While planning the next European Community Coaching Conference for CTI coaches 2013, we got talking about books we would recommend to others and my colleagues were impressed with how quickly I named my top three books. So it gave me an idea to write a blog about them. While there are many books that are worth a read, in my view, all people should read these three classics to stand well in the world which is the sort of productivity I am interested in advancing in organisations and individuals. My three books were:
- Stephen Covey’s – Seven Habits of Highly Effective People
- Leadership and self deception – Arbinger Institute
- Four Agreements by Miguel Ruiz
Now please bear in mind, that this list of books, in my view, are the sort of basics that when read and mastered, will allow everyone from a parent, factory worker, executive, social entrepreneur, citizen etc…to show up in the world with more tolerance, humanity and leadership and get results at the same time. Below I summarise what each book, in a nutshell, advocates and what happens in workplaces when these concepts are missing or think on the ground using my experience as someone that consults and works to develop more effective organisations.
7 Habits of Highly Effective People sold over 15M copies worldwide and there’s a good reason for that! It’s simple, effective and timeless. I know a guy in my own neighbourhood who has read it three times. I return to it regularly. It is like a bible in a way. Covey advocates seven principles for effectiveness and they are:
- Be proactive
- Begin with the end in mind
- Put first things first
- Think win/win
- Seek first to understand and then to be understood
- Continuously improve
And here’s how I have seen lack of these useful principles being apply, leads to poor results for individuals and organisations I have worked with:
- work cultures where people wait to be told what to do; people who wait for information to be shared instead of asking questions
- short term focus; winning small bottles and losing wars; poor project management; poor time management; feeling of general overwhelm
- having too much to do and not achieving; a busy but not productive work places; lack of respect for people; not valuing your staff
- wins that end up breaking or undermining relationships; poor ideas from lack of true collaboration
- no one listening; close-mindedness; poor decision making; reactiveness; short-termism; silos; lack of teamwork
- results falling below potential; talent not being realised to full capacity; loss of revenue and people
- loss of motivation; loss of skills to compete effectively; blame culture
Leadership and self deception is based on the principle that when we blame or justify something, what’s happening in real life is more the result of how we are and behave and that the work starts with us and not the other person. It says that if we wish for things to change, we must change our way of being and doing first. To me this is fundamental to personal productivity and effective leadership as I see it. The message is simple. Aim to help things go right. And if people continue to behave badly – let it and them go. It’s not your stuff.
What you may expect happens in the workplace when these skills and concepts are short in demand:
- people blaming failures on others
- resistance felt towards another person or persons that impedes effective work
- the concept of ‘difficult’ people and our persistence in staying stuck in that view point
- lack of good working relationships as a result of ingrained beliefs about how the other person is ‘wrong’ instead of taking responsibility and considering how they may be right
- focusing on the problems and wasting valuable time instead of creating solutions
Four Agreements advances the idea of person freedom being realised by living life according to relatively simple and intuitive four guiding principles:
1. Be Impeccable With Your Word
2. Don’t Take Anything Personally
3. Don’t Make Assumptions
4. Always Do Your Best.
Reading it and really digesting what Ruiz advances has cheers me up tremendously as it’s what I really believe and how I try to live my life but it has also challenged me to raise my game and set higher standards. This resulted in me developing friendships with people who also share these standards which makes life enjoyable and a lot less complicated and riddled with unnecessary drama.
Likely outcomes at work when staff lack knowledge of these ideas:
- people making promises they break from leaders to colleagues whether that’s missing deadlines or overlooking commitments; people not meaning what they say;
- people that are what we recognise as ‘prickly pears’ getting hooked on every action or word said because it rings a doorbell of their own insecurity always connected to fear they avoid addressing; turf wars and silos that impede innovation and effective work; people resenting, undermining or blocking other people’s success
- wrong conclusions being made leading to poorly executed projects that could have been fantastic; teams that are based on who’s my friend principle instead of who has the right skill set; change projects that fail
- people tolerating mediocrity instead of striving for excellence; low morale and staff engagement; smart, talented people leaving the organisation.
If the examples highlighted when these concepts and skills are not mastered by people you work with or collaborate with look grim, they should. And this is why I include these books in all my leadership programmes. Fundamental to good leadership is a person that has a sufficiently stable ego to be able to put it aside in favour of something larger whether that’s the health and wellbeing of their staff or their organisation. Anything less should automatically warrant a formal warning, targeted development and in the end if needed removal from the role. In a world of work that is routinely abandoned by young talent, leaders need the skills from these books more than ever!
So if you want an inexpensive leadership programme, get on Amazon and order these three books and start reading! Make notes, set yourself mini challenges and practice. Aim to apply these concepts everyday in your work and life. You will be amazed what happens and the results you will be able to achieve. and your productivity will skyrocket. If you work in an organisation make your team read all of them. Sit down and discuss each and how you can support each other in working together and being with each other in a way that improves productivity and allows for everyone to feel respected and valued. Forget expensive programmes. It really is that simple. The trouble is, most people think simple is too simple.
So, I wrote another book to help that along. It’s called Get Productive. It’s a simple book that aims to save people reading these three books to start with. INstead of having to read through 700 pages in these three classics, or a chapter for twelve months, you can dip in to read 2-3 pages and complete an exercise that will embed many of these fundamental concepts in your mind through your own work and life scenarios. Then, as you improve and gain more time, go and read the classics. They are timeless.