The Critical Flaw
In 2008, Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Federal Reserve, discussed a “critical flaw” in his economic model during congressional testimony about the economic meltdown. The critical flaw was the assumption that banks and markets would regulate themselves and naturally avoid bubbles and credit crises. Greenspan was so sure about market self-regulation that when confronted with the reality of its failure, he had to rethink his entire perspective. And it was the critial flaw that drove his and the nation’s policies during his tenure as Federal Reserve Chairman that led to the housing and economic meltdown of 2008 that we are still recovering from.
Author Alan Chan took that phrase and has used it to discuss the new global economy, credit, debt, and investments through the filter of Greenspan’s flaw. According to Chan, this flaw provides an opportunity for individual investors to profit by investing in precious metals, like gold and silver. Chan, as a former gold and silver wholesaler, also educates the reader about different types of precious metal investments and the differences between bullion, coins, antiques, and more, and recommending the best types for use in different scenarios.
Chan has an accessible writing style, and in the process of educating the reader about recent and historical economic crises, doesn’t bog down in details that aren’t relevant to the issue, but does provide a good basis for understanding the current recession, and the economic reasons for it. Recommended for those looking to expand (or start) their investments in precious metals as a hedge against further deterioration of the dollar, housing values or other investments, and as a good counter for those late night infomercials that sell metals as “investments” that only really help the company selling them.
How Do I Keep My Employees Motivated?
Amid the major theories of motivation in employee management, author George Langelett proposes his theory of empathy-based management that offers what dominant theories of today lack – a process by which managers actively foster a supportive personal relationship with their employees through empathetic interaction on a daily basis and create an emotionally safe and connected work environment. This results in employees that are dedicated, loyal, competent, and better equipped to apply more creative problem solving within and for the organization. The book explains what empathy is, the behavior of the brain and how empathetic relationships impact an employee’s decision-making and motivation, techniques for creating shared connectedness when an employee is experiencing a crises, tools to use in empathizing with employees, and laying out what these techniques and tools might look like in practice. Following the chapters, the author has included several appendices that cover distinctions between different management theories and empathy-based management, additional insights into the differences between various management styles, and three basic worksheets for the manager’s quick reference and notes during employee interactions. At the end of the book is an extensive section for recommendations for further reading.
The theory of empathy-based management is easily understandable and reasonable especially given the principles of how the brain works. It offers a worthwhile model for better interpersonal relationships in the business environment and better relationships in turn lead to more benefits for the organization. In fact, these principles could apply to any human personal interaction, not just in the business environment. I thought often of my own family while reading, so it was no surprise to discover that some of the underlying techniques and principles were adapted from Love and Logic, a parenting approach I was already familiar with. The information on the brain is simple but clear. The text provides a different perspective in combining concepts of neuroscience, psychology, and psychotherapy to the business environment.
Because the premise and concepts were sufficiently comprehensible, I feel that the chapters could have been more concise, as it seemed the explanations were repetitive throughout the chapters and caused one to lose track of the steps because of the lengthy narrative. A diagram or simple outline of steps similar to the worksheets in the appendices would have been helpful. While I found the theory sound, I had trouble envisioning some of the scenarios happening in a realistic business situation because the dialog or situation between employees and manager seemed too juvenile or patronizing. For example, one scenario had an employee complaining to the manager that a co-worker kept giving her “dirty looks”. In another example, an employee complained that it was “unfair” that a co-worker was promoted over him. Note the pronouns are arbitrary in this review as the examples specifically stated that the names given in the sample dialog were gender-neutral. While these situations may arise in real life, in my experience, employees do not openly complain to managers of such issues and usually keep such thoughts to themselves. One empathetic response that the book suggested managers say to employees to empathize was “That is so sad.” I feel in a corporate environment the comment would come off as patronizing and it is the exact statement recommended in the Love and Logic approach from parent to child.
Another suggestion I found less viable in the book was that managers check on how each employee was doing each day and assess their emotional state taking notes on what they discover. While the book suggests that it not necessarily require a lot of time after a manager gets to know his employees better and crises are not present, I find the strong suggestion that managers complete this on a daily basis impractical in a large organization or group. Perhaps in practice it might be simpler than what it appears when read in the text, but all of the activities in total recommended for managers to follow make it appear as if the manager’s sole responsibility is managing the employees without the added responsibility of running business operations. The text implies that if the manager establishes an empathetic relationship with employees, the employees will take care of the rest independently. The book also suggests that by setting clear written company policies, then employee discipline will be a simple matter of enabling the employee to face the consequences resulting from broken policies in an empathetic manner. Most real life situations, however, are not as black and white as written in an employee handbook. For instance in the appendices, the book warns against the ramifications of an ego-based or narcissistic manager, but not how to address these traits in an employee. This is not to say that, to some degree, the given scenarios are not possible, but I find the examples too simplistic to be as meaningful. I would find it a stronger argument for empathy-based management if there were a case study of empathy-based management in an actual corporation and the corresponding results on direct aspects of the business.
Overall, I think this book has merit and it is a worthwhile contribution to the field of employee management as it reminds us that all situations benefit from better interpersonal relationships and connectedness, the business environment being no different and that such considerations have perhaps been lost in our post-industrialized culture of big business and myopic pursuit of profits. I believe the principles of empathy-based management a worthwhile investment for today’s managers and the book can provide a useful starting point for managers looking for a more systematic guide to forging better manager-employee relationships. I would recommend managers take to heart the potential empathy-based management could have in the work environment and look beyond the book’s simplistic examples and apply their own creativity and experience in practice.
Working In Sync
Thirty years ago, eleven young freshman decided to train for Crew, or the Dartmouth rowing team. Together they became a team their coach recognized as something extraordinarily special. Twenty-five years later, these eleven men reunited with their coach, Whit Mitchell, who was struck by how each man had become extremely successful by using the lessons he had internalized from his grueling crew workouts. Readers are introduced to this rowing crew and shown how that experience translated into lessons applicable to all who want to improve their leadership skills.
This book is interesting and easy to read; each chapter begin with a short biography of the crew member, including his current profession and past leadership roles. The author/coach then shares an anecdote about the young man’s crew training, and how it translated to skills, such as Faith, Integrity, Personal Values, and Team Input, useful in his later career. The crew member reflects on his crew experience, and finally the coach gives suggestions to readers on how to apply crew’s experience to his or her own leadership role.
I really enjoyed the aggregate impact of these stories. The book can be dipped into at any point, but there is a nice overall build that grows from personal lessons to team to larger world impact, which is impressive when the book is read cover to cover. The personal stories of the team members were inspiring as they applied their own lessons to their careers and later life.
The author is a little too careful to include quotes from his team that praised his own coaching skills; I also would prefer more depth and detail from the athletes themselves about why they felt crew had been so important to them. A few of the lessons feel a little forced, which was a shame, because with a little more detail, the lessons would be absolutely clear on their own. The takeaway messages speak for themselves, and the author doesn’t need to expound on them. These are small flaws, however. This book tries to be both a ‘learn from inspiring stories’ and a ‘leadership how-to’, and that is a lot to cram into one slim volume; but the lessons are valid and helpful, and the stories are entertaining and inspiring, so although either aspect could benefit by expansion, either way it is a good read.
Many companies manage employees in a culture of fear, which drains the company of vital energy. Practice Greatness coaches managers to open instead to possibility, where self-actualized employees synergize, and companies thrive. This excellent how-to guide delivers specific, concrete actions, both mental and physical, that leaders and managers of all types can take to transform their own thinking and actions, and then the culture around them. Helpfully divided into short, accessible sections, it is ideal for busy managers with only short or sporadic ‘down times’; while it is meant to be read sequentially, leaders can dip into it at any point and find some way to improve. This book expertly synthesizes years of research from diverse academic studies, as well as the author’s own experiences as a management coach, into a cohesive action plan. Part One lays out the compelling case for Great Leadership. Companies that operate under a fear-based culture, one based on irrational mistrust and suspicion, with a focus only on ‘results’, have much lower employee engagement, satisfaction, and productivity than those that start from a position of trust. Great Leadership is based on openness, and especially focuses on how results are obtained. Part Two describes in several chapters what the author calls “outer practices” of Great Leadership: holding conversations for possibility; turning toward others; changing complaints to commitments; better arguing; storytelling; masterful listening; asking great questions; and making peace with enemies. Part Three focuses on the “inner practices”: visualizing; seeing patterns; recognizing your Achilles’ Heel; seeing self-delusions; managing commitments; physical energy; and postures for possibility. The book ends with instructions on how to practice, personally, professionally and in your organization. This is great stuff; brilliant, even inspiring! The practices are applicable to people of every situation – and not only in company management, but also in parenting, dating, peer-to-peer or among friends. The book is friendly and easy to read, a fast read, but thorough and detailed without being dense or wordy. In fact, it is filled with personal anecdotes and the author’s experiences that show his empathetic holistic vision for his readers to become the people they want to become. Liberation from the prison of fear allows boundless possibility. Practice Greatness opens the door.
A Good Financial Advisor Will Tell You…
“This book is not an ‘introduction to investing’ book.” And true to their words, Luna and Kisner present a concisely written handbook for “those hardworking successful individuals” who’ve been there and did it, and are still doing it – investing their hard-earned money. But what makes A Good Financial Advisor Will Tell You… different from the countless number of investment books available to the common investor? Luna and Kisner focus on new concepts without gracing endless pages with overwhelming amounts of statistics and charts. Plus, they dedicate a full chapter on the most pervasive and chronic issue that plagues the investment world: emotions.
Luna and Kisner lay the groundwork for successful financial planning by first addressing the reason why people don’t often have a high rate of return in their investments. The answer has everything to do with understanding one’s emotions through Behavioral Financing – “a relatively new area of study that explores the intersection of psychology and applied economics.” The shortened version of this study states that people, more often than not, take financial risks based on feelings, rather than basing their decisions on facts, figures, and history. Once investors understand and apply this approach, then it’s time to “invest like the pros” by creating Investment Policy Statements that lay out ground rules IN ADVANCE of investment decisions. These rules should be designed to reduce “investment risks without reducing returns,” which can be successfully achieved by looking into Alternative Asset Classes (i.e., real estate and private equity) and by following Luna and Kisner’s seven-step approach to a lower-risk portfolio.
Retirement in the U.S. is a great concern and, in order for financial planning to succeed in the long term (which includes legacy planning), Luna and Kisner explain that it is critical to incorporate life expectancy, inflation, and healthcare into the investment and income equations. One strategy they introduce “to provide maximum retirement income…without depleting your portfolio” is through Income Harvesting, which “matches short-term needs with short-term cash availability and long-term needs with higher yielding, long-term investments.”
As Luna and Kisner bring A Good Financial Advisor Will Tell You… to a close with their final chapters on debunking myths and misconceptions that investors buy as truth and on providing tips to find a good financial advisor, their hope is that their book “will motivate you to make whatever changes are required to realize your financial goals” – and, indeed, you will not be disappointed with all their helpful advice because it will motivate you!
Groupthink: An Impediment to Success
Groupthink, An Impediment to Success isn’t a book many will want to read, but is one nearly everyone should read. If you have to be part of any decision-making group or deal with such groups, you should read this book, and keep it on hand so that you’ll understand how group dynamics play out, and how they might affect you or the decisions the group will make. In fact, this book should be the sourcebook for a college-level course in group dynamics. Dr. Clifton Wilcox reduces literally hundreds of reports, books, articles, and studies to their essence.
Perhaps Wilcox explains Groupthink’s roots best: “Everyone makes decisions in their lives which result in consequences. For individuals the decision may be made implicitly and without consultation. For groups the decision is more complex. Some group members may want to pursue one course of action while others may not. Groupthink is one way in which individuals have the ability to avoid personal responsibility. If the group’s decision fails, the responsibility rests with all the members of the group and not a single individual. This diffusion of responsibility enhances emotional bonds between members as well as reduces the level of personal responsibility for decisions.” Groupthink explains with the well-known failure rate of groups, why they’re still used in nearly every level of modern society.
Ever wonder why committees never seem to get anything done? And, if they do, why what they achieve seems illogical and nonsensical? Groupthink explains it, in terms most can understand. Given a thorough understanding of how groups work, or rather fail to work, one might ponder how governments, universities, and businesses that are essentially many interlinked groups and committees manage to function at all. This and many more of life’s intricacies are explained in Groupthink, if you read, understand and ponder on it a bit.