Tag Archives: Book Review

It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work

Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson have just released their latest book, It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work. It’s a collection of micro essays on covering the authors’ thoughts of damaging or short term working practices.

It’s an incredibly quick read, each thought is presented over at most three pages, so it’s easy to rattle through them at speed. Most of them have examples of the described approach and benefits from Basecamp, the company they founded in 1999.

The basic premise is that you can find time to do important work by shutting out distractions, rather than pushing to be the most reactive, always on and always struggling to grow.

Not every piece of advice will be relevant to you, or possible for you to enact (some of the bigger benefits like a four day week can be hard to implement). However, some of them likely will be useful. Cutting down on chat software, setting sensible boundaries and other simple changes can make big differences to what you are able to accomplish, without it feeling crazy.

People rarely do great work while under unreasonable pressure or whilst constantly distracted. This is worth recognising, and this book is certainly a good quick intro to some of these thoughts.


I’m available for coaching opportunities in Central London. Leadership development, especially in a technical organisation or with anyone leading a digital or agile transformation. Connect on LinkedIn to kick-off a discussion.

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Crucial Conversations

Vital Smarts’ Crucial Conversations is a classic book on the subject of communication. Its core message is that some conversations are far more important than others, that they may suddenly occur without warning and that if you aren’t prepared for this, it’ll often go badly.

It’s set out much as you may expect, opening up with the basic premise, running through how to recognise what a Crucial Conversation is and when you might be about to enter one. It runs through techniques to succeed, methods to deal with complex situations and finally works through how to secure actions and commitments at the end of a conversation.

The newer edition also covers a series of particularly difficult cases or types of behaviour, dealing with a large number of the possible objections along the lines of “Great ideas, but my specific case doesn’t fit because …”.

Altogether, it’s well written and simple to follow. If you’ve read a lot in this area, then you’ll find the ideas and approaches familiar, but that’s probably because newer books build on them or take them as a starting point.

If all you take away from the book is that some conversations are vital, and that if you can be aware of that then you’ll improve your overall communication and effectiveness. If you can go to the next level, and seek to improve how you build dialogue during those conversations, then you’ll really be taking the value from this writing.


I’m available for coaching opportunities in Central London. Leadership development, especially in a technical organisation or with anyone leading a digital or agile transformation. Connect on LinkedIn to kick-off a discussion.

 

The Coaching Manual

Julie Starr’s book on the required reading list for anyone exploring the Coaching method. It has reached its fourth edition, first released in 2002, it has been revised and updated regularly, and is an excellent guide to the practice and processes of Coaching.

Spread over several chapters, it covers what coaching is, and shows some differences between effective and ineffective methods. It covers the skills of coaching and the barriers you might encounter. Finally, it works through how a coaching session can be put together, and then how to put together a wider coaching engagement spanning multiple sessions.

It’s a very practical guide, well written and split into easily consumable sections. It’s simple to dip in and out for details of ares that are of interest in the moment, but it’s certainly worth reading all the way through.

There are numerous sidebars that encourage you to reflect on what you’ve read, to consider your own practice or to complete a relevant exercise. It’s easy to skip them on a quick read through, but worth returning to those that cover the places you most wish to improve upon, as they will really cement your learning.

There are also hints and tips, practical examples and short summaries scattered throughout the book, all of which can provide useful guidance. The appendix covers a toolkit of useful documents and considerations, and Julie provides a number of web based resources online, which are also extremely valuable.

Overall, this in an excellent reference book, and should be on the shelf of all practising coaches.

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.

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.