Archive for July, 2014

What are YOU Reading this Summer?

Summer reading lists are something of an American tradition. The New York Times Book Review, for example, just released its fattened summer book edition, a habit that goes back scores of years and now includes such institutions as the Los Angeles Times, Barnes and Noble, the American Library Association, and even TED (of the famous “Talks”). The latter’s list includes such non-standard summer reading material as Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations and Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita.

Renee and I have decided to give you our own summer reading list, one that covers the topics important to all of you, but at the same time meets the criteria expected this time of year: somewhat light and breezy, quickly read, and suitable for the beach (or some similar vacation spot).  So here are five leadership-relevant books (presented in no particular order) that will enlighten and amuse you in various ways…

Quiet, Susan Cain—Both Renee and I are introverts, and so we rapidly embraced this book as a passionate and well-researched case for how and why society tends to undervalue the more quiet among us. Being an introvert, it turns out, is a bit like being left-handed—the world is subtly designed for others and you almost don’t realize it.  Importantly though, introverts not only can become great leaders, but they actually lead in unique ways.

What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, Marshall Goldsmith—There’s a long history of “climbing the ladder” books, popularized most famously by The Peter Principle (which introduced the idea that most people will sooner or later rise to their level of incompetency). In this book Goldsmith argues that you can climb and climb the ladder, but as you climb the skills you need to keep climbing will change. The book introduces the “20 workplace habits you’ll need to break,” if you want to maximize your success. (We particularly like Habit #12, “Making Excuses.”)

The OZ Principle, Robert Connors, Tom Smith and Craig Hickman—And speaking of making excuses, this book’s authors stress that one of the biggest barriers to trust and teamwork in organizations is what they call “the blame game.” Instead, they say, draw a line between being a victim, and being empowered and accountable, then go “above the line” to “see it, own it, solve it, and do it!” Using the Wizard of OZ as an effective metaphor, the book breezes through its key concepts, and will give you new language that reinforces the book’s central ideas. (Also, I love that Glinda the Good Witch represents “above-the-line leadership!”)

The Advantage, Patrick Lencioni—Lencioni may not have pioneered the readable business book, but he’s certainly made it work. He has the five of this and the three of that, uses sexy words like “dysfunction,” and packages it all up into meaningful bites that are both tasty and nutritious. In this book he covers “organizational health” and, true to his motif, give us his “Four Disciplines” model. It may not seem complex, but underneath it all are some pretty heady principles, ones that can actually make a difference.

Archimedes’ Bathtub, David Perkins—This is without a doubt our favorite book on the list. Not strictly a business book per se, Perkins well-written and always interesting book is about breakthrough thinking, and uses as it’s jumping-off point the apocryphal story of how Archimedes figured out the principle of water displacement by soaking himself in a public bath. Filled with stories, games, puzzles—and eye-opening insights, this is a book we go back to again and again. To give you an idea of how much fun this book is, try to figure out the following puzzle, in which you are asked to add one straight line to this inaccurate equation in order to make it a true statement:

(Bonus points: The puzzle actually has THREE answers! Can you find them all? If not, email me at and I’ll send you the answers…)

So there you have it: For those of us who just never get away from business books, a few “beach reads” to dive into between dives into the water!

What books are you reading? And how does your summer list compare to ours?


A Few Thoughts on Coaching Meetings

When we discuss coaching engagements with potential clients, one inevitable question that comes up is “How do you coach and what are your methods?” We encourage this question, and have a thorough response that covers our approach, beginning with the confidentiality and ethical responsibilities outlined by the International Coach Federation, and then continuing on to describe our five-step process: assessment, goal setting, design of an action plan, coaching to plan, and evaluation for continuous improvement.  However, it’s important to remember that the question also has a different meaning, one that clients also care about, and that is “When and how do our meetings occur?”

Many clients not surprisingly prefer face-to-face sessions, and we believe there is an important place for those meetings. (Generally, all of our engagements include some face-to-face time, particularly at the beginning, middle, and closing sessions.)

Face-to-face coaching has obvious benefits. There are advantages, for example, in seeing a person’s body language in order to “read” a mood or attitude. Also, there’s something about just sitting in a room with someone that makes it easier to discuss changes, goals, and commitments.  Face-to-face can also have some downsides, though. Some coaching clients may find it more difficult to answer questions when sitting across from someone and feeling exposed. (This is true even when solid trust between the coach and client has developed.) Similarly, some clients may feel more pressure to respond in the moment (rather than taking some time to reflect) simply because the face-to-face environment often feels more like a “meeting,” and meetings tend to be structured environments where “answers” are expected in the moment.

Face-to-face is only one of several methods we use, however, and it’s worth exploring the others in order to understand why and when different methods might be useful.

Virtual/Visual methods are rapidly becoming a common way to conduct coaching sessions. We routinely work over Skype or Google for one-on-one sessions, sometimes augmented by a shared document that we can co-edit in real time with a client. This environment does a reasonable job of emulating the face-to-face meeting in many respects. While there are some limitations around reading whole body language, along with the occasional delay in response time (you need a good connection for these sessions), the advantage of time savings can often outweigh these minor limitations.

Phone conversations still remain a major tool for coaches, too, particularly once face-to-face sessions have occurred. Those initial sessions give a sense of comfort, friendliness, and trust, all of which can make phone conversations very productive; often these sessions are akin to having a long, comfortable conversation with a friend (albeit a friend with a coaching certification!). Phone conversations also have a subtle but very real advantage over other methods because clients will sometimes say something very important when they feel they have a feeling of removal or anonymity. Phone conversations—with their lack of visual connection—actually provide clients with a thin level of perceived distance, something that can be important for a breakthrough.

Email and texting also have their place, though we use them only for specific, targeted, and brief needs. Because they’re not necessarily in real time (particularly emails), they should only be used for non-urgent requests or follow-up items, and both coaches and clients should recognized that these methods support communications to and from, but do nothing to foster true conversation (which, as we all know, is at the heart of a successful coaching relationship).

The bottom line is that most coaches use a combination of methods, and that clients care what those methods are. So it is very important to ask the question: What kind of method does the client want, and how will it help the engagement to succeed? Given that answer, and given the various advantages of the different methods, the coach can design the right approach for a particular engagement.