This article is from Business in Vancouver March 8-14, 2011; issue 1115
The Intangibles of Leadership
By Richard A.Davis
I found The Intangibles of Leadership a frustrating book at first. A practical, self-help reader on learning and attaining leadership skills, the book is packed with so many to-do lists, anecdotes and pieces of advice that it feels a little as if your parent is lecturing you. It reminds me of the golf instructor who tried to correct all of my golf- swing errors in one lesson, leaving me bewildered and unable to use the basic skills I had previously mastered. The answer to making this book a successful read, I discovered, is to take it slowly, read a chapter at a time, select skills to work on over the next month or so and then move on to the next chapter.
Davis – a licensed industrial/organizational psychologist who specializes in leadership studies and is a partner with the Toronto office of RHR International – delves into the qualities that set exceptional leaders apart from merely competent ones, and comes up with a selection that makes good, common sense.
For example, he notes that an essential quality is the ability to draw out opinions from colleagues and staff members and to truly listen to and hear what they say. Many executives are so focused on running the meeting and conveying the important messages that they fail to learn valuable information from their staff members.
“Even when you are the one leading the meeting, try to keep your antennae up so you can attend to signals that arise when you aren’t speaking,” Davis says. “The pace and flow of the discussion provide important clues as to what the group cares about the most, which topics it is comfortable with, and on which issues it needs the most guidance.”
Other chapters, such as the one on integrity, offer advice on qualities that are difficult to assess. Would-be executives should read this chapter, which debunks the mistaken idea that being nice or honest can make one finish last. The most successful organizations are run by leaders who, “at their core, are nice, genuine and thoughtful people who also stand firm in what they believe, are highly committed to excellence in whatever they do, and tactfully challenge others and the status quo.”
The chapter on fallibility conveys the all-too-often overlooked message that great leaders aren’t threatened by the excellence of their people. Not only does fostering creativity and innovation in your staff improve the product, it ensures that the best people stay because they are encouraged to follow and satisfy their creative and entrepreneurial instincts.
I would recommend this book to people at the beginning and middle of their careers, who aspire to acquire leadership skills. •
Jan Wallace is head of the David Lam Management Research Library at UBC’s Sauder School of Business.
By Scott Patterson, Random House, 2011 (also available in e-book and audio formats)
Scott Patterson’s book Quants reads like the script for Aaron Sorkin’s film The Social Network – and is equally fascinating and entertaining. Take some geniuses, some algorithms and formulas and lots of ego, and you’ve got a riveting, cautionary tale. Warren Buffett’s observation – “Beware of geeks bearing formulas” – plays out in these pages. The author coined the name “quants” in reference to the mathematicians and physicists who applied their mathematical techniques, first honed in casinos, to financial investments.
Throughout the book, alarming parallels are drawn between the game of poker and the strategies played out on Wall Street that led to the financial meltdown.
Reading about the players’ quest to see if the “Truth” (their theories) would work on Wall Street reminded me of reading about the Titanic (which was deemed unsinkable by its builders). We know, in the end, that the boat sinks – and that Wall Street experienced a historic crash. Both events rippled around the world and into our common history. The book includes a helpful list of the players and their backgrounds and a useful glossary for the uninitiated. •
The Procrastination Equation
By Piers Steel Random House, 2010
Given my score in the procrastinator’s diagnostic quiz early in the book (more quizzes can be found at www.procrastinus.com, but don’t get sidetracked!), it’s a wonder I completed this review.
However, the score is helpful to know in order to apply the advice given in subsequent chapters. Since I scored in the top 10% to 25% and recognized scarily true portraits of my behaviour, I was curious to know how to stop dancing the “procrastinator’s polka.”
Steel, a leading researcher on the science of motivation and procrastination, outlines several practical action plans to help change your habits, and ultimately your life, for the better.
Thoroughly engrossing, with lots of examples, exercises and humorous quotes, this is a useful reference book for the procrastinators among us who seriously wish or need to change. •
Donna Kaye is an assistant trade buyer at UBC Bookstore.