Skip to content

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.

Review: The Revenge of Analog – Real Things And Why They Matter by David Sax

revenge-of-analogThis review first ran in the Jan. 2 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

The Revenge of Analog: Real Things And Why They Matter

By David Sax

Perseus Books


Shinola watches won’t track how many steps you take in a day, monitor your heart rate, remind you to stand up and get active, display photos and emails or keep you tethered to the Internet.

Instead, Shinola watches do just two things – tell time and employ hundreds of people in downtown Detroit.

Shinola founder Tom Kartsotis opened his watch factory in a landmark Midtown Detroit building that was once home to General Motors’ research and design division. Kartsotis chose the Motor City after consumers said they’d pay a premium for products made in Detroit. Along with high end watches, Shinola also makes leather goods, bicycles, turntables and other products. Shinola is a niche manufacturer building off the DNA of the city and its people.

“Shinola’s entire brand rests on its location in Detroit,” says David Sax, author of . “The Shinola marketing material is relentless in pushing this narrative of American artisan craftsmanship and ingenuity.

“Shinola may base its brand on a fanciful tale of renewed American manufacturing, but the dollars generated by the sale of its watches, and the jobs those sales have created, are undeniably real. The benefits of these jobs, and the business model of Shinola and other analog industries, have tangible, long-term benefits for investors, workers and communities, which differ greatly from those created in a digital economy, whose own benefit is far less widely spread.”

Yet every city is relentless in the pursuit of digital start-ups, tech companies, creative industries and the jobs of tomorrow. Politicians and civic leaders are quick and happy to throw money at research hubs, technology incubators and coding camps for kids.

Twitter’s decision to hire one person to work in Detroit generated the same media coverage as Shinola opening a factory and employing 500 residents.

“The problem is that analog jobs aren’t sexy in the way tech jobs are to politicians, investors and philanthropists, and the media,” says Sax.

“While the growth of the digital economy is real and will only continue, the benefits of that vast growth on employment, economies and communities have not even come close to matching the hype surrounding them. Those other jobs, the ones politicians and thought leaders don’t talk about – analog jobs – still matter a hell of lot more than do those associated with the digital economy. Nowhere is this clearer than in Detroit.”

Sax says high-paying tech jobs are accessible only to a select highly-educated few who already have their pick of plum jobs. Labour-intensive companies like Shinola create jobs for an analog workforce that can learn new skills while earning a decent middle class living.

Like Detroit, Hamilton also has a well-earned reputation for making things. As the demand for analog products and services goes mainstream, that reputation could help launch new businesses and bring new manufacturing jobs to the Ambitious City.

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

Review: The Leadership Contract – The Fine Print to Becoming an Accountable Leader by Vince Molinaro

contractThis review first ran in the Dec. 19 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

The Leadership Contract: The Fine Print to Becoming an Accountable Leader

By Vince Molinaro



Even when doing nothing, disengaged leaders are doing a number on your organization.

Empty chair leadership breeds mediocrity. Problems persist. Projects derail. Morale sinks. High performers bolt and everyone else follows lame leaders in going through the motions.

Vince Molinaro, author of The Leadership Contract and an advisor to senior executives, says we’re suffering from a serious lack of leadership accountability and paying a steep price. Too many of the people getting tapped for leadership roles are woefully unprepared or taking the job for the pay, perks and power.

“We all know that stories of great leaders leading great companies act as beacons of hope but these stories are the minority,” says Molinaro. “More common are stories of empty chair leaders – those who are inept or motivated solely by personal ambition. When our experience of leadership is routinely disappointing, disconnected and disgraceful, we begin to lower our expectations.”

Accountable leaders raise those expectations and build highly engaged workforces by abiding by four terms of a personal leadership contract.

They make the decision to lead and consciously commit to being the best leader they can be.  “Too many theories about leadership just assume that everyone wants to be a leader. But this is a faulty assumption – one that we often don’t realize we are making.”

Accountable leaders make an obligation to serve the greater good, putting what’s best for the organization ahead of self-interest.  They rise to a new standard of behavior and uphold responsibilities to customers, co-workers and the community.

Accountable leaders commit to working hard. “Leadership can be easy if you’re satisfied with mediocrity,” says Molinaro. When you refuse to do hard work, you become a weak leader. Accountable leaders have resilience, resolve and determination.

And accountable leaders connect and build community with other leaders.  These networks and connections foster high levels of trust and mutual support and guard against getting overwhelmed. If another leader asks for help, accountable leaders give it without hesitation.

“These four terms go a long way to addressing the problems with leadership today,” says Molinaro. “We can overcome lame and unaccountable leadership in our organizations when leaders truly understand what it means to be a leader and sign up for the right reasons. It’s no longer good enough to be a complacent or ambivalent leader.”

Along with personal contracts, Molinaro recommends organizations introduce leadership accountability contracts to be signed every time someone moves into an emerging, frontline, mid-level and executive leadership role.

“You cannot stay in your role without signing the leadership contract,” says Molinaro. “If you do, you’ll end up leading in a mediocre way. You will do a disservice to your organization and the people you lead. You will do a disservice to yourself.”

Molinaro maps up daily, quarterly and annual actions for following through on the four terms of a personal leadership contract.

“I believe leading an organization is one of the greatest honours and challenge that any individual can assume. However, it’s not a job for everyone. And there is only one way to ensure that you have what it takes to be a truly accountable leader – you have to make a conscious decision to lead, with full awareness of what that means.”

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





Review: Why Are There Snowblowers in Miami? Transform Your Business Using the Five Principles of Engagement


This review was first published in the Dec. 4 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Why Are There Snowblowers in Miami? Transform Your Business Using The Five Principles of Engagement

By Steven Goldstein

Greenleaf Book Group Press


If I was president of the Niagara Health System, I’d invite Edna out for lunch.

Edna was the best of a pretty remarkable group of nurses and health professionals who looked after my mom last week at the St. Catharines General Hospital.

Edna didn’t just provide exemplary care. She genuinely cared about my mom and provided real comfort to our family. While her Sunday shift ended at 7 p.m., Edna stuck around until my mom got out of surgery nearly two hours later. They were still talking when my brother-in-law and I called it a night.

And although she was caring for other patients on the ward three days later, Edna dropped by to offer some last minute encouragement as my mom headed home.

So if I was a senior executive wanting to make a great hospital even better for patients and families, I’d go to the frontlines and look to standout staff like Edna for ideas on what to start, stop and continue doing.

“Interacting with employees and customers on a regular basis is the key to success,” says Steven Goldstein, past chairman and CEO of American Express Bank and author of Why Are There Snowblowers in Miami?

“The answer to unleashing the power of your team – and to delighting your customers – lies outside the conference room. 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.”

Goldstein did exactly that while working for American Express in the United Kingdom and Ireland. That’s where he met John, a window washer who was ignored by every other executive in the building. Goldstein turned an impromptu 45-minute conversation with John into regular coffee breaks and end-of-day pints at a pub.

“I learned more in my first meeting with John than I could have ever learned reviewing reports or even talking to my team. He was extremely perceptive about what was going on in the business.”

So why aren’t leaders routinely connecting with frontline staff? Goldstein says it’s more a matter of will than skill. Yes, all senior executives are extremely busy with meetings. Some are introverts who aren’t blessed with the gift of gab. Others are insecure and believe they should already have all the answers. And more than a few leaders have developed over-inflated egos and take themselves a little too seriously.

Goldstein encourages senior executives to park their egos and venture alone and unannounced to the frontlines.  Don’t bring along an entourage or send in an advance team to stage manage a royal visit.

Take notes so the people you’re talking with know that you’re sincere and serious about their ideas and opinions. Report back to your team and make sure follow-up items are implemented.

“The best way to convince people that you are listening is for them to see clear changes resulting from their feedback. They will connect the dots.”

Be yourself and be natural in your conversations. Avoid being stiff, officious or contrived.

“Most important, have fun and enjoy this,” says Goldstein. “It is really great to get to know the people in your organization, especially the ones who really care about their customers and their jobs. Visit people and talk to them; make this a priority.”

Connecting with employees and customers is one of Goldstein’s five principles of engagement.  You also need to start looking at your organization with an outsider’s perspective, focus everyone’s attention on just two or three key metrics, be transparent with information and instill a bias for action. “Whatever speed you are going is too slow. Companies cannot assume they have endless time to evaluate, plan and launch new initiatives.”

When you have a highly engaged workforce, you don’t wind up doing dumb things like selling snowblowers at a Sears store in Miami. It’s one of many personal stories Goldstein tells from his 35-year career dedicated to helping leaders cure organizational dysfunction.

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton, has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and is grateful to the health care team at St. Catharines General Hospital.

Review: Committed Teams – 3 Steps to Inspiring Passion & Performance by Moussa, Boyer and Newberry

committedteamsmockupThis review first ran in the Nov. 21 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Committed Teams: Three Steps to Inspiring Passion and Performance

By Mario Moussa, Madeline Boyer and Derek Newberry



Your organization has a problem.

You need a solution.

Your first instinct is to strike a committee and stock it with your best and brightest.

But should you trust your instincts?

“To committee, or not to committee, that is the question,” say Mario Moussa, Madeline Boyer and Derek Newbery.

Before firing off meeting invites, ask whether your organization needs yet another committee? Do your top employees need to spend more hours in meetings? Do they even have the time to spare?


“At worst, a committee can become the automatic default for decision-making – a collective form of punting the ball down the field when in reality an effective decision could be made through other means. As committees proliferate to review every initiative in the organization, it can get to the point where so many exist that people begin to despair at ever getting a proposal approved.”

Moussa, Boyer and Newberry wrote Committed Teams based on their work with the Executive Development Program at The Wharton School of Business.

They recommend asking three questions before striking a committee:

  1. Would the decisions made by the committee materially affect the performance and objectives of your organization?
  2. Is there an existing committee that could make these decisions?
  3. Do these decisions require diverse opinions and input from across the organization, or can they be made unilaterally?

If the answers are a resounding yes, strike away. But don’t assume that a room full of high achievers will automatically gel into a high performing team.

“Keeping the energy up on committees is rarely easy,” say Moussa, Boyer and Newberry. “How can you keep team members engaged when they are not required to participate and are likely to put their committee role at the bottom of a long list of priorities?”

Start by getting the right people in the room. “While the point of a committee is to bring together diverse opinions for a special issue, make sure everyone who is in the room has a specific point of view or level of expertise that will add to the deliberations.”

More may be merrier but it can also lead to what’s called social loafing. Studies show that less effort gets applied to a task as more people get involved. Six or seven members will get you the diversity you need while ensuring that everyone keeps pulling their weight.

Recruit team members who are well respected, trusted and connected across your organization. People with high social capital can win trust and lend credibility to the outcome of the committee.

Your committee needs clear answers to two questions before they get to work. What’s it in for me and what’s in it for my organization? Aim for a simple, unified purpose.  “To be successful, every team needs strong, collective goals that members can rally around.”  You don’t want committee members wondering why they’re there and if they’re making a difference.

Assign roles. Confusion over who does what will inevitably lead to stress, miscommunication and disengagement. “Research consistently finds that teams work harder and better when members have clear, interdependent roles that tap into their skills, expertise and sense of meaning.”

Set expectations with teeth. “We are generally not big fans of wielding the stick of accountability. But on committees you need to set clear expectations for participation and agree upon meaningful consequences for when it falls short.”

And finally, uncouple authority and seniority. “Sometimes it is the junior person who needs to take charge.” The authors also recommend establishing informal roles, including caretakers, coordinators and antagonists who guard against groupthink.

Whether it’s a committee, project team or leadership group, get yourselves organized, schedule regular times to check on your progress and adjust when necessary. And to keep your team committed, define your goals, roles and norms upfront. Know where you’re going, who’s doing what and how you’ll work together.

“Flawed or not, teams show no signs of going away,” say Moussa, Boyer and Newberry. “Being good at teamwork is synonymous with simply being good at work. The complexity of today’s world demands that organizations of all kinds seek out the synergistic potential of teams.”

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



Review: If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy by Raj Raghunathan

if-youre-so-smart-why-arent-you-happy-0This review first ran in the Nov. 7 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

 If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy?

By Raj Raghunathan

Portfolio / Penguin


A Bay Street investment banker from Ancaster is on vacation.

The banker is sitting on a dock and drinking a Modelo.

She offers a beer to a local fisherman and strikes up a conversation.

The banker quickly realizes the fisherman is wicked smart.

“You should consider working on Bay Street,” says the banker.

The fisherman asks why he’d want to work on Bay Street.

“Because you could make a fortune,” says the banker.

The fisherman asks what he would do with his fortune.

“You could retire early and enjoy the good life,” says the banker. “With enough money, you could even move to Mexico, settle down in a small village and spend your days fishing.”

And that’s when the banker realizes the fisherman is even smarter than she first thought.

Raj Raghunathan, author of If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy, tells a version of this story to his business students at the University of Texas and the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad.  He says the story underscores how easy it is for us to fall prey to the happiness paradox and confuse career success with life success.

“Although happiness is a very important goal for most people, they also seem to devalue it as they go about their lives,” says Raghunanthan. “People seem to routinely sacrifice happiness for the sake of other goals.”

Raghunanthan didn’t want his students to make the same mistake.

“I wasn’t sure that I was helping my students lead happier, more fulfilling lives.  If our education system doesn’t ultimately lead to a better quality of life for all concerned, how good is it? I doubted that my courses – or for that matter most courses offered at business schools – were helping students lead happier and more fulfilling lives, and this troubled me.”

So Raghunanthan created a course that takes a scientific look at the determinants of happiness.  He put his oversubscribed course online and also turned it into a book.

He’s identified seven deadly happiness sins and seven corresponding habits of the highly happy.

“The things that lead to happiness and fulfilment are the things that make us not just better – more kind and compassionate – but also more successful. The recipe for happiness is a win-win-win recipe.”

According to Raghunanthan, lots of smart and successful people tend to botch the recipe and willingly or unwittingly sacrifice our happiness for other goals like money, fame and status.

Some of us make that sacrifice because don’t have a clear or concrete idea of what it means to be happy. “We tend to devalue things when they are abstract, ambiguous or otherwise difficult to understand.”

Others of us have deeply held negative beliefs about happiness. We worry it will make us lazy since the only time we’re truly happy is when we’re on vacation, sitting on a dock and doing nothing.

We worry that prioritizing happiness will make us selfish although the research shows exactly the opposite happens.

And we lose sight of the ultimate goal of leading a happier, more fulfilled life and instead focus all our time and attention on pursuing the means to achieving that goal.  “People can get so caught up chasing money that they forget all about why they wanted the money in the first place.”

Along with explaining the seven sins and habits, Raghunanthan offers seven happiness exercises that make a strong case for why we need to smarten up and change our ways.

As Raghunanthan asks at the end of his book, “if you aren’t happy, how smart are you really?”.

Jay Robb serves as director of communications at Mohawk College,  lives in Hamillton, Ontario and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999. He would happily move to a villa in southern Mexico.

Review – Simply Brilliant: How Great Organizations Do Ordinary Things in Extraordinary Ways by William Taylor

brilliantThis review first ran in the Oct. 24 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Simply Brilliant: How Great Organizations Do Ordinary Things In Extraordinary Ways

By William Taylor

Portfolio / Penguin

Would you get married in a parking garage?

Would you go there for wine-tastings, yoga classes and fundraisers?

Would you live in one?

They do in Miami Beach.

1111 Lincoln Road is a one-of-a-kind parking garage.  Developer Robert Wennett hired the architects who designed the Tate Modern in London and Beijing’s Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium and invested $65 million to transform the garage into a commercial property, cultural landmark and civic space.

Along with 300 parking spots, the seven-storey garage is filled with public art, high-end restaurants and boutiques. The building has a central winding staircase and offers 360-degree unobstructed skyline views. Wennett lives in a penthouse on the top floor.

“It’s all part of creating an experience people have not seen before, with offerings in places where they have not seen them before,” says Wennett. “We said to ourselves ‘Let’s look at what a parking garage is, and then let’s twist every single notion about it’. Nothing we do here is what you expect. We’re creating an experience, we’re telling a story.”

So how about your organization? What story are you telling?  What are you doing that’s unexpected and unforgettable?

Or have you opted to stick with the familiar and settle for dull? If so, don’t worry because you’re not alone.

“This quiet brand of failure – a failure of imagination, a failure of nerve, a failure to muster the will to break from the past – has become a familiar part of the business landscape,” says William Taylor, author of Simply Brilliant and cofounder of Fast Company magazine.

“The problem with most organizations is not that they are broken. It’s that they are boring. And boring organizations don’t lend themselves to runaway success. The real action, the true agenda, for leaders is in closing ‘opportunity gaps’ – the difference between what is and what could be.”

To stand out and stand alone, Taylor says runaway success comes from doing what your competitors can’t or won’t do.  Your customers want to be impressed and surprised. They want you to do something memorable.

And if you want to be exceptional in the marketplace, you first have to create something exceptional in the workplace.

Taylor profiles 15 organizations that do exactly that, including Metro Bank in Britain, Pal’s Sudden Service in northeast Tennessee and southwest Virginia, and SouthCentral Foundation, a nonprofit that delivers health care to 65,000 Alaska Native and American Indian customer-owners (calling them patients is verboten).

And then there’s the 100,000 Homes Campaign. Launched by Community Solutions in New York City, the campaign aimed to secure permanent housing for 100,000 chronically homeless Americans in four years without a major influx of government funding. Nearly 190 cities and towns came up with grassroots efforts that ultimately housed 105,580 homeless.

“Nobody I know signed up to work on homelessness for job security,” says Community Solutions founder Rosanne Haggerty. “But somehow we created a ‘homeless-industrial complex’ that is good at running programs but has given up on solving the problem. We realized that doing more of the same was absurd. We asked organizations to wrestle with the consequences of doing business differently.”

If you’re looking to do business differently in your organization and in our community, you’ll find inspiration in Taylor’s book.

“The thrill of breakthrough creativity and breakaway performance doesn’t belong just to the youngest companies with the most cutting-edge technology or the most radical business strategies,” says Taylor. “It can be summoned in all sorts of industries and all walks of life, if leaders can reimagine what’s possible in their fields. The opportunity to reach the extraordinary may be most pronounced in settings that have been far too ordinary for far too long.”

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

Review: Players – The Story of Sports and Money and the Visionaries Who Fought to Create a Revolution by Matthew Futterman

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

Players: The Story of Sports and Money and the Visionaries Who Fought to Create a Revolutionplayers

By Matthew Futterman

Simon and Schuster


Edwin Encarnacion is about to get paid.


The Toronto Blue Jay’s slugger headlines this winter’s free agent class.

Count on an MLB team to break the bank with a long-term deal that pays Edwin more in a season than you, me and our kids will earn in our lifetimes.

We shouldn’t begrudge Edwin his payday, even if he winds up launching homers over the Green Monster at Fenway Park for the Boston Red Sox.

It wasn’t that long ago that professional athletes like Edwin were paid a pittance and worked second jobs to make ends meet.

In his first season as starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, Roger Staubach was paid $25,000. Instead of training in the off-season, the future Hall of Famer sold commercial real-estate.

“Stauback didn’t begin showing Dallas-area office and warehouse space in the early 1970s because he loved the business or planned eventually to become a property mogul,” says Matthew Futterman,  author of Players: The Story of Sports and Money and the Visionaries Who Fought to Create a Revolution. “He did it because he had a young family and he needed the money.”

Fast forward to Tony Romo. In 2013, the Cowboys’ QB signed a six-year $108 million contract extension with $55 million in guaranteed money and a $25 million signing bonus.

“In the span of a generation, everything about the sports business changed,” says Futterman.

The senior special writer for sports with the Wall Street Journal argues it’s been a change for the better for both athletes and the fans who cheer them on.

“The story of professional sports for the first eight decades of the twentieth century is largely one of exploitation. It’s a story of one-sided contracts and lopsided deals in which teams, leagues, national and international sports federations, and countless other moneyed interests who had put themselves into positions of power took advantage of athletes who were some combination of too young, too uninformed, or to uneducated to realize just how they were being used, and too unrepresented and unorganized to do anything about it.

“Despite the inevitable pitfalls and crassness money has wrought, money has also made athletes and the sports they play immeasurably better. An upside-down business needed to be turned right-side up, for better or for worse.”

Futterman says the revolution started with golf legend Arnold Palmer and his lawyer-turned-agent Mark McCormack. Palmer had signed a deal with the Wilson Sporting Goods Company weeks after winning the US Amateur Championship. He never had a lawyer review the contract. Wilson made a fortune selling Palmer-branded clubs and balls and paid pocket change to the King.

“The original contract Arnold Palmer signed with Wilson was undoubtedly among the worst deals any athlete of Palmer’s caliber has ever signed,” says Futterman. McCormack eventually won Palmer his freedom and his annual off-the-course income soared from $5,000 to $500,000.

“The extrication of Arnold Palmer from Wilson and Palmer’s ability to take control of his name, his value and everything associated with it would stand as the template for every deal McCormack would try to make for every iconic athlete and property for the rest of his career. This wasn’t simply about money. McCormack was playing a new game. The object was liberation. Freedom would lead to more money – not just for the athletes but for everyone involved.”

Futterman tells the stories of other athletes who revolutionized the business of sports, including tennis player Nikola Pilic, baseball pitcher Catfish Hunter and U.S. Olympian Edwin Moses.

“The powers that be liked things just the way they were, with their athletes scrounging for crumbs at the bottom of the pyramid. The battles the men in charge waged against the athletes, the fallout from those battles, and how that revolution created the behemoth that sports have become is the arc of this story. It’s an attempt to understand how we got to a place where sports is simultaneously a highly produced, often over-commercialized extravaganza but also a thrilling Darwinian narrative filled with surprise and intrigue.”

Jay Robb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999, lives in Hamilton and will cheer for Edwin Encarnacion regardless of who he plays for next season.

Review: Leadership Lessons From a UPS Driver by Ron Wallace

leadership-lessonsThis review first ran in the Sept. 26 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Leadership Lessons From a UPS Driver: Delivering a Culture of We, Not Me

By Ron Wallace



UPS was having a rough start expanding into Germany.

The company’s sales force was running out of leads.

So everyone was brought together to regroup, recharge and kick around ideas for drumming up new business.

A senior executive joined the conference and was asked to give closing remarks.

Instead of a pep talk, he announced they were staying an extra night.

They had an hour to change out of their dress clothes and meet in front of the hotel. And they had to show up brandishing knives and scissors.

Locals lined the streets as the executive led the UPS parade out of the hotel and into the heart of the village. They wound up in an alley behind a stretch of shops and stores. The executive then rolled up his sleeves and led the team into dumpsters where they pulled out boxes and cut off shipping and receiving labels.

Once they had cut up every box, they marched back to the hotel conference room.

“The fruits of our work were stacks of torn and dirty labels, and our marathon sorting session lasted the rest of the night,” remembered Ron Wallace who was one of two UPS district managers working in Germany at the time. “Soon people began to realize what they had in front of them was gold nuggets. They were leads – solid leads because they were from real shippers and real receivers.”

The dumpster-diving senior executive demonstrated an ability to be creative, one of four key characteristics for effective leadership identified by Wallace in his book Leadership Lessons from a UPS Driver.

Along with creativity, leaders need to be great at:

Matching the right person to the right job. “The best leaders execute the selection and assignment process with surgical precision,” says Wallace. They also know when the right person is in the wrong job and have the courage to make the necessary change.

Removing the fog to clearly communicate with the team. Effective leaders state their expectations and then follow up.  “You would be surprised how many leaders just assume their team knows what to do. Assuming anything in a leadership role is a mistake.”

Inspiring others to go higher. “The best leaders are great encouragers, and they inspire their team to achieve more than they ever thought possible. Performance without acknowledgement kills morale. If all you ever do is state expectations and measure performance, be ready to lead a lifeless team.”

Wallace worked at UPS for four decades, getting his start as a part-time driver. He credits the no-nonsense, no-frills company for giving him a PhD in teamwork and leadership.

Wallace worked his way up in the company, becoming president of UPS International and leading more than 60,000 employees working in over 200 countries and territories.

A part-time driver becoming president of international operations is par for the course at UPS with its preference for promoting from within and a founding principle of treating everyone equally. That equal treatment includes giving all staff opportunities for training and development and moving into leadership roles.

“Managers who start with the organization and rise through its ranks are likely to be more committed, aligned and knowledgeable than those brought in laterally from the outside,” says Wallace. “We promote from within to ensure that the company can pass on our legacy and culture seamlessly from one generation to the next.”

Effective leaders work both smarter and harder than anyone else on their team and also stay humble. They’re focused on getting things done through others rather than drawing attention and accolades to themselves.

“It’s okay to enjoy your accomplishments but don’t ever think that your achievements make you better than those around you,” says Wallace. “Nor should you ever think that it was you alone who got you there.”

Even if you’re not keen on taking your team dumpster-diving in downtown Hamilton in search of sales leads, this book is loaded with common sense leadership lessons from a 99-year-old company that delivers 18 million packages and envelopes every day.

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