Think Leadership Ideas

Books: The Power of Nice

The Power of Nice
How to Conquer the Business World with Kindness

Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval (2006)

"Nice is the toughest four letter word you'll ever hear."
Or so the authors tell us in this small volume. We reminded that nice does not mean Pollyanna, passive, or wimpy. Nice brings business success.
I acquired this book from the authors following an excellent presentation at the National Speakers Association National Conference. The book is short, easy to read in one sitting (or on a plane trip), and anecdotal. There are plenty of stories and examples to illustrate the author’s points. We are reminded to be respectful, empathetic, and upbeat to everyone, not simply to people who can immediately benefit us. Be nice to everybody, because you never certainly not a bad strategy to go about life. There are plenty of other tips offered - “nice” is too narrow concept for the broad interpersonal best practices covered in this book.
Anyone reasonably well-read in business literature won’t find much unexpected or particularly new. That being said, it's a nice book, a pleasant read, providing reminders of things we need to hear no matter how sophisticated a leader or professional we may be. Jay Leno does the forward - how nice is that!


7 Most Recommended Books

Here are seven of the books I am most likely to recommend to my clients...


Books: The First 90 Days

The First 90 Days by Michael Watkins (2003)

This is a book I wish I had early in my career - it has been out awhile and I still find it helpful. The First 90 Days outlines strategies designed to accelerate the time it takes to reach the "breakeven point" - where the value gained by the organization begins to exceed the cost. I find Watkins' book a practical guide for leaders and managers of all levels to discern and focus on what matters most when entering into a new position.

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Books: iProperty - Reframing IP

Profiting from Ideas in an Age of Global Innovation
by William Barrett, Christopher Price, and Thomas Hunt

While economic value is increasingly based on intangible property and ideas, business thinking struggles to catch up to this reality. The authors of iProperty seek to reframe the conventional idea of IP, or intellectual property, to a more comprehensive concept they call iProperty. They steer us from the notion of IP as copyrights and patents left to the care of specialized attorneys, leading us toward the concept of iProperty as a strategic process of collecting, assessing, managing, protecting, and exploiting of ideas that should be fully integrated into the management of any business enterprise that depends on innovation.

The book is comprehensive and serves as an excellent handbook for organizations to develop their iProperty portfolio, and presents as expertly intelligent and readable without being too academic. It is structured in three parts, the first covering the importance of understanding how iProperty works in the current global economy, the second framing overall strategy considerations, and the third outlining more specific tactics and tools for implementing a forward thinking iProperty strategy. Especially for technical, life sciences, or other companies that rely on innovation as their source of value, this book is an essential resource.

iProperty Quote: "The worst mistake that companies can make in the rapidly evolving iProperty arena is to fight the competition battles of tomorrow using the strategies of yesterday."

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Books: The Last Lecture

The Last Lecture
Randy Pausch and Jeffrey Zaslow (2008)

Randy Pausch died less than a week ago, on July 25th, after a struggle with pancreatic cancer. Despite his terminal diagnosis, this past September he presented a “last lecture” at Carnegie Mellon University. A professor of Computer Science, Pausch chose to focus the lecture on humanity rather than technology. His lecture and the book of the same title leaves a legacy for his family, and a small treasure for the rest of us.

The Last Lecture is a small book of big wisdom. Pausch offers us wisdom worth bringing to our attention, whether a reminder of wisdom already known or wisdom introduced for the first time. Make life about achieving childhood dreams. Enable others to achieve their dreams. Brick walls help us discover what we really want. People working together can accomplish incredible things.

The Last Lecture is a short read, perfect for vacations or plane trips. (I read it at a family beach trip a couple weeks ago.) It is full of good humor, delightful stories, good advice, and certainly inspiration to enjoy life. Definitely worth putting on your reading list.

Link to book on Amazon

Last Lecture video on YouTube

Books: What Got You Here Won't Get You There

What Got You Here Won’t Get You There
How Successful People Become Even More Successful
by Marshall Goldsmith (2007)

Marshall Goldsmith is one of the worlds premiere executive coaches, and this book is a gem of clarity and insight.

Goldsmith outlines twenty workplace habits that sabotage careers and reduce performance of otherwise highly successful professionals and executives. Goldsmith likens these habits to an actor blowing a line, writer misusing commas, or a chef leaving out a key ingredient - small things that nevertheless undo achievement.

Identifying these habits is critical, but the author warns of the trap of wasting time trying to understand them. What is important is how to change, and Goldsmith offers seven key actions that get people on the right track: obtaining feedback, apologizing, advertising intentions, listening, thanking, following-up, and practicing feedforward.

I found his final chapter on the challenges for people in charge particularly interesting, with realistic and relevant insight for those carrying executive responsibility. Goldsmith is a thought leader in the executive coaching world. Leaders who seek excellence, and coaches who help them along the way, will benefit from this book.

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Postscript 8/7/08

A highlight of my attendance of the National Speakers Association National Convention earlier this week was seeing Marshall Goldsmith’s keynote. As with his writing, Goldsmith comes across as profoundly human and presents his ideas with simple clarity. We were encouraged to use any of the material he has written, available at He knows business, but he uses the language of life, not bizspeak.

The interactional speech gave the audience an opportunity to quickly taste the techniques described in What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. I walked away with greater appreciation for this book, one of 22 he has authored or edited, and of Goldsmith’s overall philosophy.

Books: Accelerate

20 Practical Lessons to Boost Business Momentum
by Dan Coughlin (2007)

I've had the privilege of knowing Dan for a couple of years now, and have always considered him a top coach in the business. His newly published book, Accelerate, demonstrates Dan's outstanding ability to articulate vitally important principles in a clear common-sense way that is fresh and relevant. Accelerate is a storehouse of pragmatic wisdom, organized in four main sections - accelerating individual results, staff results, organizational results, and impact on consumers/customers. There's not a single person I know who wouldn't benefit from this book, and I foresee this is one I will be recommending often.

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Books: Zero to One Million

Zero to One Million
How to Build a Company to One Milliion Dollars in Sales
by Ryan P. Allis (2008)

Zero to One Million is Ryan’s story in print. It is much more than a simple recounting of his success, rather it provides a step-by-step outline for would-be entrepreneurs, from business nuts-and-bolts to the intangible aspects of working leading and partnering with other people. Read More...

Books: What Were They Thinking?

What Were They Thinking?
Unconventional Wisdom About Management
by Jeffrey Pfeffer (2007)

Pfeffer’s wisdom is unconventional, with a preponderance of common sense that is often lacking in organizations both great and small. The author says in his introductory chapter that he focuses on “common mistakes I see in how companies manage their people and their business, and also on how to do things better.” Read More...

Books: The No Asshole Rule

The No Asshole Rule
Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't
by Robert Sutton (2007)

Sutton's book is based on an article originally appearing in Harvard Business Review. While other terms for the problem people he describes might be jerks or bullies, Sutton said he would write the article only if it retained the word asshole. He was surprised HBR agreed. More... Read More...

Books: Silos, Politics, and Turf Wars

Silos, Politics and Turf Wars
Destroying the Barriers that Turn Colleagues into Competitors
by Patrick Lencioni (2006)

This recent book by Patrick Lencioni tackles some of the most insidious challenges of larger organizations: silos, infighting, and turf politics. Lencioni’s solution comes in the form of the ever-popular business fable to make his case that leaders must create time- limited “thematic goals” to unite all parties – much as a crisis often does. He cautions that care must be taken to differentiate but integrate the ongoing work that always has to get done, with the efforts required to achieve the thematic goals. Perhaps not as impactful as his previous books, it’s a quick read and makes some valuable points nonetheless.

Quote from book:

Silos rise up not because of what executives are doing purposefully but rather because of what they are failing to do: provide themselves and their employees with a compelling context for working together.

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Books: The Toyota Way

The Toyota Way
14 Management Principles from the World's Greatest Manufacturer

by Jeffrey K. Liker (2004)

Toyota is doing something right, and this book elegantly lays out in 14 principles what that something is. While Toyota basically invented “lean” production, Liker emphasizes Toyota’s success is based on more than simply implementing lean tools. In addition to process (focused on adding value and eliminating waste), Toyota gives attention to philosophy (look at the long-term), people (emphasizing a culture of teamwork with both employees and business partners), and problem-solving for continuous improvement. This book has something relevant to say for all businesses, and I’ve recommended it to several clients that are not in manufacturing.

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Books: Never Eat Alone

Never Eat Alone And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time
by Keith Ferrazzi and Tahl Raz (2005)

As books on networking go, this one is very good. Effective networking is always a two-way street, as much about helping others as making connections to people who can help you. The authors first cover the all-important mindset of clarifying what you want and what you have to offer. The second part of the book delves into the networking skill set. Even master networkers will find useful tips to improve skills and bring better focus. Recommended.

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Books: The Art of Possibility

The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life
by Zander and Zander (2000)
Over the last few months I have been speaking and writing about using inquiry to develop a positive verses a deficit perspective in organizations, and so I was delighted when a good friend and colleague clued me in to this remarkable book. The authors are a husband-and-wife team: he the conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, and she a talented family therapist. This is a book of stories around 'practices' the reader can use. The practices are not for self-improvement, but "geared instead toward causing a...shift of posture, perceptions, beliefs, and thought processes" – including not taking yourself too seriously. Although the book has been around for awhile, I consider it one of my best finds this year.

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Books: Teams at the Top

Teams at the Top Unleashing the Potential of Both Teams and Individual Leaders
by Jon R. Katzenbach (1998)

True teams are rare at the most senior management levels, and with good reason, writes Katzenbach. "Teams are seldom the fastest way for a group with an experienced, capable leader to ‘get where they are going,’ particularly if the leader has been there before." Nevertheless, executive teams that learn to integrate “team discipline” with “single- leader discipline” can be rewarded with exceptional performance and tools that are especially effective to deal with major disruptive events. Katzenbach is a foremost authority on teams, and although it has been around awhile, Teams at the Top belongs in the library of any senior executive who even remotely considers pushing team thinking with a senior executive team.

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Books: Good to Great and the Social Sectors

Good to Great and the Social Sectors
by Jim Collins (2005)

This monograph explores how the author changed his mind and decided that social sector organizations – non-profits, public agencies, or churches – should NOT be run more like businesses. Written as a companion to his book,
Good to Great, the monograph provides an elegant review of key concepts in the book, and how the author thinks they should be applied differently to social sector organizations. (Hint: the “hedgehog” questions need to be different.) If you are involved in the leadership of any non-profit, either board or staff, I highly recommend this monograph...after reading the book, of course.

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Books: Getting Things Done

Getting Things Done
The Art of Stress-Free Productivity

by David Allen (2002)

GTD has practically a cult following, and with good reason. If getting organized, managing time better, and being more productive are some of your New Year’s resolutions, this is the book for you. David Allen explains why typical “prioritize your tasks” strategies don’t work. He then goes on to cover in detail how to create a system that allows for high flexibility and frees your mind to THINK! This is the best book of its kind I have found, and I highly recommend it.

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Books: The Answer to How is Yes

The Answer to How Is Yes:
Acting On What Matters

by Peter Block (2002)

Looking to build more accountability and meaning into your organization? Peter Block’s book, The Answer To How Is Yes, offers a thought-provoking reframe on giving attention to what is important. Leadership, he suggests, must include the perspective of the social architect to counter the engineer and economist archtype that drives most workplaces. Finding the right question is perhaps more important than vision and problem-solving. Consider for example, the difference if you stop asking yourself the question “How long will it take?” and instead ask “What commitment am I willing to make?” I find this the most philosophical of Peter Block’s books, and recommended it to those who welcome having their thinking stimulated rather than the next round of “how-to” bullet points.

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Books: 20/20 Foresight

20/20 Foresight Crafting Strategy in an Uncertain World
by Hugh Courtney (2001)

I had the pleasure of hearing Hugh Courtney during a symposium at the Kenan Flagler School of Business where we were both speakers. Courtney’s book is a staple of the school’s course on strategy, and rightly so. It’s refreshing, relevant, readable, and offers practical advice about how to craft corporate strategy in a highly changing world. Key point: defining the level of uncertainty is the critical first step to choosing tools and asking questions to make critical strategy decisions. Recommended.

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Books: NUTS

Southwest Airlines’ Crazy Recipe for Business and Personal Success

by Kevin & Jackie Freiberg (1996)

Settling a legal dispute with an arm-wrestling match? Advertising that their meals – and fares – are peanuts? LUV as your NYSE stock symbol? NUTS! has been around awhile, and remains a good and relevant read about the airline that continues to defy the industry in profitability, safety, and on-time flights. With an emphasis on how Southwest cultivates profound respect, fun, and talent from their people – I pick it up from time to time just for inspiration.

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