Archives for 5 Aug,2018

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Understanding Leadership

underleader1By Tom Marshall

Understanding Leadership is a brilliant book for leaders written by Tom Marshall.

It came to our attention because of a recommendation by Ken Blanchard, the author of The One Minute Manager (amongst others!).  It was described as the best management book he had read in a decade, so naturally our attention was piqued!

It’s a little unusual in that it’s written from a Christian perspective and focuses heavily on the principles of Servant Leadership.  Tom Marshall heavily influenced the early progress of YWAM (Youth with a Mission) which includes people from over 180 countries, over 18,000 full-time volunteers and the training of 25,000 missions volunteers annually.  He managed a fair few people…

His book Understanding Leadership describes how and why leadership is distinct from management or administration and offers insight on topics such as foresight, trust, criticism, caring, status, timing, failure and honour.

Many of these topics have an incredible amount of relevance in the secular world, and we were drawn to this book because of the unique perspective the author would have on them.  He clearly wasn’t getting paid by the word or to further his career!

The book covered a number of topics but the three that stood out most were Status, Trust and Understanding.

It was quite remarkable that these three themes became so inter linked over the course of the book.  Status in particular is held in great esteem by a number of our leaders.  The benefits package, the car parking space all serve to elevate the status of a leader whilst distinguishing and to some degree separating those leaders from the rest of an organisation.

Amongst the consequences he explores to this separation, is the degradation of trust in our leaders.  If they are removed and elevated from the daily grind of an organisation’s work, how can people within that organisation truly trust their leader’s motivations.  And if we’re sceptical of our leaders motivations, how are we likely to feel about their vision for the organisation?  Or even engage with it?

He wraps up with the exploration of understanding, developing a shared meaning on a number of points between leaders and the organisations they lead.  Shared meaning is a fascinating topic at the moment and this book goes some way to exploring the connection between trust and understanding one another.

What sticks with us the most is a quote used towards the end of the book:

I cannot care for somebody I do not know, because I may totally misunderstand what their needs are;  I cannot trust somebody I do not know, because that trust may prove to be sheer and reckless presumption;  I cannot truly honour somebody I do not know, because it would be like giving value to an unknown quantity.

Placed into the heart of a leadership context, this statement would have quite a revolutionary impact on the behaviours of our leaders.

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The Trusted Advisor

trusted-advisor2By David H. Maister

It’s always great when someone recommends a book to you because they’ve found it really useful and helpful in their work.

And for the ego, it’s amazing to then find that you’ve already been doing a lot of the stuff described in the book!  When I got over myself and moved past that over-confident initial reaction, I realised I was learning some great insight into why what we do works and how we can make it even better.

The Trusted Advisor helps us understand why we call one person a supplier or service provider – yet call on someone else in the same position or profession as more of a friend, confidant or – you guessed it, trusted advisor.

Getting somewhat complex in places with equations, which I fear could make the reader obsessive over the details – the ideas shared are powerful for considering how we can all build trust and be better advisors.  That’s invaluable to any roles where consulting and influencing is key (are there any roles where that isn’t the case?) – whether as an external supplier or as an in-house partner.

Can you describe three fascinating ideas suggested by the book?

Be more curious

We’re often asked how we know what questions to ask – whether that’s in a coaching context, consulting situation or everyday conversation.  This book nails it by simply explaining why we need to be more curious.  Of course there’s not much in the way of practical tips on how to be more curious – as it’s simply seen as a yes or no mindset.  Are you being curious right now or assuming you already know everything you need to know?  The powerful point here is that we can choose at any moment to be more curious and ask more questions.

Park your personal agenda

Low self-interest was consistently found in the authors’ research and examples as critical to building trust.  It makes sense –  if I’m going to trust you, confide in you and think you can help me, I must believe that you’re in it to help me, not yourself.

In spite of the common sense this seems to tap into, this is the number one area where people fall down.  We’ve all got our to-do lists, priorities, objectives and we come to every meeting with an agenda – so how can we possibly have no interest in what we need from every conversation?

What I love about this concept is once again, it’s a choice in the moment.  I may go into a meeting that immediately I sense suits me to drive my agenda and get what I need.  And minutes later, I may realise that the other person is not where I thought they were, they’re unsure what’s next and they need to talk about it.  I have a choice in that moment to park my agenda, and pay attention to my broader purpose: To make a difference.  I can’t possibly make a difference if I’m not listening, so I make my choice, and have a greater impact.

Give good advice (I know, it’s not rocket science!)

If you’re a fantastic listener and have no issue with the point above about parking your own agenda, maybe this tip is more for you.  Where a lot of people fall down with self-interest, others may fall down by not being forthcoming enough with their opinion, expertise and thinking.  It is a fine balancing act to take a high level of interest in a person, be curious and focused on their agenda – then as soon as it’s required (judging when that is may be the biggest challenge) – come in with your advice and suggestions.

The book suggests a three-step approach to giving advice – offer options, explain the pros and cons of each, then make a recommendation.

What’s the one thing that will stick with you after reading this book and why?

For me personally, as is perhaps evident from the way I have written this review, it is the need to be more forthcoming with advice that will stay with me.  At the time I was reading this book, I was working with a client who wanted me to give far more advice on how I thought a project should run, rather than follow his lead on what happened when.  That will not be the case with all people I work with, but I know the idea will stay with me for life that when I have an opinion on a subject that may be useful for someone, it’s better to share it.

You can buy the book from all good book stockists, or click on the image and be whisked away to a rainforest…

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