Tag Archives: leadership

Book Review: True North – by Bill George with Peter Sims

Ture North – by Bill George with Peter Sims

Everyone gets something different out of a book. The opinions here are mine only.

This book is all about following one’s moral compass, as a leader and about authentic leadership. In many ways it is refreshing, as it emphasises that there are no cookie-cutter rules about leadership, so differs from other leadership books that may be more prescriptive. It encourages one to figure out one’s true values, strengths and weaknesses and understand this deeply. True values only come to light when one has to choose between close trade-offs, often in a crisis situation.

The book traces in depth, through interviews, the leadership lessons and ups and downs of well-known leaders such as Howard Schultz of Starbucks Coffee, Chuck Swab of Charles Swabb, Narayana Murthy of Infosys, Anne Mulcahy of Xerox, Dan Vasella of Novartis, Wendy Kopp of Teach for America and others.

The book also gives useful insights on why leaders may lose their moral compass, being driven by external factors, rather than internal ones, drawing upon the experiences of Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, contrasting this against that of Ronald Reagan.

It is easy in today’s world to get lost in all the external demands and short termism and to forget what we are good at, what our natural styles and values are. This book is an excellent read – a reminder to stay grounded and follow the all important moral compass when all else is in chaos.

Left Brain – Right Brain Confusion


I attended a 2-day training programme, about a year ago, by a company called Dramatic Resources, as part of a course I was attending. This 2-day segment was mainly on public speaking and leadership.

One set of exercises we had to do in the programme starkly showed how the interaction of the left brain and right brain can sometimes derail us if we are not careful. This has implications in the things we do in life so it is worth taking note.

Here’s how the exercises went. We paired ourselves up (to illustrate, let’s call the participants in a pair A and B) and did the following exercises:

Exercise 1

A and B say 1,2,3,1,2,3, in sequence alternating between A and B quickly (i.e. A:1; B:2; A:3; B:1; A:2; B3; A:1 etc)

This, apparently, is an activity in which the left brain predominantly, is used.

Exercise 2

A and B do the actions (clap, stamp your foot, flick your fingers) in sequence alternating between A and B quickly (i.e. A:clap; B:stamp; A:flick; B:clap; A:stamp; B:flick; A:clap etc)

This got us into a groove. We almost felt like we were dancing! In this mode, we managed quite well. This, apparently, is an activity in which the right brain, predominantly, is used.

Exercise 3

Combining the above, A and B had to insert the numbers in Exercise 1 after every 2 actions in Exercise 2 (clap, stamp, say 1, flick, clap, say 2, stamp, flick, say 3, clap, stamp, say 1 etc. ) in sequence alternating between A and B quickly (i.e. A:clap; B:stamp; A:1; B:flick; A:clap; B:2; A:stamp; B:flick; A:3, etc). As you can imagine, this drove us crazy!! It was really, really hard to do this quickly. This, apparently, is an activity using both the right and left brain and gets very confusing.

This really hit the point home for me and I found the exercise very insightful.

There are examples of this in real life. A child may get quite carried away in telling a story using her imagination (right brain activity). When an adult comes a long and chides the child, demanding an explanation as to why she is not doing her homework (left brain activity to answer this) she just freezes, going blank.

This could sometimes be what happens when we are talking to an audience, happily engrossed in the description of what we are saying and something triggers left brain activity (doubt for example – why is that person reading his blackberry instead of listening? Am I boring them?) This disrupts our right brain activity that was carrying on so nicely until interrupted.

I find it very useful to have this understanding of how our brains function. With this knowledge we can try to consciously tell the offending part of the brain to keep from interefering (for a while when we need this discipline) when another part of the brain is doing just fine.

Have you had such an experience you would like to share?

Book Review: Say it Like Obama – by Shel Leanne

Say it Like Obama – by Shel Leanne

I’m not one for “spin”; in fact I find it quite troubling how many people seem enamoured more by powerful oratory than by substance, hard facts and tested results – I have alluded to this in a number of my previous posts, e.g. “Narrative Fallacies Galore“, “Book Review – The Believing Brain“, “Book Review – Redirect“, etc.

Having said that, one does occasionally have to speak in public and it helps to maximise the impact of what one has to say. The author does a very thorough job of analysing Obama’s speeches in detail, giving very structured and well written explanations of each of the techniques used, with clear examples of how these techniques have been applied. Having been a member of Toastmasters International for almost 5 years, most of the techniques described in the book are quite familiar to me – voice and intonation, powerful imagery, anecdotes, repeating or using similar sounding words (anaphora, epiphora, alliterations, triads etc.), gestures and pauses at the right times.

My purpose of reading this book was to see if there was anything additional I could glean on this subject of public speaking, as practised by President Obama. There certainly were a few new ideas.

The first is on breaking down barriers – acknowledging the “elephant in the room”, such as his race or different name and achieving trancsendence by finding common ground and talking about shared dreams and visions. Tackling the “elephant in the room” head on at the beginning then makes for a more comfortable atmosphere with the audience during the rest of the time the speech is being delivered.

The second is on conveying admirable ethics (e.g. being gracious, even after being insulted or made to feel awkward by a previous speaker), in order to earn trust and confidence. This point may be more about leadership. By building a good ethical reputation, if and when controversy arises or accusations come forth, these attacks tend to bounce off rather than stick.

The third is on overcoming obstacles and weathering controversies or accepting responsibility for errors. (Again, this may have more to do with leadership.) These should be tackled at the beginning, with humility rather than defiance. After addressing this (and with the audience then in a more forgiving and receptive state), Obama would then go on to reiterate his beliefs and deliver tough messages.

For anyone interested in the subjects of public speaking and leadership, this book does offer a few good tips.

Book Review: Carly Fiorina – Tough Choices (A Memoir)

Carly Fiorina - Tough Choices (A Memoir)Carly Fiorina – Tough Choices (A Memoir)

Everyone gets something different out of a book. The opinions here are mine only.

This is a story told from the heart, from a lady who was passionate about her job and actually achieved a tremendous amount during her career. There are many leadership lessons throughout, as well as important observations for any woman in the business world. We learn of Carly Fiorina’s guiding principles throughout the book, such as: “What you are is God’s gift to you. What you make of yourself is your gift to God.” and “Leadership is about the integrity of one’s character, the caliber of one’s capabilities and the effectiveness of one’s collaboration with others.” We learn also about her diligence, thoroughness and dedication throughout and about the seemingly insurmountable challenges she faced, and how she dealt with them.

One area of interest to many is what happened at the end of her tenure. It is well known that under Carly Fiorina’s leadership, her company did exceedingly well. She pulled off the merger between Hewlett Packard and Compaq and proved to be right about it, despite all the naysayers. The results spoke for themselves. Yet, in the end, she had felt that she had been betrayed.

Initially, I was disappointed, as this part of the story seemed to be skimmed over at the end. However, there is a whole section (the Afterword) dedicated to this at the end. The Afterword of the memoir explains what others (board members etc.) had said about this later on (e.g. in TV interviews such as The Charlie Rose Show) and Carly Fiorina’s own views. The Afterword ends with more leadership lessons, thoughts and optimism about leadership in the world in general.

I found this book to be an intriguing read, from a person with a very rich experience. I would probably read it again when I have a chance and would recommend it to anyone interested in management and leadership.

Book Review: The 3rd Alternative – by Stephen Covey

The 3rd Alternative – by Stephen Covey

The 3rd Alternative - Stephen CoveyEveryone gets something different out of a book. The opinions here are mine only.

The gems….

It really is worth operating in the way Stephen Covey advocates and instilling this as a part of our DNA. The “Talking Stick” concept, in the spirit of the African “Ubuntu” principle, is one I would like to see practiced. The “Talking Stick” is passed from one person to another – when the person with the stick does the talking, no one else is allowed to interrupt except to ask for clarification. Later, the listeners are tasked with re-stating the speaker’s point of view, emotions and all, to the satisfaction of the speaker. This last phrase, “to the satisfaction of the speaker” is critical. It ensures proper listening and empathy – all too often lacking in discussions. From there, the parties transcend to find novel solutions not thought of previously.

Covey cites great examples of where this has worked and these are certainly worth studying.

The challenges….

It is a long book. In places, I felt it could be more concise. The examples cited are great but as with many great ideas, there are obstacles to implementing them widely in practice. How can organizations (so entrenched in shareholder value and measureable outcomes) convince shareholders that they are investing time wisely, tackling the root of problems, while their competitors get better rewarded for churning out profits? Another problem – after all the listening and empathizing, what if there is a fundamental difference in relative importance of values upheld by both parties? Things can get pretty complex.

Concluding remarks

I believe there is a lot to be gained by applying the methods in the book to problems of the world. It is most likely, though, that as with all great ideas, the book will be read and people will go back to the daily trudge of life unless a widespread effort is made to train everyone in this and make a revolutionary change in the way we do things. I for one will be bought over more if I begin to see TV debates applying the “Talking Stick” method in earnest, instead of pitting one opinionated person against another.