Tag Archives: Book Review

Effective Modern Coaching

Miles Downey’s book, Effective Modern Coaching, is the recent update to his 1999 Effective Coaching. It’s a short and punchy introduction to the art of business coaching.

It’s split into four main parts, a description of coaching practice, the models and skills you can apply in coaching, approaches to coaching in the workplace, and a final short section on coaching for genius.

Overall, it’s a good initial introduction to coaching, especially in a business context. It has a couple of really useful ideas, the first is a consideration of the coaching relationship. In this model, Downey refers to the ‘coach’ and the ‘player’. By moving away from the terminology of ‘coachee’, Downey brings the player fully into the relationship as an equal participant rather than a passive recipient. It’s a fundamental recognition of the core of successful coaching, that both sides must be fully invested in the process to ensure a great outcome.

The second is his recognition of the possibility of coaching unlocking the genius inherent in a person. It shows the understanding that all people have it within themselves to excel in an arena, and that one of the major strengths of coaching is that it can help them to recognise that, and to help them find the area to excel, and to discover the path to get there.

If you take nothing else from this book, then those two ideas alone are worth the cost of entry and a place in your coaching library.

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Radical Candor

Radical Candor is Kim Scott’s approach to becoming a great leader by empowering your team.

It’s a simple exhortation, encourage people to greatness by Caring Personally and Challenging Directly. As with most simple things, it’s not necessarily easy to achieve.

The book is generally well structured, covering the philosophy first, breaking it down into what ‘Caring Personally’ and ‘Challenging Directly’ mean, and what happens when you miss on one or both of the axes (Ruinous Empathy, Manipulative Insincerity and Obnoxious Aggression).

It’s only a hundred or so pages for this first section, but that is pretty small print, so do beware when pacing your reading!

The second section is built around techniques, from how to elicit feedback and build that culture of sharing, to how to host and structure great meetings. It covers building trust, working in teams and how to inspire growth in all types of team members.

There will be sections that resonate more or less deeply with you, depending on what the culture of your organisation is, where your experience and preferences lie, and the current realm of influence you have available to you.

For me, some of the ideas about the purposes of meetings, how to structure them and where they fall on the Listen / Decide / Execute cycle were very useful, especially around being explicit when you are moving between the Debate and Decision phases.

Even if all you take from this book is that it’s important to think about what motivates your people, how you can help them grow and how you can make them happier and more engaged, then it will have been worth reading.

If you can open yourself up to understanding and valuing the difference in others, then that truly gives you a chance to be a great and motivational leader.

Measure What Matters

Measure What Matters is John Doerr’s new book outline the theory and practice of using OKRs to drive success and 10x growth.

Objectives and Key Results are a goal setting method that can be used to bring to bear four superpowers:

  • Focus and Commit to priorities
  • Align and Connect for teamwork
  • Track for accountability
  • Stretch for amazing

The basic premise is simple, on a regular cadence, set Objectives that can be measured by a set of Key Results.

Each OKR is made public, they are transparent and shareable. Every person in the company can link their personal OKRs in to the company wide objectives, as an example one of your personal Objectives may tie directly to a Key Result of your team or department’s OKRs, and so on up the chain.

Key Results must truly be measurable, they should be specific, set with a real date and the metric should be unambiguous. ‘Increase active users’ is bad ‘Increase daily active users by 25% by 1st May’ is far better. They don’t cover the how, but are used to define the direction and measure of success.

We must also check in on OKRs regularly, the value is not just that they exist, but that we measure how we are getting to the goal. Looking at the successes and understanding the failures is a fundamental method to ensuring they add the true value they can provide.

John reminds you that OKRs should not be tied back to personal performance reviews. One of the superpowers is the ability to stretch, and OKRs should be set so they are difficult or uncomfortable to achieve. A stretch OKR may only be hit 60% of the time, but if it’s tied to personal compensation, you can be sure it’ll be hit more often. The stretch is so important because hitting 80% of a massive goal is much more rewarding and transformative than reliably hitting 100% of a simple goal

The book is an easy read, with a history of OKRs, how they came to Google and illustrations of their use at a number of other companies. It’s an inspirational guide on how a simple tool can have such significant power. The resources at the end of the book are extremely valuable, especially if you are attempting to set up your own OKR system, so it pays to spend to the time studying these as well as the case studies covering specific areas.

Overall, a great introduction to the OKR mindset, definitely worth picking up, and returning to as you go on your own OKR journey to success.

Leaders Eat Last

Simon Sinek’s follow up to Start With Why is another excellent and thought provoking read.

Leaders Eat Last is a longer read, and in many ways an easier one. Where Start With Why occasionally struggled with the repetition of example, this is less a feature in Leaders Eat Last.

Instead, we are taken through a tour of what it means to be a leader, how building a circle of safety and trust will create a strong organisation, and allow people to achieve their greatest outcomes.

It spends a long time talking about various biological and chemical imperatives that make us work well together, and suggest where we may fail. It’s not fundamental that you believe this approach to take value from the core message of the book. It has the feeling of popular science that may not be backed up by rigorous evidence, but this doesn’t detract from the overall thesis.

Leaders need to make a safe and trusting space for those they lead. They reap the benefits of higher status and acclaim, but the deal is that they will be the first to run towards danger when it manifests itself.

This is the core idea. Serving the needs of those you lead, being ready to risk all for their good and you’ll be rewarded with loyalty and dedication above and beyond what you could otherwise expect.

The Coaching Habit

Back this month to books, and I’ve just finished Michael Bungay Stanier’s¬†excellent and entertaining book, The Coaching Habit. It’s a short and fast paced introduction to providing highly valuable coaching sessions in the busy day-to-day work environment.

The book’s premise is simple, and on the front cover! Say less, ask more.

However, rather than a high minded or academic approach, Michael runs through a set of seven short but effective questions you can use to take practical steps to improve your habits.

The start of the book explains how to build a habit, why it may be difficult and why you should persevere. It then splits between explanations of the seven questions, and masterclasses that give useful techniques and insights.

Where some books may stretch their content with repetition, The Coaching Habit eschews this approach, going for fast pacing, large text and bold quotes. It’s an easy afternoon read, but one that you’ll want to come back to many times as you start putting its lessons into practice.

Start With Why

Start With Why is Simon Sinek’s best-selling book about Leadership, Inspiration and why some companies or organisations succeed when others might fail.

It has a very simple core premise. Many organisation know What they do and How they do it, but not a great number really understand and articulate Why they do it.

The lack of Why does not stop a company doing well or making money, but it can lead to a lack of direction and focus, which will harm it the longer this lack goes on.

Organisations that understand their Why, their purpose, will drive great loyalty from the customers and employees. They will naturally succeed in their causes because they have an internal compass that can guide them to success.

However, only those organisations that truly live and breathe their why will reap the benefits. Values printed on posters and stuck on a wall will not achieve this success, it must be felt by all throughout the organisation.

At its heart, it is a strong thesis. The book reads well and is easy to understand. It inspires you to consider your why, to find it if you don’t currently know it and to share it when you do.

If it has one failing, then it’s the repetition in the examples. A handful of companies are used over and over to illustrate the points made. Casting a wider net would have helped strengthen the core message even further.

In all, another good book, thought provoking and definitely worth the time to read.

Getting to Yes

Getting to Yes is the classic guide to principled negotiation.

It has a very simple structure, and is built around the core thesis that there is a better way to approach negotiation than the simple positional style.

Positional bargaining is very easy to do, but often not effective. It may win the day in a single encounter, but is often a difficult experience, and considered harmful to building long-term relationships.

The authors outline this problem, covering the difficulties that can arise from both the hard and soft styles of positional bargaining. They put forwards the idea of principled negotiation being a better long-term solution to achieving the best outcomes.

After the introductory chapter, the main section of the book covers the four main pillars of the approach:

  1. Separate the people from the problem
  2. Focus on interests, not positions
  3. Invent options for mutual gain
  4. Insist on using objective criteria

It then moves on to cover some difficulties you may encounter in attempting to implement the method, before finally answering a series of more detailed questions.

The book is very good it’s very much worth the time to read.¬†Some of the examples have started to show their age, but the ideas in the book are just as relevant and important as when they were first published, over 30 years ago.