I have spent 13 years reading business books and presenting synopses of these books to folks ready and willing to learn. It took a while (I’m not all that sharp!), but I think I am beginning to learn some things myself. In fact, I think I am ready to state, for certain, that there are 2 ways to guarantee mediocrity (if not outright failure):
1) Have a poor work ethic
2) Don’t have regular (team/executive team) meetings.
#1: Have a poor work ethic.
The sources are too many, but let’s start with the 10,000 hour rule (popularized by Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers). I summarize it this way in my presentation:
…centerpiece to this book is the 10,000 hour rule… — with much intentional practice!
“Practicing: that is, purposefully and single-mindedly playing their instruments with the intent to get better” (Outliers).
Or, to put it another way, putting in 10,000 hours does not guarantee that you will reach the pinnacle of success; but, not putting in the time practically guarantees that you won’t reach that pinnacle.
In other words, to remind us all of the obvious, it takes work, hard work, to be successful.
#2: Don’t have regular (team, management, executive team) meetings.
This is the one that has most captivated me. I am looking for this everywhere I speak, in every book I read, and everywhere else I can.
The insight hit home after reading the Verne Harnish book Mastering the Rockefeller Habits, but it took a while to see it in action. Now I am looking for it, and finding it, everywhere I look.
The Rockefeller “habits” are Priorities, Data, and Rhythm: an effective rhythm of daily; weekly; monthly; quarterly; annual meetings to maintain alignment and drive accountability (“until your people are mocking you, you’ve not repeated your message enough”).
In the book, Harnish points to this:
Mastering the Daily and Weekly Executive Meeting
(Structure meetings to enhance executive team performance).
• meetings overview:
• daily & weekly – execution
• monthly – learning
• quarterly and annual – setting strategy}.
This is the discipline, the habit, that I am looking for, paying attention to, and have become convinced is a (maybe the) critical key to genuine success. Assuming that a company or organization has hired competent, passionate people (admittedly, this is a big assumption), then it is imperative that these people get together in regular meetings to tackle those key goals/priorities for the organization. I wrote about this as practiced at Mighty Fine Burgers (see this post), and here is a clue from Zappos, from this article:
For instance, Zappos.com, the shoes and clothing e-retailer now owned by Amazon.com Inc., No. 1 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, has agents meet about once a week for hour-long, one-on-one coaching sessions in which a supervisor and agent each take a call. The two then discuss what the agent did well and what could be improved the next time around.
Of course, you need to pay attention to what occurs in such meetings, but don’t miss what comes first: weekly meetings! The rhythm of weekly, regular meetings!
As I said, I am asking around about this a lot. I find absolute consistency – excellent teams, excellent organizations, spend intentional, regular times in meetings. They do not skip those meetings. It is part of their routine, their ritual, their “rhythm.”
Yes, yes , I know… a lot of people sit through a lot of bad meetings. And that is a problem. So, yes, learn to run your meetings well. If you are a leader, learning to run a good meeting may be the next important skill for you to master. And, always, don’t forget to have an agenda, with something important to discuss/work on/accomplish. The most successful organizations meet about the same thing over and over and over again. It takes that kind of “long haul” attention to get really good at anything.
But if you want a sure fire path to mediocrity (or outright failure) just try getting by with no meetings. That is a guaranteed path to failure.
You accomplish what you meet about! Yes, you do!
Hold weekly or monthly status meetings to ensure that everyone is aware of what’s going on.
Jeff Cannon, and Lieutenant Commander Jon Cannon, Leadership Lessons of the U.S. Navy SEALS : Battle-Tested Strategies for Creating Successful Organizations and Inspiring Extraordinary Results
An effective rhythm of daily; weekly; monthly; quarterly; annual meetings to maintain alignment and drive accountability — “until your people are mocking you, you’ve not repeated your message enough.”
Verne Harnish, Mastering The Rockefeller Habits: What You Must Do to Increase the Value of Your Fast-Growth Firm
Mighty Fine Burgers (the one I eat at is in Round Rock) has some mighty fine hamburgers, and milk shakes – and a fun atmosphere, and a cool, space-age hand washing machine. They offer a really! good!! hamburger!!!, and an even better shake!!!! People tell me their fries are equally excellent, but I can’t vouch for those personally (I only have room for so many calories). They also have their Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award banner prominently displayed — see:
I talked to one of their managers, Steven, and asked him how they won their Baldridge Award. He said (paraphrased): “we decided to go after it; we won a “Texas version” one year (the Texas Award For Performance Excellence); we kept improving, and then we won our Baldrige Award last year” (Actually, the Baldrige Award was given to their parent company: K&N Management is the licensed Austin, Texas-area developer for Rudy’s “Country Store” & Bar-B-Q and the creator of Mighty Fine Burgers, Fries and Shakes, two fast-casual restaurant concepts. Read about their award here).
They absolutely focus on quality — from their web site:
Being from Austin means that the bar for quality is set very high, and we wouldn’t want it any other way. To us Quality is Everything, from our all-natural meat to our personalized bags, from our open kitchen to our world-class service. You might even say that we are a little weird about quality—in fact we are totally obsessed with it. We purposely limit our menu so that we can deliver the best food and best service to every one of our customers. We may only do a few things, but we do them better than any one else.
I kept after Steven, and asked this question: how many meetings did you have with your people about your quest for quality? The answer, as expected, was (paraphrasing again)– “daily, constantly, consistently… we meet all the time. We meet at the company management level, and with every shift team. We meet, we aim for quality, we discuss quality, we improve quality… we meet to accomplish our quality goals.” They send the message about quality all the way up, and down, and through, their entire team. What they discuss, what they decide, in top level meetings, is then distributed, cascading down throughout every shift team in the entire organization.
I have no doubt that quality, and all its related issues, are on the agenda day in and day out. The result – a great burger, a great shake, a great experience, and a Baldrige Award.
And one loyal happy customer from Dallas.
The point of all this: I have come to believe that the secret to reaching your goals is found through regular, well-run meetings. Yes, bad meetings — poorly run meetings — can be bad for everyone. But you cannot accomplish your goal(s) without talking about what people will actually do to accomplish the work required. In these meetings, they discuss what needs to be done next, by whom, by when, in regular, interactive meetings. Set clear standards, check progress, meet… then do; then meet, debrief, give out the next assignments, and go do…repeat,repeat, repeat. Over the long haul, you might develop better quality — you might even win a Baldrige Award.
“You accomplish what you meet about!” Yes, you do!
I’ve been re-looking at Mastering the Rockefeller Habits by Verne Harnish. I have presented my synopsis of this incredibly practical book a number of times. The book describes, and elaborates on, in user-friendly form, the traits and practices of John Rockefeller. At the center of those practices was the discipline of regular meetings.
I am now ready to boil it down to a phrase. Here’s the phrase:
We get (i.e., we accomplish) what we meet about.
We seldom accomplish what we never meet about.
And here’s what I mean. We are living in a constantly distracting world. We have so many things to do. Because we have so much to do, we do all of that “so much” – but we frequently fail to do the one thing we most need to do.
The Harnish book basically says this: have one priority at a time, and meet about it until it is accomplished — (meetings + execution + debriefing + next meeting + more execution).
We see this everywhere. Do you want to know which company will win the Malcolm Baldridge Quality Award? Look at the schedules within the winning companies. They have constant, perpetual, consistent meetings on quality improvement over the long haul – until they genuinely excel at quality.
In the article by John Dickerson on Slate about President Obama’s focus on Bin Laden, Mission Accomplished: How Obama’s focused, hands-on pursuit of Osama Bin Laden paid off, we learn that President Obama gave the directive early in his presidency:
In June 2009, Obama directed his CIA director to “provide me within 30 days a detailed operation plan for locating and bringing to justice” Osama Bin Laden.
A series of meetings were held in the White House to develop aggressive intelligence gathering operations.
By mid-March the president was chairing the national security meetings on the operation. (In all he would chair five such meetings, including the ones on the day the operation took place.)
You get (you accomplish) what you meet about.
Or, at least, you certainly don’t accomplish what you never meet about. Or, in other words, meetings done well may not guarantee success, but a failure to meet with a clear focus almost guarantees failure.
So, whatever your goal, ask yourself this simple question: is it genuinely your focus? If it is, then you are meeting about it, regularly, with the people who can make it happen – until it is accomplished.
Are you meeting regularly? With a clear focus, “one priority at a time?’ If not, it is probably time to start.
Let me help you plan your reading for 2011.
The issue is… Leadership Development.
Look at those words. Think about them. They say a lot. Mainly they say this – leaders have to be developed, and leaders have to focus on, and work on, continual development. This does not happen by accident. Some leaders may be “born,” but most leaders are “developed.”
And one practice of ever-developing leaders is that they read. They read books for the purpose of personal development.
I thought about all of this after a great conversation over breakfast with my blogging colleague, Bob Morris. We talked about a lot. We share a love of reading, we share a deep appreciation of good authors and good books, so we are probably a little “biased” in our view of leadership development. But I think the evidence is on our side – leadership development does not happen by accident, and reading good books is a critical and time-tested path to leadership development.
So – assume that you are leader, and that you want to work on leadership development. What should you read? I’ve got a suggested list. If Bob, or my First Friday Book Synopsis colleague Karl Krayer were to suggest a list, it would be a different list. These are mostly books that I have read. It is my list of “areas of focus.” Some of these books are not new. But they are all worth reading, and if you want to get serious about leadership development, I think this is a pretty good list to start with.
Of course, there are other areas of focus that need/deserve/beg for attention — and other truly deserving book titles. This list is only a beginning…
So – here it is – my suggested reading list for leadership development. It includes seven areas of focus, with a total of eleven books. That is one book a month for 2011 (giving you either July or December “off”). Whether you choose these titles or not; whether you choose these areas of focus, or not; this I recommend: follow a leadership development plan. It is worth the investment of time!
|As you focus on:||A good book to read is:|
|The Right Values||True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership (J-B Warren Bennis Series) by Bill George and Peter Sims|
|The Right Strategy||The Opposable Mind: How Successful Leaders Win Through Integrative Thinking by Roger L. Martin
Mastering the Rockefeller Habits: What You Must Do to Increase the Value of Your Growing Firm by Verne Harnish
|Effective Leadership||(note: this was a tough “focus” for which to choose the “best” book(s). I absolutely would include this Kouzes and Posner book: it is practical, and extraordinarily valuable).
Fierce Leadership: A Bold Alternative to the Worst “Best” Practices of Business Today by Susan Scott
|Effective Communication||Words that Work by Frank Luntz
Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
|Functional, Effective Teamwork
|The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable by Patrick Lencioni|
|Cultivating Creativity and Innovation||The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life by Twyla Tharp
Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by Steven Johnson
|Successful Execution||Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan|
I hope you succeed at your attempts at leadership development in 2011.
Note: this is not my first attempt to suggest a reading list. Earlier, I posted this: Build Your Own Strategic Reading Plan — or, How Should You Pick Which Business Book(s) to Read? It has other suggestions, for other areas of focus.
So many books…so little time!
Here are three ways we can help with your leadership development efforts:
#1: You can bring me, or my colleague Karl Krayer, into your organization to present synopses of these, and many other books. These synopses provide the key content, and facilitated discussion of the implications. Contact me at .
#2: You can purchase our 15 minute version of these synopses, with audio + handout, from our companion web site at 15minutebusinessbooks.com. (Most of these were presented live at the First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas. Be sure to read the faqs).
#3: Our blogging colleague Bob Morris is an accomplished business consultant, and can help your organization tackle these (and other) issues in an extended way. Contact Bob directly at .
Update: My blogging colleague Bob Morris, added some worthy volumes to this list. Check out his expanded list by clicking here.
Here’s his expanded list:
The Right Values
True North by Bill George and Peter Sims
The Executive’s Compass by James O’Toole
The Highest Goal by Michael Ray
The Heart Aroused by David Whyte
The Right Strategy
The Opposable Mind by Roger L. Martin
Mastering the Rockefeller Habits by Verne Harnish
The Art of War by Sun Tzu
Unstoppable by Chris Zook
Enterprise Architecture as Strategy by Jeanne Ross, Peter Weill, and David Robertson
Fierce Leadership by Susan Scott
Encouraging the Heart by James Kouzes and Barry Posner
Maestro by Roger Nierenberg
True North by Bill George and Peter Sims
Words that Work by Frank Luntz
Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
Influence by Robert Cialdini
The Back of the Napkin and Unfolding the Napkin by Dan Roam
Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler
Functional & Effective Teamwork
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni
Organizing Genius by Warren Bennis and Patricia Ward Biederman
Collaboration by Morten Hansen
Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Cultivating Creativity and Innovation
The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp
Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson
Freedom, Inc. by Brian M. Carney and Isaac Getz
The Idea of Innovation and The Ten Faces of Innovation by Thomas Kelley
Six Thinking Hats by Edward De Bono
Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind by Guy Claxton
Execution by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan
Reality Check by Guy Kawasaki
The Other Side of Innovation by Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Trimble
Open Innovation and Open Business Models by Henry Chesbrough
Plus two additional categories:
Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice co-edited by Nitin Nohria and Rakesh Khurana
The Talent Masters by Bill Conaty and Ram Charan
The Center for Creative Leadership Handbook of Leadership Development co-edited by Ellen Van Velsor, Cynthia D. McCauley, and Marian N. Ruderman
Extraordinary Leadership co-edited by Kerry Bunker, Douglas T. Hall, and Kathy E. Kram
Employee Engagement & Talent Management
A Sense of Urgency and Buy-In by John Kotter
The Art of Engagement by Jim Haudan
Engaging the Hearts and Minds of All Your Employees by Lee J. Colan
Growing Great Employees by Erika Andersen
In a recent Weekly Insights newsletter from Verne Harnish (sign up for this newsletter here), Verne included this paragraph:
A-Player Execs Read 24 Books Per Year — Brad Smart, father of the Topgrading concept, researched 6500 top executives. The difference between the A-Players and the C-Players? The A-Players were continuous learners, reading on average 24 books per year (12 fiction and 12 non-fiction). Those who don’t read barely have an advantage over those who can’t!!
Here is the key paragraph from the Brad Smart source for this info, Topgrading Tips (Vol 5, No. 14) What A Player Executives Read:
The bigger company executives read a couple of books per month, typically one fiction (for relaxation) and one good, solid non-fiction book – topics such as how international politics impacts business, best sellers such as Good to Great (Collins), and books on strategy, and finance (understanding the subtle implications of finance/accounting/M & A). Recently Kindle and iPad have captured the imagination of only a small percentage of our sample, but they are enthusiasts!
(Brad Smart surveyed 6500+ senior executives in his research).
My observations: first, successful leaders and managers keep learning. Second, reading books is still a key way to keep learning. Third, it is a good idea to read books for the purpose of learning that is specifically work-related, but it may be just as important to read fiction and other non-work related works.
To quote myself again, “the more you know, the more you know.”
You can purchase our business book synopsis presentations from our companion web site, 15minutebusinessbooks.com. Each synopsis comes in a zip file with audio + handout. You can load the audio into your iPhone/iPod, or other player, or, simply listen on your computer.
Most of these are presented to a live audience, most frequently at the First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas. And most audio recordings are between 15-17 minutes. Nearly 150 synopses are available, with at least 2 new titles added monthly. Click here to visit our web site.
I had the privilege of speaking to the Gazelles this week in Orlando. I presented two synopses: The Checklist Manifesto and Multipliers. The day was rich with insight, from presentations and conversations.
At this event, Verne Harnish, the founder of the Gazelles organization, the author of Mastering the Rockefeller Habits, and overall business thinker par excellence, just shares his latest thinking. They call his session “Visitation with Verne.” I have pages of notes and ponderings from his presentation.
He started with a simple challenge: “we need more rigor.” Good challenge!
Here are a couple of key thoughts from his visitation:
#1: You’ve got to out-read and out-learn your competitors. Like all great insights, this is so obvious; yet we don’t see it, pay attention to it, do it. After all the emphasis through the years on the learning organization; after all the insight we gain from this simple fact: good leaders keep reading important books; we still don’t put reading and learning in their needed place in our priorities. Verne reminded us that there is always someone out there trying to keep ahead of you. You’ve simply got to out-read, out-learn your competitors.
Here’s an interesting way to think about it: before you can be effective at “brainstorming,” you have to be very effective at “brain-filling.”
#2: Forget “Strategic Planning” – shift to “Strategic Thinking, Execution Planning.” Vocabulary matters. Vocabulary shapes behavior. What you call/name something shapes what it becomes. And Verne, the man behind the brilliant and exceptionally practical and usable “One-Page Strategic Plan,” (download it free from the Gazelles website, here. Click the “strategy” tab), thinks that it is time for a vocabulary shift.
In reality, there is no such thing as strategic planning. There is only “strategic thinking,” and then comes “execution planning.” This shift reminds us that “strategic planning” is in reality a two-step process. Without the right strategy, execution can not win the day. With the right strategy, a failure at execution loses the day.
There was much more from Verne. But these two strike me as especially critical to our on-going pursuit of success.
You can purchase my synopsis of The Checklist Manifesto, Multipliers, and many other titles, with audio + handout, from our companion web site, 15minutebusinessbooks.com.