Category: Book Reviews

Excellent guide to self-publishing

A successful self-publisher must fill three roles: Author, Publisher and Entrepreneur, according to Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch in their book APE Author Publisher Entrepreneur: How to Publish a Book. The author has the difficult task of trying to put words together which other people are going to want to read. The publisher has to manage the processes of editing, production, pricing and distribution. The entrepreneur needs to find creative ways of marketing the book.


A step-by-step business Facebook guide

With Facebook you can identify exactly who wants your products and then actively attract them, according to Wynne Pirini in his book How to Use Facebook for Business: Your Quickstart Guide for Getting New Customers Fast. Facebook enables people to voice their opinion about your business to hundreds of their friends instantly, and you can choose to take control of this new frontier, or you can leave it to others to influence what the market thinks about your business.

This short ebook focuses more on the practical steps involved in getting started on Facebook rather than the philosophical aspects or the broader business consequences. The author uses clear instructions and helpful illustrations to show how to set up a personal profile, how to set up a business fan page, how to advertise to a targeted audience, how to use images to enhance engagement, and why Facebook Apps are useful.

There mere use of Facebook does not guarantee a return for a business. Many of the advertisements currently appearing on the site are a waste of space. In order to succeed, a business needs to find a creative way of engaging customers and potential customers. Some businesses are naturally more interesting than others, but the book does give some hints as to engagement strategies that might work even for boring businesses.

Before reading the book I was of the opinion that it was not worthwhile for most businesses to devote resources to Facebook. Facebook ads are usually not appealing or very relevant. But now I am not so sure. There is endless scope for low-cost experimentation, and with sufficient expertise and ingenuity it clearly is possible to create a campaign that achieves results. If you have not already experimented with a Facebook fan page, this book provides a handy step-by-step guide for you to follow.

Useful career advice

Many people go on autopilot in life; they either abandon or forget why they are here, and their dreams become a blur as the years race by, according to Joe Carroll in his book How to Get a Great Job in 90 Days or Less. The book aims not just to provide handy hints on how to get a new job, but also motivation for the reader to consider his or her personal purpose in life, and what kind of job would help to fulfil that purpose.

Thus, instead of starting with a list of steps that you need to go through to polish the perfect résumé  or master irresistible interview techniques, the book starts with chapters on finding your passion, uncovering your preferences and identifying your talent.  Subsequent chapters deal with the practical aspects of job hunting, and some of the best ideas include:

  • Living a healthy lifestyle and staying fit will make it easier for you to land that job
  • Most jobs are acquired by knowing somebody, not by randomly sending off applications
  • People are usually keen to help if you ask for a referral, but they usually cannot help if you ask for a job directly
  • You are more likely to be successful if you know exactly what you are looking for
  • Consider getting your résumé done by a professional

Although the book appears to be aimed primarily at people who are at a mid-level in their careers rather than at senior executives or school leavers, it contains advice which is relevant to anyone. Chapter 11, on networking, is probably the most important. The author recommends extensive use of the telephone when networking. That almost certainly improves you chances of getting a job within 90 days, but may not be a comfortable approach for some.

As an employer who has read through hundreds of job applications and sat through dozens of interviews, I found myself agreeing with most of the author’s practical advice. I did not entirely agree with the philosophical advice; in my view there really is no perfect job, and in any situation there will be things you enjoy and things you dislike. Nonetheless, I found the book as a whole to be a useful source of advice for career management.

Quick list of leadership development ideas

By intentionally changing how you lead and manage others, you can develop leadership capacity in those around you every day, according to Scott Allen and Mitchell Kusy in their book The Little Book of Leadership Development: 50 Ways to Bring Out the Leader in Every Employee. Leadership development is not something that primarily occurs in the classroom; it occurs on the job, and the trainee’s immediate supervisor is the most important factor in behaviour modification.

So what exactly is it that a busy senior leader can do to help subordinates improve their leadership skills? This book provides 50 suggestions for activities and tasks that can be included in a leadership development program, divided into the categories of modelling effective leadership, skill building, conceptual understanding, personal growth and feedback.

Many of the ideas in the book are fairly standard leadership issues, such as clarifying team expectations, modelling the way, and recognising and rewarding achievement. Others, such as coaching for performance and developing emotional intelligence, really require a lot more explanation than the one or two pages afforded to them in the book—perhaps a whole book in themselves.

The book is short and easy for the busy executive to read, either from cover to cover or one brief chapter at a time, as the need for inspiration in leadership development activities arises. Many senior leaders are likely to find it more useful than a shelf full of theoretical books; its benefit lies in its usefulness as a quick list of leadership development ideas, rather than as a source of original leadership concepts.

Unfiltered candidates can make the best leaders

Most leaders, whatever they think or want to think, are ultimately dispensable, according to Gautam Mukunda in his book Indispensable: When Leaders Really Matter. The impact of individual leaders tends to be minimised by the external environment, internal organisational dynamics, and leader selection systems which filter out candidates who differ from the norm. It is only when the leader filtration process is bypassed that truly exceptional leaders are chosen.

In support of this assertion, the author tells the stories of a number of prominent leaders, including:

  • Thomas Jefferson, who was a filtered candidate for US president, and is regarded as one of the best presidents because of the Louisiana purchase, but any other president would have acted the same in the same circumstances
  • Abraham Lincoln, who was an unfiltered presidential candidate whose idiosyncratic characteristics caused him to make decisions which other presidents would not have made
  • Woodrow Wilson, an unfiltered presidential candidate whose idiosyncratic characteristics prevented him from achieving US ratification of the Treaty of Versailles
  • Neville Chamberlain, a filtered candidate for prime minister of Great Britain, who was unsuitable as a war-time leader
  • Winston Churchill, and unfiltered prime ministerial candidate, whose idiosyncratic characteristics were instrumental in leading Great Britain to victory in the second world war

According to the author, filtered leadership candidates – those who have extensive experience and have gone through a careful selection process – tend to do a competent but not exceptional job. Unfiltered candidates – those who achieve a leadership position without extensive screening – are more likely to be either very bad or very good. To illustrate this, the author asserts that four of the best five and four out of the worst five US presidents were unfiltered candidates.

I found the book’s biographical descriptions of leaders enjoyable and entertaining. There seems to be some merit in the author’s theory, but I am somewhat sceptical about whether the theory has a useful application for organisations when choosing leaders. I just find it too hard to believe that it is wise for an organisation going through difficult times to “roll the dice” and appoint an untried leader in the hope of finding a genius.

How to identify and improve leadership abilities

Overall leadership ability can in general be improved more effectively by working on a leader’s strengths rather than weaknesses, and leadership strengths can be improved by a form of “cross-training” using complementary strengths, according to John Zenger, Joseph Folkman, Robert Sherwin and Barbara Steel in their book How to Be Exceptional: Drive Leadership Success by Magnifying Your Strengths.

The book begins by explaining the authors’ research findings which demonstrate relationships between leadership effectiveness and employee satisfaction and engagement, and between leadership effectiveness and customer satisfaction. The authors then go on to explain that the strongest leaders possess three or more significant strengths, even if they also have some weaknesses. Provided that the weaknesses are not fatal flaws, it is the leader’s strengths and not his or her weaknesses that define the leader’s leadership effectiveness.

The authors recommend that a leader start by undergoing a 360-degree assessment to measure leadership strengths and weaknesses, as this is more reliable that self-assessment. If the assessment identifies “fatal flaws”, being scores in the bottom 10 percent for important characteristics, the leader should start by working on those flaws; otherwise, the leader should work on enhancing his or her strengths with the aim of becoming exceptional.

In general I found the authors’ arguments persuasive. The book does not provide a description of their research methodology, the charts demonstrating their findings are suspiciously linear, and it does seem doubtful that subjectively perceived leadership characteristics can be measured with precision; but on the whole there does appear to be sufficient evidence to demonstrate that leadership characteristics can be improved, strengths should get more attention than weaknesses, and strengths can be improved by working on complementary characteristics.

How to create stories to inspire the people you lead

Until recently, storytelling was about as welcome in the workplace as a crayon doodle on a napkin, according to Paul Smith in his book Lead With a Story: A Guide to Crafting Business Narratives That Captivate, Convince and Inspire. But now storytelling has come of age. Many large companies are using storytelling as a key leadership tool, and several companies actively teach storytelling skills to their leaders.

The book explains why stories are an effective means of communication, and then goes on to show how stories can be used to address a range of different types of leadership challenges, including:

  • Setting a vision for the future
  • Leading change
  • Defining the organisation’s culture
  • Inspiring and motivating
  • Helping people to find passion for their work
  • Providing coaching and feedback
  • Encouraging innovation and creativity

Included amongst the chapters on addressing leadership challenges are chapters on the practical elements of creating and using stories effectively, including chapters on the structure of a story, keeping it real, stylistic elements, the element of surprise, metaphors and analogies, and recasting your audience into the story. The appendix includes a range of reproducible worksheets and checklists for creating stories.

The author takes his own advice, using stories to structure his content, so that the book as a whole is a compelling and emotionally engaging read. I find his advocacy of the use of stories persuasive, and the step-by-step instructions  and checklists for creating interesting stories will be very useful for any organisational leader who wants to acquire potent communication skills.

Useful introduction to marketing

Social media is at the top of the obsession list right now. Many companies think social media is the absolute best way to reach people. It isn’t, according to Whitney Keyes in her book Propel: Five Ways to Amp Up Your Marketing and Accelerate Business. Social media tools are just some pieces of the ever-changing marketing puzzle, and effective marketing is not about the tools you use as much as it is about effectively connecting with clients.

A complete approach to marketing requires five elements, which the author lists as Strategy, Story, Strength, Simplicity and Speed. The Strategy element includes setting vision, mission, values, goals and objectives, and conducting a SWOT analysis. The Story element is about creating your brand package, finding customer segments and target markets, and customer relationship management. The Strength element is about managing the relationship cycle to retain current customers and obtain referrals, partnering with others in marketing efforts, and using the media. The Simplicity element includes creating an action plan and taking advantage of your existing opportunities. The Speed element is about monitoring results and making quick adjustments to gain optimal results.

Some years ago, marketing was mainly about convincing people to buy pre-defined goods or services and it involved the four Ps of price, product, promotion and place. Now, marketing as described in this book seems to be an integral part of designing the business itself, encompassing the business’s strategic planning. The chapter on forming partnerships with others – including business rivals – contained some particularly interesting ideas.

Although the author has a background working with very large organisations, the book will be particularly useful for those who have limited marketing experience and are starting up businesses or running small or medium-sized businesses or non-profit organisations.

How to get found online

If your firm is going to remain competitive over the next ten years, you need to embrace the online marketing tools that are redefining the way services are bought and sold, according to Lee Frederiksen, Sean McVey and Sylvia Montgomery in their book Online Marketing for Professional Services. The book attempts to provide a roadmap that any firm can follow to break into and master online marketing.

While personal referrals remain important, online searching and reviews have also become key ways in which people find suppliers. From the buyer’s perspective, online searches are fast and convenient while allowing greater variety and more geographic diversity in the selection  of a potential supplier. From the supplier’s perspective, online marketing is flexible, measurable, less expensive, more automated, and with greater geographic reach than traditional marketing techniques.

So, how exactly do you get people to find your business online and decide to trust you to be their supplier? You need to provide content (blogs, whitepapers, videos, ebooks, webinars) that demonstrates your expertise and that potential buyers will find useful, you need to engage in search engine optimisation, and you need to nurture your audience until they are in need of your services. Of course, this is more easily said than done. The energy of most professional service firms is taken up in serving their existing clients, so that websites and online content generation are neglected, with the predictable result that online marketing brings minimal returns.

The authors’ firm, Hinge Marketing, has clearly taken its own advice seriously, and as a result they have experienced explosive growth. This is a short, attractive, entertaining and easy-to-understand book, and I highly recommend it to anyone in a leadership position at a professional services firm.

A free ebook version of the book is currently available for download from the Hinge Marketing website.

Changing a firm’s culture

Preparing a professional service firm for the future means transforming your business from top to bottom, requiring unwavering commitment to new, and at times revolutionary, ideas, according to Earl Maxwell in his book Service, Prosperity and Sanity: Positioning the Professional Service Firm for the Future. The book tells the story of how one accounting firm fundamentally changed its business culture to position itself for the future.

The change process started for Maxwell Locke & Ritter when the firm was facing a challenging economic climate, with high levels of price competition and poor financial returns. Perhaps this made it easier for the author to persuade his partners to abandon the traditional way of running an accounting firm and try some radical experimentation, including:

  • Raising the level of trust in the office
  • Providing support for families
  • Encouraging flexible working arrangements
  • Getting involved in the local community
  • Openly sharing information including financial reports
  • Giving all employees some level of involvement in management of the firm

Some 14 years have elapsed since the book was published, and there have been vast changes in technology and the business landscape, but it is surprising to see how much of the content is still relevant. The inspiration for the original change effort was derived from the Total Quality Management movement – something which is largely forgotten today – but many of the issues discussed are still highly relevant, including competition, marketing, firm governance, work/life balance, adopting new technology, employee retention and profit sharing.

On the other hand, many professional service firms with toxic cultures and antiquated management structures have managed to muddle through the past 14 years while remaining reasonably profitable, so it is arguable that much of the fear of imminent disaster which troubled firms then and troubles them today may have been overstated. However, even if the transition to a less toxic firm culture does not result in a significant boost in profits, it does result in improved quality of life for employees and partners alike, which can only be a good thing.

In my view there are many useful lessons and ideas which can still be learnt from this book.

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