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Powerful leadership learning and current thinking on coaching

Welcome to our book reviews

Take a look at the books that have stood the test of time in leadership and coaching.  

You'll find reviews and author interview clips below.

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Bob Hughes, Forton Group CEO & Creator of the Leadership Book Club

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Bob Hughes PCC is the CEO, The Forton Group.  He works globally with clients to improve the way they lead and manage, such that organisations can be more successful and their people can feel more fulfilled in their work.

The Strengths Focussed Guide to Leadership by Mike Roarty and Kathy Toogood

The Strengths Focused Guide to Leadership

Identify your talents and get the most from your people

This book is designed as a toolkit for leaders who want to get the most out of the jobs that they do, by maximising the possibility of doing what they love doing, what they are good at and what makes for success. It’s a practical guide which has the possibility to radically change how leaders think and behave. Not surprisingly, given the title, underpinning all of this is a focus on strengths.

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Stewardship - Peter Block

Stewardship

Although first published in 1993, the second edition, published a couple of years ago shows how relevant the concept of stewardship remains in this complex and ever-changing world of leadership that we work in. It addresses the distribution of power, purpose and rewards within the workplace and the need to do this has become increasingly relevant as we move away from traditional hierarchical structures to more distributed ones that unleash creativity. The culture change the many organisations are seeking will only be cosmetic without addressing these core issues.

It’s a well-structured book that talks us through the theory, the actions that are needed and then some logical steps to get there. It ends by exploring the wider impact on society that this approach might have and fits therefore neatly into the fort and groups model of leadership addressing all four elements; the personal, the team, the organisational and society at large. I also like the way the book is laid out; the pages broken up with interesting quotes and sidebars and navigation is made easier by some side titles; all very useful to avoid the book getting bogged down in being just another textbook.

When I talk to the boardrooms of organisations we work with and I ask them what outcomes are they looking for from the work we do; how will they know the change program has been successful? I almost always get some variation on the same theme; they want people to take more ownership and more responsibility wherever they are in the organisation. What I like about the principle of stewardship is that at its heart it is about creating organisations where this principle is embedded. It’s all about relationships, but relationships that are built through partnership not hierarchy; based on empowerment not dependency. Peter Block talks about the distinction between partnership and patriarchy.

One of the things that I like about the book is it isn’t just theory; Peter gives a range of different solutions to restructuring and organisation to fit in with the concept of stewardship. I particularly enjoyed the chapter on reward systems that support stewardship. The author starts by challenging and debunking many of the traditional ways that we look to reward people. He talks about the process of ranking people and makes the well judged comment that this is literally a means of keeping people in line. When talking about pay for performance he says that actually a more accurate description based on the fact that it is our boss who evaluates is pay for compliance. So the structure of our reward system has to reflect the kind of organisation we are trying to create. One approach would be to give the people in the organisation the power to decide their own pay system - covering everybody from the top to the bottom.

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Better Under Pressure - Justin Menkes

better under pressure

 

I’m usually a little nervous about books that focus on the attributes of the great CEOs. I think there is often too much emphasis given on the correlation between an organisation’s success and the behaviours and attitudes of the CEO. There may have been a time when the influence of the CEO was high, but in today’s world leadership is necessarily more distributed through the organisation, and success depends on everyone in the organisation showing leadership, taking responsibility and ownership.

To be fair to the author, he makes it clear that he doesn’t believe in a reductionist approach whereby you can predict or select based on three attributes and guarantee success. He sees these attributes as symptoms of the success as much as they are the cause.

Also, the lessons in this book will be applicable to very valid for a wider group than just the CEOs. Justin makes it a good read through the interesting use of stories in the simple structure is created. His approach was to analyse a range of qualities across 200 CEOs ranked by performance and to look for correlation between success and the leadership qualities. These were honed down into three broad categories

The three attributes are realistic optimism, subservience to purpose and finding order in chaos. I can see the value of these factors and how they link in with other similar studies and so this has plausibility in my view

Realistic optimism is contrasted with impervious optimism. A leader has to have a vision and be optimistic about its implementation whilst at the same time being aware of the actual circumstances in which they are operating. I think we can all agree on the danger of impervious optimism and have many examples of our own here.

Subservience to purpose is about the dedication to the goal. The most successful CEOs have an attractive vision that they personally drive through. The same is true of leaders at all levels: having a vision you truly believe in gives you the drive to achieve and gives your team the inspiration to support you. I see a link here to Patrick Lencioni only is model of dysfunctional teams. In this, the top level, results, is about the focus that you put on the success of the that overall unit not your own personal fiefdom

The last one, finding order in chaos, is that ability to maintain clarity of thought even when things are going wrong. The ability to sift out the important information and to make timely decisions based on that. Emotional intelligence is key here. That ability to maintain calm and focus, to avoid the amygdala hijack, whilst still retaining that ability to express the emotions of passion or anger or whatever is appropriate.

Overall, a fascinating read about how great leaders bring out the best in themselves and in others

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From the Ashes to the Summit - Juan Carlos Mejia

Juan Carlos Mejia From the Ashes to the summit

From the Ashes to the Summit is one of those books driven by one person’s personal experience from which we can all learn a lesson. I’m not usually a fan of the “motivational speaker” approach to inspiration; I find they are either stories from people in the sporting world who are successful because they are so much more driven and focused on the average, or some cheesy heartrending life story overly dramatised for impact

Juan Carlos Mejia’s story is different. Being in a coma is not an experience that many people will ever go through but the way that Juan has written this makes it accessible to everyone. Yes, his drivers were somewhat extreme but the accidental nature of it all makes it easier for us to relate to; it is possible to relate traumas and tragedies in one’s own life more easily.

We’ve all had crises and setbacks in our lives, albeit hopefully not on this scale. Juan Carlos writes in a very accessible way and draw some great conclusions about how to survive and thrive during and following a crisis.

One factor he describes is the need to have purpose. Anyone familiar with the Forton group coaching model knows this is where we start. For us, it’s about vision, values, and ideal self. Juan Carlos focuses on vision and uses the phrase I liked “remember that the more detailed, specific, and vivid it is, the easier it will be to evoke it whenever you need it”

From this, his What moves on to alignment with How. Again, I think coaches can see parallels in how we support people with his story. Equally, leaders can take lessons from Juan Carlos’ approach to planning and anticipating when embarking on change projects

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Living Every Second - Tracey Edwards

Living Every Second

Living Every Second is the autobiography of Tracey Edwards. Tracey captained the first all women crew in the longest toughest yacht race in the world. She sailed a boat called Maiden in the Whitbread Round the World Yacht Race in 1989, while still in her early 20s, breaking records on the way

I’m not always a fan of those inspirational speakers who tell you about a story in their lives and say “Come on you can do it”, or the sports stars who turn into public speakers and say that if only we were more like them, if only we had their dedication, then we too could achieve great things. People like that are usually driven in a way that the average employee is not. However, there are inspirational stories out there, and Tracey’s is one example of those where we truly can learn.

Tracey suffered personal loss at an early age and became a rebellious teenager, being thrown out of school various entertaining misdemeanours. With all the enthusiasm of youth she went to Greece ended up cooking on a boat and very quickly picked up navigating skills and learn how to sail.

JC manages to secure a whole series of jobs on various boats around the world boats. The way she writes about it, it seems she is looking. In truth, Tracey clearly has the ability to win people over very quickly, up to and including King Hussein of Jordan! It’s a great example of people now seeing the skill and talents that come naturally to them

Tracey serves as crew on a boat doing the Whitbread race and is so captivated by it she is determined to enter the race with her own crew in four years’ time when the races run again – and the crew will be all female. The story continues to entertain as she describes the challenges of succeeding in a very male dominated environment.


Despite fierce opposition, sexism and criticism, Tracy and her team not only reached the start and raced around the world, they won two of the toughest legs and came second overall

There’s much more of the story to follow and I encourage you to read it. There is inspiration here. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things. And women succeeding in a male dominated world

Tracey now runs a charity – The Maiden Factor – whose mission is to highlight and create awareness of the 130 million girls worldwide who  currently are not afforded an education and raising funds for charities currently facilitating that basic human right

 

 

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