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REWARDING READS |

HR Wars: A New Leadership


Editor’s note: As an association publisher, WorldatWork would like to introduce our members to business books that shape both the individual and employee. If you are interested in reviewing a book or having a book reviewed, please contact the editor at pubs@worldatwork.org.

There are a lot of books out there these days that focus on the concept of leadership. And, as many books as there are on said topic, there are just as many angles and definitions of the term “leadership.”

That being said, there does seem to be a similar theme that runs through many of the leadership books currently stacked around my desk: I will call it “Conscious Leadership.” This version of leadership requires that those leading the flock are doing more than just forging the path; they’re also tasked with tending to the herd’s needs in a way that has likely caused some discomfort in the upper ranks.

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It’s no wonder, really, that leaders from the “Old Guard” may be struggling to figure out the new leadership models. A fair number of them probably cut their teeth on titles such as "The Art of the Deal" and "How to Swim with the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive." Those titles from the 1980s are in stark contrast to the titles of today, such as "The Advice Trap: Be Humble, Stay Curious & Change the Way You Lead Forever" and "The Non-Obvious Guide to Emotional Intelligence (You Can Actually Use)." 

Of course, that isn’t to say that the titles of old didn’t — or don’t — have something to offer. But perhaps we’ve learned what we needed to from the classics. Maybe now is the time to learn new skills.

Ask, Don’t Tell

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"The Advice Trap," Michael Bungay Stanier’s follow-up to "The Coaching Habit," seems as good a place as any to start. While "The Coaching Habit" sought to explain how everyday people can be more “coach-like” (his term) in their interactions with peers and/or subordinates, "The Advice Trap" aims to steer those would-be coaches away from a very real obstacle: Telling people what to do instead of giving them the freedom to figure it out on their own.

Stanier notes that it’s simply human nature that makes us rush in to solve whatever problem is put before us. An employee comes to you with a challenge and, instead of asking more questions and getting to the root of said challenge, we want to assert ourselves as the One with All the Answers. It’s well intentioned, more often than not, as we believe we are adding value to the conversation.

This is where the skill-building comes in. Written as a sort of workbook companion to "The Coaching Habit" — though it functions just as well as a standalone — "The Advice Trap" explains why it’s important to “be lazy, be curious and be often” — the core principles of the book — and then provides exercises to help the reader retrain their brain to this new style of coaching. (And before you ask, Stanier is not actually suggesting that anyone be lazy. He calls it “classic misdirection,” as what he is really saying is to stop immediately jumping in to solve problems and instead allow others to find the solution — albeit with your conscious coaching. A hard task, to be sure.)

The more I read, the more I started to reflect on my own experiences, both as a coach and as the coached. I started to notice patterns that coincided with Stanier’s examples. I realized that, as a coach, the best outcomes were the times when I didn’t simply tell someone what to do and they followed orders. It was when I asked questions — the right questions — that ultimately led them to an “aha!” moment. As the coached, I valued and learned more from those coaches who gave me autonomy to discover solutions on my own, with only subtle prodding on their part.

The irony of this book is that it is, in fact, doing the thing it’s suggesting we avoid: Offering advice without asking questions. But I don’t think it’s Stanier’s goal to be ironic. If anything, "The Advice Trap" encouraged me to focus inward, asking myself the questions that would typically come from external sources. And, in asking myself those questions, I did come to my own “aha!” moment. And that, I believe, was his whole point. Box of Crayons Press, released February 2020.

Why EQ Matters

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It’s hard not to get pulled into a book that starts with a story about two men in Vermont who turned a small ice cream shop in a refurbished gas station into a multimillion-dollar empire. In just a few sentences, I wanted to know if these two men (who are initially unnamed) managed to turn their money-losing venture into a profitable business.

You may know these two men as Ben and Jerry, the founders of what Time magazine dubbed in 1981 as “the world’s best ice cream.” At that time, the founders were just two guys trying to run a small business, but without much financial success. It took some soul searching, shaking off some ego and really getting into why they were doing what they were doing for them to turn the corner to profitability.

The example of Ben and Jerry and how they went from nearly losing it all to having it all is just one of many set out in Kerry Goyette’s "The Non-Obvious Guide to Emotional Intelligence (You Can Actually Use)." Goyette uses this example, and the others that follow, to show how — and why — using emotional intelligence (EQ) can be a game-changer, not just in your personal life, but in your professional life as well. EQ has become a hot topic of late and it’s one way modern leadership is setting itself apart from its predecessors. Goyette cites statistics — a good call, considering her intended audience — as to why it has gained in popularity: 90% of top performers have high EQ and as much as 58% of any job requires solid EQ. Going further, as much as 85% of your financial success is due to EQ.

These numbers are hard to ignore.

Of course, you may have already heard these stats and you’ve certainly heard the term EQ. But you may not completely understand what it is — not to mention the practical applications of it. Not only does Goyette do a good job of explaining the “why” of it — a theme throughout the book — but also provides tips, tricks and tools (including online tools) that can help you not only learn what EQ is, but also how to develop and implement it.

The book is broken up into three parts: Decision Making, Agility and Relationships. Each part explores how EQ plays a role, case studies on people/organizations that have jumped on the EQ train — and their results — and how to develop the skills needed to achieve said EQ goals. It reads well — and quick, which is a nice touch — and embraces a certain irreverence that I, for one, appreciate. That irreverence is essential to the Non-Obvious Guide Series, according to its mission statement: “The Non-Obvious Guide Series is an irreverent collection of business advice from real experts.”

And, Goyette’s expertise is clear as she navigates from “Where Does Empathy Start?” to “How to Motivate Your Team (and Yourself).” In a section titled “Get Over Yourself,” she explains that one of the most important things about EQ is, well, getting over yourself. That is, the “me” of it. Or, as she puts it, “Move beyond me, through we, and into why.” While I’ve personally always been an advocate for EQ, this book really reinforced why I have believed it to be such an important skill.

There’s that why again. Perhaps Goyette is right: It all comes down to the "why." IdeaPress Publishing, released July 2019.

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Stephanie-RotondoStephanie N. Rotondo is managing editor of Workspan and #evolve magazines. She can be reached at srotondo@worldatwork.com.