concerns, and realizing it’s not about you.

The best advice I can give you for responding to an RFP is to call the purchasing people and push back, telling them all the things in their request that are going to prevent them from achieving the results they are pursuing.

It is important to control the (sales/influence) process and not let the buyer skip commitments. This is the best way to serve your prospective client as a trusted advisor and create a preference for you, your company, and your solution.

It’s your responsibility to know what commitment your dream client needs to make and why they need to make it. It’s your responsibility to understand what value is being created for them by agreeing to move forward.

In human relationships, fast is slow and slow is fast. Trying to go fast and get what you want when you want it betrays your self-orientation, creates friction and resistance, and slows things down.

The goal of your first meeting should be to explore the dissonance and define it as a problem worth solving.

You need to begin exploring change by sharing your insights and your point of view about your prospective client’s business, their risks, and their opportunities.

It’s your job to paint a picture, to make a better outcome not only visible in their mind’s eye but attainable.

Still, you need to ask, “What else would you need to make this exactly right for you?”

I begin with, “We can help you get the outcomes you need, but our price is going to be higher than what you are paying now.”

Since the beginning of time, people with leadership responsibilities have surrounded themselves with trusted advisors, counselors who could help them make decisions and guide them to the future.

“Who you are” matters more than “what you do,” especially when it comes to change.

4. The HBR classic The First 90 Days by Michael Watkins truly is the authoritative guide to leadership onboarding. Below are my favorite excerpts. In the book you’ll also find helpful questions and checklists for acclimating and leading change in organizations of all types and stages.

Common traps for newly hired/promoted leaders are: sticking with what you know, falling prey to the “action imperative”, setting unrealistic expectations, attempting to do too much, coming in with “the” answer, engaging in the wrong (technical) type of learning, neglecting horizontal relationships.

How do you build a productive relationship with a new boss? Here are the basic don’ts: don’t stay away, don’t surprise your boss, don’t approach your boss only with problems, don’t run down your checklist, don’t expect your boss to change.

Here are the do’s: clarify expectations early and often, take 100 percent responsibility for making the relationship work, negotiate time lines for diagnosis and action planning, aim for early wins in areas important to the boss, pursue good marks from those whose opinions your boss respects.

It’s valuable to include plans for these five specific conversations with your new boss about transition-related subjects in your 90-day plan: the situational diagnosis conversation, the expectations conversation, the resource conversation, the style conversation, and the personal development conversation.

In planning for your transition (and beyond), focus on making successive waves of change. Each wave should consist of distinct phases: learning, designing the changes, building support, implementing the changes, and observing results.

It’s crucial to get early wins, but it’s also important to secure them in the right way. Here are some basic principles to consider: focus on a few promising opportunities, get wins that matter to your boss, get wins in the right way, take your business situation into account, adjust for the culture.

To nudge your mythology in a positive direction, look for and leverage teachable moments. These are actions that clearly display what you’re about; they also model the kinds of behavior you want to encourage.

Try to identify the sources of power that give particular people influence in the organization. Here are examples: expertise, control of information, connections to others, access to resources, personal loyalty.

Understanding people’s motivations is only part of the story. You also need to assess situational pressures: the driving and restraining forces acting on them because of the situation they’re in.

There is a lot of good social psychology research showing that we overestimate the impact of personality and underestimate the impact of situational pressures in reaching conclusions about the reasons people act the way they do… Think about how key people perceive their alternatives and choices.

Apply classic influence techniques such as consultation, framing, choice-shaping, social influence, incrementalism, sequencing, and action-forcing events.

As you frame your arguments, keep in mind Aristotle’s rhetorical categories of logos, ethos, and pathos. Logos is about making logical arguments – using data, facts, and reasoned rationales to build your case for change. Ethos is about elevating the principles that should be applied (such as fairness) and the values that must be upheld (such as a culture of teamwork) in making decisions. Pathos is about making powerful emotional connections with your audience – for example, putting forth an inspiring vision of what cooperation could accomplish.

5. The provocative book Deep Work by Cal Newport challenges today’s multi-tasking, open work space, social media approach to work. He effectively cites research that suggests the most successful people are able to cut out typical distractions to really focus. My favorite excerpts are:

Skills, be they intellectual or physical, eventually reduce down to brain circuits. This new science of performance argues that you get better at a skill as you develop more myelin around the relevant neurons, allowing the corresponding circuit to fire more effortlessly and effectively. To be great at something is to be well myelinated. 

This understanding is important because it provides a neurological foundation for why deliberate practice works. By focusing intensely on a specific skill, you’re forcing the specific relevant circuit to fire, again and again, in isolation. This repetitive use of a specific circuit triggers cells called oligodendrocytes to begin wrapping layers of myelin around the neurons in the circuits – effectively cementing the skill. The reason, therefore, why it’s important to focus intensely on the task at hand while avoiding distraction is because this is the only way to isolate the relevant neural circuit enough to trigger useful myelination.


There are at least two big reasons why this (a culture of connectivity that makes work too easy) is true. The first concerns responsiveness to your needs. If you work in an environment where you can get an answer to a question or a specific piece of information immediately when the need arises, this makes your life easier – at least, in the moment. If you couldn’t count on this quick response time you’d instead have to do more advance planning for your work, be more organized, and be prepared to put things aside for a while and turn your attention elsewhere while waiting for what you requested. All of this would make the day to day of your working life harder (even if it produced more satisfaction and a better outcome in the long term).

The second reason that a culture of connectivity makes life easier is that it creates an environment where it becomes acceptable to run your day out of your inbox – responding to the latest missive with alacrity while other pile up behind it, all the while feeling satisfyingly productive. If e-mail were to move to the periphery of your workday, you’d be required to deploy a more thoughtful approach to figuring out what you should be working on and for how long. This type of planning is hard.

**Additionally, I’ve run across this phenomenal site for tips on email etiquette and email management.

6. Peter Block offers thought provoking insights on the trend toward being a human “doing” in his book The Answer to How Is Yes.  Here were some of my favorite quotes:

Therapist Pittman McGee states that the opposite of love is not hate, but efficiency.  While being practical is modern culture’s child, it carries a price and we are paying it.  The price of practicality is its way of deflecting us from our deeper values.

I would suggest that it is the tension between “What maters?” and “What works?” that is out of balance.  If this is true, then working at home or even spending more time with our families will not resolve the issue of work/life balance.  Resolution lies in becoming more balanced between engaging in what has meaning for us and doing things that are useful and practical, or in a sense, instrumental.  Being fully alive is to be in balance wherever we are.

The task of the social architect is to design and bring into being organizations that serve both the marketplace and the soul of the people who work within them.  Where the architect designs physical space, the social architect designs social space.

Matching the role to the conditions for acting on what matters, the social architect has three design criteria: 1. Is idealism encouraged? 2. Is intimacy made possible? 3. Is there the space and demand for depth?

The fact that we are living in an engineer-economist dominated world creates a bias toward more control than freedom, more practicality than idealism, barter rather than intimacy, and greater speed more than depth. The choice to think of ourselves as social architects is an activist stance- radical in thinking, conservative and caring in action.

7. The book Integrity by Dr. Henry Cloud has much less to do with ethics and mostly to do with being a fully integrated leader.  While the book is dense with psychological detail, it’s a readable overview of how great leaders think and behave (and how they avoid derailing).  Some of the best excerpts are:

The most important tool ultimately is the person and his or her makeup, and yet it seems to get the least amount of attention and work.

People who try to help others by talking them out of what they feel are usually no help at all.  It is also the reason why research has for decades proven that you can help desperate people immensely by giving them no answers at all, and only giving them empathy.

That is the supreme essence of trust, not being “guarded.”

In successful people’s lives, there is no time when they “have time” to do things that are future-oriented.  The present is always too busy.  Therefore, they do not wait until they have the time.  They make the time, first.  Then they do what the present calls for. 

8. Anyone wanting more creativity, authentic communication and self-expression should read If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland.  She provides a refreshing and inspiring guide to writing in any creative capacity.  Here are some of my favorite quotes:

I hate traditional criticism.  I don’t mean great criticism… but the usual picky, fussy-mussy criticism, which thinks it can improve people by telling them where they are wrong, yet results only in putting them in straitjackets of hesitancy and self-consciousness, extinguishing vision and bravery.

Through writing you will gradually learn to become more and more free and to say all you think; at the same time you will learn never to lie to yourself, never to pretend and attitudinize. But only by writing and by long, patient, serious work will you find your true self.

Art, music, literature is a sharing; that a live, alternating current is passing swiftly between teller and listener; that a listener (even though imaginary or transcendent) is absolutely essential in the process.

9. Tim Keller & Katherine Leary Alsdorf have authored a compelling perspective on living your faith in the context of work, from the perspective of being Christian, in Every Good Endeavor.  They immediately acknowledge that living out your faith at work unfortunately “seems relegated to small symbolic gestures, to self-righteous abstinence from certain behaviors, and to political alignments on the top cultural and legal issues of the day.”  My favorite excerpts were:

Every Christian should be able to identify, with conviction and satisfaction, the ways in which his or her work participates with God in his creativity and cultivation.  Whenever we bring order out of chaos, whenever we draw out creative potential, whenever we elaborate and “unfold” creation beyond where it was when we found it, we are following God’s pattern of creative cultural development. 

One of the reasons work is both fruitless and pointless is the powerful inclination of the human heart to make work, and its attendant benefits, the main basis of one’s meaning and identity.  When this happens, work is no longer a way to create and bring out the wonders of the created order, as Calvin would say, or to be an instrument of God’s providence, serving the basic needs of our neighbor, as Luther would say.  Instead it becomes a way to distinguish myself from my neighbor, to show the world and prove to myself that I’m special.

We either get our name – our defining essence, security, worth, and uniqueness – from what God has done for us and in us, or we make a name through what we can do for ourselves.  When you see how much you are loved (by God), your work will become far less selfish.  Suddenly all the other things in your work life – your influence, your resume, and the benefits they bring you – become just things.  You can risk them, spend them, and even lose them.  You are free.



10. The successful entrepreneur Gary Keller recalls the advice of Jack Palance in City Slickers that the secret of success is pursuing “one thing”.  The book The One Thing is a quick and entertaining read with practical advice for focusing on our top priority in life and work.  My favorite excerpts were:

When you see people who look like “disciplined” people, what you’re really seeing is people who’ve trained a handful of habits into their lives.  

Habits take an average of 66 days to acquire… and those with the right habits seem to do better than others.  They’re doing the most important thing regularly and, as a result, everything else is easier.

People who visualize the process perform better than those who visualize the outcome.

The single most important difference between amateurs and elite performers is that the future elite performers seek out teachers and coaches and engage in supervised training, whereas the amateurs rarely engage in similar types of practice.

When the things that matter most get done, you’ll still be left with a sense of things being undone – a sense of imbalance.  Leaving some things undone is a necessary tradeoff for extraordinary results.

Productive people get more done, achieve better results, and earn far more in their hours than the rest.  They do so because they devote maximum time to being productive on their top priority, their ONE Thing.  They time block their ONE Thing and then protect their time blocks with a vengeance.

11. Brene Brown’s ability to make topics like “shame” and “vulnerability” relevant to the workplace have opened new conversations about being human in a professional context.  Her Ted talk is excellent as is her book Daring Greatly, which discusses to how be more Wholehearted in a culture that rewards performance, productivity and perfection.  Here is my favorite excerpt:

Daring greatly is not about winning or losing.  It’s about courage.  In a world where scarcity and shame dominate and feeling afraid has become second nature, vulnerability is subversive.  Uncomfortable.  It’s even a little dangerous at times.  And, without question, putting ourselves out there means there’s a far greater risk of feeling hurt.  But as I look back on my own life and what Daring Greatly has meant to me, I can honestly say that nothing is as uncomfortable, dangerous and hurtful as believing that I’m standing on the outside of my life looking in and wondering what it would be like if I had the courage to show up and let myself be seen.

Thought Leaders I’m Following

1. Andre Lavoie and his company Clear Company are at the forefront of the intersection between corporate strategy and talent management.  They are re-defining what it means to have a transparent, aligned and engaged organization.

2. The Good Leadership Breakfast is a monthly breakfast hosted by Paul Batz that creates an environment of authenticity and learning.  I always leave the breakfast feeling more grounded and connected.

1 Comment