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Review: A Leadership Kick in the Ass by Bill Treasurer

leadership kick in the assThis review first ran in the May 23rd edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

A Leadership Kick in the Ass: How to Learn From Rough Landings, Blunders and Missteps

By Bill Treasurer



You did a truly dumb thing.

Yes, you stayed within the letter of the law. But you will be found guilty in the court of public opinion and possibly crucified.

Your judgment, character and integrity will be questioned.

You will test the loyalty and faith of the people you lead.

This will rank among the worst of times for you. Yet it could also prove to be the best time to become a better leader if you respond in the right way.

“A kick in the tuckus can be the moment where everything changes for you as a leader,” says Bill Treasurer, chief encouragement officer at Giant Leap Consulting and author of A Leadership Kick in the Ass.

“These stark and startling moments can rattle your confidence to the core. But these moments can also be the starting point where you assess your strengths, clarify your values and develop an authentic and true leadership voice and style.”

According to Treasurer, embarrassing butt kicks can lead to transformative humiliation and positive change.

“You’ll stop overcompensating for your weaknesses by being falsely confident and over-dominant, and instead, will gain strength in the humble recognition that leading and influencing others is a privilege to be honored and treasured. Your kick will ultimately teach you that the only way to bring out the best in those you’re leading is to lead with the best of yourself.”

It takes real courage to see yourself as you really are, says Treasurer. It’s easy to dig in, push back and lash out. Admitting that you’re the source of your problems and ineffectiveness is hard and humbling. Yet it’s the only way you’ll face reality and be a better leader.

Getting your butt kicked injects a healthy dose of humility. “Strengths are good things. Until they aren’t,” says Treasurer.

Your mastery at public speaking can lead you to fall in love with the sound of your own voice and have you seeking the limelight. Your off-the-chart critical thinking skills can fool you into believing and acting as though you’re the smartest person in the room. Your strength of confidence can quickly turn into a weakness of arrogance.

A lack of confidence is also a weakness. Butt kicks loom for leaders who are preoccupied with the potential for failure and who hyper-focus on risk mitigation. They don’t trust, or fight, for their ideas. Timid and hesitant leaders are unoriginal, uninspiring, ineffective and eventually unfollowed and unemployed.

“Every leader is made up of sunshine and shadows. Paying attention only to the shiny parts of your leadership causes your shadow to grow, practically ensuring a kick in the saltshaker.”

So how do you make the most out of your kick in the butt? How do you achieve the confident humility that’s the hallmark of great leaders?

Treasurer recommends that you:

  • Focus on the long game. “A kick is just a momentary speed bump on your longer leadership career.” Focus on where you want your career to end up, not on the detour you’re taking.
  • Learn from your feelings.
  • Remember that discomfort equals growth. “You don’t grow in a zone of comfort. You grow, progress and evolve in a zone of discomfort.”
  • Broaden your view of courage to include being vulnerable, open and receptive to change.
  • Don’t be oblivious to yourself. “How much might it be costing you to remain loyal to your ignorance?”
  • Be your own project. “Lots of people lead projects better than they lead themselves. Treat your butt kick recovery like a project with outcomes, timelines and milestones.
  • Stay present. Fully immerse yourself in the experience.

“A humiliating kick can be the entry point for a richer, fuller and more complete understanding of yourself, as a leader and as a human being. You’ll be better able to use your strengths – and actively mitigate the shadows your strengths sometimes cause – so they better serve you and others.”

It’s a not question of whether you’ll get your butt kicked as a leader. It’s just a matter of when and how hard.

The real question is whether you’ll use this teachable moment to reset and right-size your confidence and humility.

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College,  lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

Review: Speed – How Leaders Accelerate Successful Execution by John Zenger & Joseph Folkman

speedThis review first ran in the May 8 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Speed: How Leaders Accelerate Successful Execution

By John Zenger and Joseph Folkman

McGraw Hill


Sitting through marathon meetings irritates you.

Pursuing perfection at the expense of making progress frustrates you.

And dealing with people who can’t cut to the chase exhausts you.

Patience is not your virtue.

We could punish you. Remind you to go along to get along. Tell you to work on your poker face. Ship you off for remedial training.

But if we’re smart, we’ll promote you.

Organizations need to pick up the pace, say John Zenger and Joseph Folkman.

“The survival of organizations depends on their ability to move quickly,” say the authors of Speed and CEO and president of a firm that delivers leadership development programs to organizations worldwide.

“We live in a world where the pace at which an organization moves and its ability to adapt and change can lead to dramatic success or failure.”

One of the keys to organizational success is leadership speed.  “Agile organizations are full of speedy leaders,” say Zenger and Folkman.

“Organizations can only move as fast as their employees do. The pace of employees will impact the pace of the organization. Even more important is the pace of the leader. Leaders who resist a brisk pace can be a major source of a company’s problems and ultimately its failure.”

Zenger and Folkman say we need more leaders who excel at doing things well and doing them quickly. Pacesetting leaders are adept at spotting problems and trends early and then wasting no time in making course corrections.

These quick-off-the-mark leaders inspire the rest of us to pick up our game and keep us motivated to go the extra mile.

To move your organization from sluggish to speedy, leaders can set an example by holding shorter meetings and having briefer interactions. Become a master at gently guiding others’ conversations.  “Help others get to the heart of the matter and let them know you respect their time and you want them to respect yours.”

Based on 360-degree feedback results on 52,000 leaders, Zenger and Folkman have identified eight companion behaviors that will dial up your leadership speed:

  • be innovative with a willingness to change
  • exhibit strategic perspective
  • display courage
  • set stretch goals
  • communicate powerfully
  • bring an external focus
  • take initiative, and
  • possess knowledge and expertise

“The pendulum defining most organizations’ behavior is currently not in the middle, but on the slow, ponderous side,” say Zenger and Folkman. “There is an urgent need and huge benefit to attaining what we have defined as true leadership speed.”

The authors make a convincing case for why organizations and leaders need to swing the pendulum to the speedy side.

@jayrobb serves as communications director for Mohawk College and lives in Hamilton.




Review: Radical Candor – Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity by Kim Scott

radicalThis review first ran in the April 24th edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity

By Kim Scott

St. Martin’s Press


If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

Unless you’re a boss. And then it’s your job and moral obligation to say things that aren’t nice but necessary.

Bosses get paid to guide teams to achieve results, says Radical Candor author Kim Scott, who’s been a boss at Apple and Google and an advisor to Silicon Valley companies.

When results aren’t achieved, people need to know they’re treading water, doing subpar work and dragging down the team.

The best way to do this is with radical candor. Scott says this management philosophy combines caring personally and challenging directly.

Start by treating the people who work for you as human beings. “It’s not just business; it is personal and deeply personal,” says Scott.

And one way to show you care is by telling them when their work isn’t up to their standards or yours. You challenge directly by delivering hard feedback, making tough calls and holding a high bar for results.

“When people trust you and believe you care about them, they are much more likely to accept and act on your praise and criticism,” says Scott.

The alternatives to radical candor are obnoxious aggression, manipulative insincerity and ruinous empathy. All three can lead you and your team to ruin.

radical 2

When you challenge directly but don’t care personally, you come across as an aggressive and obnoxious jerk. Bosses do this when they belittle and berate, publicly embarrass and humiliate and freeze out members of their team.

When you don’t challenge directly and don’t care personally, you’re manipulative and insincere. “People give praise and criticism that is manipulatively insincere when they are too focused on being liked or think they can gain some sort of political advantage by being fake – or when they are just too tired to care or argue any more.”

And when you care personally but don’t challenge directly, you’re practicing ruinous empathy. It’s responsible for most of the management mistakes Scott has seen in her career. “Most people want to avoid creating tension or discomfort at work. They are like the well-meaning parent who cannot bear to discipline their kids. They create the kind of work environment where being nice is prioritized at the expense of critiquing, and therefore, improving actual performance.”

Imagine a colleague comes back from lunch with spinach in her teeth. Radical candor is you whispering to her “there’s spinach in your teeth.” Obnoxious aggression is shouting “look at her, she has spinach in her teeth.” Manipulative insincerity is saying nothing because you need to be liked above all else and don’t want to risk having your co-worker be mad at you. Ruinous empathy is saying nothing because you’re worried about hurting your co-worker’s feelings even though she’ll wonder why you didn’t care enough to save her from embarrassment.

Radical candor is the key to building trusting relationships with each person who reports directly to you. Scott says these core relationships will decide your fate as a boss and whether your team delivers results or comes up short.

“Your relationships and your responsibilities reinforce each other positively or negatively, and this dynamic is what drives you forward as a manager – or leaves you dead in the water. Your ability to build trusting, human connections with the people who report directly to you will determine the quality of everything that follows.”

The best way to give radical candor is to first welcome it from your team. Prove you can take it before dishing it out. “Soliciting guidance, especially criticism, is not something you do once and check off your list – this will now be something you do daily. But it’ll happen in little one to two-minute conversations, not in meetings you have to add to your calendar.”

Radical Candor should be mandatory reading for everyone in a leadership role. Scott makes the case for caring personally and challenging directly and shows how to say things that aren’t nice yet absolutely necessary for getting the best out of the people you lead.

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

Review: The Death of Expertise – The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters by Tom Nichols

deathThis review first ran in the April 10 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters

By Tom Nichols

Oxford University Press


We get to watch the death of expertise play itself out in real time with Hamilton’s light rail transit project.

Despite what experts tell us about the downtown renewing, sewer and sidewalk replacing and city-building benefits of our billion dollar infrastructure project, not everyone’s a believer. City council appears divided and public support seems underwhelming nine years into the project. We shouldn’t bank on another study, report, op-ed or endorsement by experts, elites and the professional class to win over skeptics and silence critics.

“While expertise isn’t dead, it’s in trouble,” says Tom Nichols, author of The Death of Expertise, a professor at the US Naval War College and five-time undefeated Jeopardy! champion

“Something is going terribly wrong. It’s not just that people don’t know a lot about science or politics or geography; they don’t but that’s an old problem. The bigger problem is that we’re proud of not knowing things.”

We’re sliding from uninformed to misinformed and aggressively wrong, warns Nichols. Feelings now matter more than facts. Our guesses are as good as anyone else’s, even if we know little or nothing about the matter at hand.

Nichols believes we’ve adopted a new Declaration of Independence. “No longer do we hold these truths to be self-evident. We hold all truths to be self-evident, even the ones that aren’t true. All things are knowable and every opinion on any subject is as good as any other.”

A toxic confluence of arrogance, narcissism and cynicism is being levelled with self-righteous fury at experts and professionals and that should concern us all says Nicols. “When resentful laypeople demand that all marks of achievement, including expertise, be levelled and equalized in the name of democracy and fairness there is no hope for either democracy or fairness.”

What’s put expertise in a death spiral?  Nichols pins blame on the Internet, higher education and the media.

We’re less social and more confrontational online. We cluster in echo chambers and associate only with people who share and confirm our view of the world. The vitriol on comment sections and discussion boards proves we can’t tolerate challenges to our beliefs and ideas.

And who needs experts when we all hold advanced degrees from the University of Google?

“In the various skirmishes in the campaign against established knowledge, the Internet is like artillery support: a constant bombardment of random, disconnected information that rains down on experts and ordinary citizens alike, deafening all of us while blowing up attempts at reasonable discussion.”

Nichols gives colleges and universities a failing grade when it comes to developing critical thinking skills in students. “Higher education is supposed to cure us of the false belief that everyone is as smart as everyone else. They are failing to provide the ability to recognize expertise and to engage productively with experts and other professionals in daily life. Students are learning that emotion and volume can always defeat reason and substance, thus building about themselves fortresses that no future teacher, expert or intellectual will ever be able to breach. When students learn that emotion trumps everything else, it is a lesson they will take with them for the rest of their lives.”

Much of the news media has devolved into partisan infotainment and personality journalism with its focus on form over content, says Nichols. Instead of giving us what we need, the media is giving us the clickbait and hot takes that we seem to crave.  And what we want most from our news is confirmation instead of information. “Much of what passes for news in the 21st century often leaves laypeople – and sometimes experts – even more confused and ornery.”

Nichols says experts aren’t doing themselves any favours when they wander into the prediction business or make the dangerous assumption that they’re smarter at everything because they’re smarter at a few things. Nichols says experts should instead stay in their lane, resist the urge to offer up opinions and stick to explaining rather than predicting.

The Death of Expertise is a sobering read and you don’t have to look very hard to find evidence of it happening close to home. All of us need to wander out of our echo chambers and safe spaces, start varying our news diets and reminding ourselves daily that we’re not as smart as everyone else.

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

Review: This I Know – Marketing Lessons From Under The Influence by Terry O’Reilly

this i knowThis review first ran in the March 27th edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

This I Know: Marketing Lessons From Under The Influence

By Terry O’Reilly

Alfred A. Knopf Canada


It’s not my fault but it is my problem.

This Disney World mantra is worth adopting if you’re serious about delivering superior service.

When customers come to you with a complaint, don’t duck or dodge. Don’t transfer their call, forward their email or tell them to talk to someone else. Don’t pass the buck, say your hands are tied and tell them nothing can do done.

Instead, clean up the mess even if you didn’t make it.  Own the problem and stay with your customer until she gets a solution or resolution.

“Obsessive customer service is one of the best ways to trump the competition,” says Terry O’Reilly, author of This I Know, co-founder of Pirate Radio and Television and a CBC radio host of Under the Influence. “Your competitor’s lack of obsessive customer service is your opportunity. Delivering consistent, superlative, standout customer service is one of the best ways to cause your competitors to find you really, completely irritating.”

Yes, customer service costs money. But you’ll make far more money than you spend, says O’Reilly. “Memorable, outstanding, go-the-extra-mile, I-can’t-believe-you-just-did-that-for-me customer service is as rare as a winning lottery ticket. But if played daily, it is a winning lottery ticket for the company. The return on investment is ten-fold.”

That’s because great customer service fuels word of mouth which O’Reilly calls the most powerful advertising of all. Happy customers rave, dissatisfied customers rant and social media amplifies both.

One way to earn those rave reviews is to go the extra inch. “Smart businesses search for ways to deliver the smallest touches to make an experience memorable. The smaller the detail, the more intrigued and impressed I am,” says O’Reilly.

Along with being a game of inches, marketing starts by answering a fundamental question.

What business are we really in?

“Don’t answer that question too quickly. Most people get it wrong. Yet it’s the most important marketing question you can ask yourself. Until you answer it correctly, your marketing will always lack focus,” says O’Reilly. “If you truly know what business you’re in, you will be selling the right thing and solving the right problems.”

What you’re selling and what we’re buying can be two very different things. You sell products and services while we buy solutions. “Customers don’t want your product,” says O’Reilly. “They want the benefit of the product. People buy benefits. Not products. Not features. And they buy these solutions from companies they can relate to.”

Molson isn’t in the beer business, says O’Reilly. They’re in the party business with beer as the social lubricant.

Michelin doesn’t sell tires. They sell safety.

Starbucks is in the coffee theatre business. Nike is in the motivation business. Apple sells personal empowerment while Coke sells happiness.

“You have to quietly observe what customers are really buying from you. They will tell you, but you have to listen carefully. The best marketers are the best listeners.”

Having won hundreds of international advertising awards, O’Reilly is well worth listening to. His book should be required reading for entrepreneurs, small business owners and leaders of non-profit who don’t have monster marketing budgets and ad agencies on retainer.

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

Review: The Difference – When Good Enough Isn’t Enough by Subir Chowdhury

the differenceThis review first ran in the March 13th edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

The Difference: When Good Enough Isn’t Enough

By Subir Chowdhury

Crown Business


You tell us three things about yourself every time you dump dirty dishes in the lunchroom sink.

Expecting someone else to clean up your mess tells us you’re lazy and entitled. It also shows us that you just don’t care.

And that’s a big problem because caring is the difference between good and great organizations.

So says author and management consultant Subir Chowdhury who works with Fortune 500 companies.

Chowdhury was stumped by why organizations of similar sizes from the same industries achieved markedly different results after working with his consulting team. “It didn’t make sense to me,” says Chowdhury.  “One company achieved a return of five times their investment – adequate to me but hardly spectacular – while the other saw a return of 100 times their investment.”

Chowdhury found that an organization-wide caring mindset explained the difference. “When a caring mindset prevails, truth is valued, people strive to understand one another, concessions are resisted in favour of seeking the best possible result or outcome, and people recognize that quality is everyone’s business.

“We have to do better than good enough. We have to strive for excellence. And that process and way of thinking all begins with developing a caring mindset.”

It’s a mindset defined by four must-have principles.  To be caring, you need to be straightforward, thoughtful, accountable and demonstrate a steady resolve.

“Practice them until your caring mindset has no off-switch,” says Chowdhury about the four principles. “Own them. Make them yours. When you do, you will inspire everyone around you to do the same. The principles are contagious. You can be the difference.”

Being honest, direct, open, candid, transparent and fair with others makes us straightforward. It also guards against lying and deceit and prevents organizational problems from being ignored, downplayed or dismissed.

Being attentive, considerate, unselfish and helpful makes us thoughtful.

“When  we place ourselves in another person’s shoes, or see things from another’s point of view, and then act for their benefit – when we are being empathetic – we are practicing what it means to be thoughtful.”

Taking responsibility makes us accountable. We don’t say something should be done by someone at some point. Instead, we step up and take ownership for getting it done even if we didn’t make the mess or cause the problem.

And we show our resolve by having the passion, determination and perseverance to stay the course when solving tough problems or improving situations. We keep going long after others have packed it in.

What’s our best strategy for developing a caring mindset? Be in the company of people who already have one, says Chowdhury.

Adopt a caring mindset and we’ll follow you as a leader and work with you as a peer. “Anyone can make a difference and inspire others if they adopt a caring mindset. Having a caring mindset has nothing to do with where you were born or how much money you make. You do don’t need to be anything other than who you are.”

So the next time you bring a coffee mug or plate to the lunchroom, don’t dump and run. Wash and dry instead. It’s a small step on a longer journey from good to great.

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

Review: Your Leadership Story by Timothy Tobin

a-leadership-storyThis review was first published in the Feb. 27th edition of the Hamilton Spectator.

Your Leadership Story: Use Your Story to Energize, Inspire and Motivate

By Timothy Tobin

Berrett-Koehler Publishers


We won’t follow you as a leader until we know you as a person.

So if you aspire to lead, you first need to inspire us with your story.

Talk about your moral compass, what you believe in and which values you’ll never compromise.

Talk about your greatest hit, your darkest day and the lessons learned.

Talk about who and what inspires and motivates you.

And talk about the reason you chose to lead, the difference you intend to make and the legacy you hope to leave.

“Your leadership story communicates the message of identity: who you are as a leader, what you believe in, what drives you and defines you as a leader, and how you act,” says Timothy Tobin, author of Your Leadership Story and vice president of global learning and leadership at Marriott International.

“Unfortunately, too often, leaders do not spend time thinking about or planning their story. It is given little thought or attention and it is left to chance. If you don’t tell your leadership story, other people will – and it may not be the story you want told.”

There are two compelling reasons why a leadership story deserves your time and attention.

Knowing your story will make you more self-aware of your strengths, weaknesses and areas for improvement. You stand a greater chance of steering clear of blind spots that can derail your career, ruin your reputation and drive your organization into the ditch.

A leadership story also gives you a better shot at making an emotional connection with us and then winning our trust and support. You can’t be an effective leader if we’re unwilling or uninterested in following you.

“If I don’t know about you as a person, then I don’t know about you as a leader,” says Tobin. “Leadership is about people. Your ability to connect with people can make the difference between great and poor leadership.”

Tobin cautions against telling a leadership story that’s more fiction than fact. Your credibility will take a hit if what you say doesn’t align with what you do and what we see.

“You cannot fake leadership,” says Tobin. “It must be sincere and real and reflect who you are. You must search your soul for what you truly believe and not just massage what you want others to see or hear.”

Understanding your leadership story is just part of the equation. You also need to tell it. “How you communicate your story tells as much about you as the story itself. If not told right, at the right opportunity and with the right audience, your leadership story can backfire.”

All good storytellers understand their audience. What do we want to hear from you and what do we need to know? What’s on our minds and what concerns us? If you don’t know, ask us and we’ll tell you.

“To effectively communicate your leadership story to your audience, you need to show empathy and establish relevance,” says Tobin. “You need to be able to put yourself in their shoes.”

The best time to tell us your story is when the stakes are high and there’s something significant to be won or lost for you and our organization. Tobin says you need to maximize these planned and unanticipated make-or-break moments of truth. “Moments of truth are distinct opportunities to share or reinforce your leadership story. It is these events that make your leadership story memorable.”

If you don’t yet have a clear and compelling leadership story, Tobin will help you draft it with a series of questions, activities and tips. He also shows why you won’t be a great leader if you choose to remain a closed book or continue to spin a story made up of alternative facts.

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College and lives in Hamilton.

Review: Ryan Holiday’s Ego is the Enemy

egiThis review first ran in the Jan. 30 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Ego is the Enemy

By Ryan Holiday

Portfolio / Penguin


One of the all-time greatest coaches broke into the National Football League by doing unpaid grunt work.

Bill Belichick, who’s coaching in his seventh Super Bowl this Sunday, got his start by analyzing thousands of hours of game film for the Baltimore Colts.

“You gave him an assignment and he disappeared into a room and you didn’t see him again until it was done and then he wanted to do more,” said of the Colts coaches.

Belichick didn’t demand to get paid. He didn’t tell the coaches that he was too smart and talented to waste his time watching film. He didn’t expect to be showered with praise for his insights and ideas. He didn’t walk around the office boasting that he was destined for a Pro Football Hall of Fame career.

Instead, Belichick quietly got to work, paid his dues and adopted what Ego is the Enemy author Ryan Holiday calls the canvas strategy.

It’s a strategy where you help yourself by helping others. You trade short-term gratification for a longer-term payoff. “Find canvases for others to paint on. Whereas everyone else wants to get credit and be respected, you can forget credit. You can forget it so hard that you’re glad when others get it instead of you – that was your aim, after all. Let the others take the credit on credit, while you defer and earn interest on the principal.”

The culminating effect of the canvas strategy is profound, says Holiday. You learn from solving diverse problems for other people. You earn a reputation for being indispensable. You develop new relationships and build a bank of favours that you can later cash in.

We can adopt the canvas strategy at any time and at any stage in our careers. “Clear the path for the people above you and you will eventually create a path for yourself. The person who clears the path ultimately controls its direction; just as the canvas shapes the painting.”

Following the canvas strategy is one way to keep our egos in check and avoid an unhealthy belief in our own importance.

Ego is our enemy, says Holiday. Ego seduces us by telling us we’re special, better than everyone else and the rules don’t apply to us. It’s “the petulant child inside every person, the one that chooses getting his or her way over anything or anyone else. The need to be better than, more than, recognized for, far past any reasonable utility – that’s ego. It’s the sense of superiority and certainty that exceeds the bounds of confidence and talent.”

Learning to manage our egos will keep us humble in our aspirations, gracious in our successes and resilient in our failures.

“What is rare is not raw talent, skill or even confidence but humility, diligence and self-awareness,” says Holiday. “If the belief in yourself is not built on actual achievement you are setting yourself up for a precipitous rise followed by a calamitous fall.”

Social media does us no favours. Talk and hype have replaced quiet action away from the spotlight, warns Holiday. “We seem to think that silence is a sign of weakness. That being ignored is tantamount to death. So we talk, talk, talk as though our life depends on it. The only relationship between work and chatter is that one kills the other.”

And when faced with life’s inevitable setbacks, we console ourselves on social media and indulge in self-immolation. We cry how it isn’t fair and blame others. We traffic in conspiracy theories, promise retaliation and plot our revenge. “We don’t need pity – our own or anyone else’s,” says Holiday. “We need purpose, poise and patience.” We need stoic resilience and increased self-awareness, something that an unchecked ego will block.

Learning to supress, subsume and direct our egos is the best guarantee that we’ll make a difference and leave our mark, whether we’re leading a small business, a major organization, an NFL team or the most powerful nation in the free world.

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999..



Review: Mastering Civility – A Manifesto for the Workplace by Christine Porath

civilityThis review first ran in the Jan. 16 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Mastering Civility: A Manifesto for the Workplace

By Christine Porath

Grand Central Publishing


One question will define your career.

You answer it every day by what do and say with colleagues at work.

Do you lift people up? Or do you hold them down?

Choose wisely.

“How you treat people means everything – whether they will trust you, build relationships with you, follow you, support you, and work hard for you, or not,” says Christine Porath, author of Mastering Civility and an associate professor at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University.

Sobering stats from the Civility in America 2016 survey show that 95 per cent of respondents believe we have a civility problem, 74 per cent believe we’re less civil now than we were a few years ago and 70 per cent believe incivility has reached crisis proportions.

Incivility takes its toll on our health and well-being. It wrecks morale and productivity. It repels customers. And it’s contagious, spreading and lingering among bystanders who watch people behaving badly to others.

“Incivility usually arises not from malice but from ignorance,” says Porath. “Most bad behavior reflects a lack of self-awareness. We don’t want to hurt others but we do. We’re oblivious and behaving in ways we’d never want to be treated.”

Porath’s created an incivility test to help flag your bad behaviors and blind spots.

Everyone knows better than to belittle, berate and humiliate coworkers or fly off into rages at work.

But do you neglect to say please and thank you? Do you email or text during meetings? Take too much credit for collaborative work? Ignore invitations?  Keep people waiting needlessly? Speak unkindly of others?

To become more civil and inject greater civility into your workplace, Porath says you need to focus first on the fundamentals. Do four things differently and she promises you’ll see welcome changes in how people respond to you.

Start by saying please and thank you. Small gestures of civility matter far more than we think, says Porath.

“If you want to connect with your employee or team, lead with warmth. Warmth is the pathway to influence. It facilities trust, information, and idea sharing.”

Smile more. Kids smile as much as 400 times a day. Yet only 30 per cent of adults smile more than 20 days a day. “Without saying a word, you can use it to put people at ease, build rapport and inspire.”

Build relationships with subordinates. “Relationships with people lower than you in an organization matter. To relate well with a subordinate, you first have to acknowledge him or her. Feeling acknowledged matters. In order to acknowledge someone personally, it helps to actually know who the person is.”

Back in 2012, the CEO of investment company The Motley Fool told employees they’d get their 20 per cent annual bonus only if every one of them knew the names of all their colleagues by year end. At the time, 250 people worked for the company. “He could have issued a proclamation from on high: let’s treat one another like family,” says Porath. “He could have created general metrics around collegiality or culture. Instead, he realized that relationships came down to a few basic behaviors. In order to strengthen interactions between people, everyone should know one another by name.”  The employees learned everyone’s names and earned their bonus.

Porath also recommends actively listening to what people are saying. It’s hard work giving people our undivided attention and it demands a surprising amount of energy and concentration. “If employees don’t believe their bosses are listening, they’re far less likely to offer ideas and helpful suggestions. They’re also more likely to become emotionally exhausted and to quit.”

The good news is our behavior isn’t fixed, says Porath. We can learn to be more civil. “All of us, no matter how we’ve behaved in the past, can improve. If we care the least about ourselves, our work and our organizations, we must improve. Strive to listen more attentively. Acknowledge people. Say hello. Smile more. Look to include others, especially those who are forgotten or who are in need of our understanding and help.”

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

Review: Six ideas worth considering for your career, company and community in 2017

This review first ran in the Jan. 11 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Here are six ideas worth considering in the new year, pulled from some my favourite business book reviews in 2016.

deep workTake an unannounced social media sabbatical.  You won’t miss much. And we really won’t miss your daily musings, deep thoughts, witty observations and running social commentary. Once free of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, you’ll suddenly have more time to focus on what’s actually important. “A commitment to deep work is not a moral stance and it’s not a philosophical statement,” says Cal Newport, author of Deep Work: Rules For Focused Success in a Distracted World. “It is instead a pragmatic recognition that the ability to concentrate is a skill that gets valuable things done.  Deep work is necessary to wring every last drop of value out of your current intellectual capacity. To succeed, you have to produce the absolute best stuff you’re capable of producing – a task that requires depth.”

hug-your-hatersWhile taking a break from oversharing on social media, start paying attention to what’s being said online about your business. Customer service is now a spectator sport thanks to review sites like Yelp, OpenTable and TripAdvisor. We’re watching to see how you respond to complaints posted online. And we’re blown away when a company responds to our complaints and goes above and beyond what we expected. “In today’s world, meaningful differences between businesses are rarely rooted in price or product, but instead in customer experience,” says Jay Baer, author of Hug Your Haters: How to Embrace Complaints and Keep Your Customers. “Hugging your haters gives you the chance to turn lemons into lemonade, morph bad news into good and keep the customers you already have. So few companies hug their haters that those that make the commitment are almost automatically differentiated and noteworthy when compared to their competitors.”

snowblowersIf you’re in a leadership role, try talking less amongst yourselves behind closed doors and start listening more to your frontline staff. They likely know the solutions to whatever problems you’re wrestling with and other issues that aren’t even on your radar yet. They have a very clear sense of what’s working, what’s not and how things could work even better. “The answer to unleashing the power of your team – and to delighting your customers – lies outside the conference room,” says Steven Goldstein, author of Why Are There Snowblowers in Miami? Transform Your Business Using The Five Principles of Engagement. “It is astounding how much valuable information can be obtained by simply talking to the people who really know the everyday inner workings of the company.”

no fearStart encouraging your children to follow their passion even if it doesn’t lead into law or medicine. And never tell your kids to quit dreaming, get practical and settle for a real career that they may eventually learn to like. Even telling your kids to have a plan B in case their big dreams doen’t pan out is not helpful advice.“Since we are protective of our children, why would we send them on a blood-sucking and soul-destroying path?” asks Larry Smith, a University of Waterloo professor and author of No Fears, No Excuses.  “The grown-up world is where talent goes to die. The rules are clear: do what you are told and you get paid; work to live on the weekend and dread Monday; look forward to retirement and hope you do not end up dreading that as well; expect that pleasure or satisfaction in the work is an uncommon bonus.”

work rulesTake a good chunk of your training budget and spend it instead on recruitment. Run your own in-house search firm, give bonuses to employees who make successful referrals and pay a premium for top talent. When you hire the right people, you don’t need to invest as much in soft skill training and development. “The presence of a huge training budget is not evidence that you’re investing in your people,” says Google VP Laszlo Bock, author of Work Rules. “It’s evidence that you failed to hire the right people to begin with. Refocusing your resources on hiring better will have a higher return than almost any training program you can develop.”

human-city-1Start loving the suburbs. To sustain Hamilton’s momentum, we need densification downtown and growth on our suburban boundaries. Like every generation before them, many of the young professionals we’re courting will eventually outgrow their one-bedroom condos in the heart of the city and dream of single family homes with front porches, back decks and driveways. They’ll look elsewhere if they can’t find, or afford, a home to raise their kids in Hamilton. “In reality, for most residents of cities, life is not about engaging the urban ‘entertainment machine’ or enjoying the most spectacular views from a high-rise tower,” says Joel Kotkin, author of The Human City: Urbanism for the Rest of Us. “To them, the goal is to achieve residence in a small home in a modest neighbourhood, whether in a suburb or in the city, where children can be raised and also where, of increasing importance, seniors can grow old amid familiar places and faces. Cities with few children and families will prove fundamentally unsustainable, deprived of a base from which they can draw new workers and consumers, as well as critical sources of both parental motivation and youthful innovation.”

Jay Robb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College and has reviewed business books for The Hamilton Spectator since 1999.