Category: My books shelf

“On Leadership. Practical Wisdom from the People Who Know” by Allan Leighton with Teena Lyons

Yet another of my favorite books I often pick up from the shelf. We all know how important is the leadership in project management. We all struggle from time to time with the “How to” became and remain a leader. This book is like a treasure chest. Every time you need a gem, you open a chapter: Getting Started, Coping with Success, Dealing with Disaster, The Art of Communication, Getting the right team, The Customer is King, Talking to the Media, Business vs Politics, Looking to the Future. As project managers we find ourselves dealing with many if not all of the above. Hence the value of the book for project managers.

The book is written with wit and wisdom. Each chapter feels like going into the offices of the best executives Leighton talked to for this book. Each was generous with insights and advice you would get from very few academic or professional training programmes. It is also highly entertaining and will glue you to learning with fun and motivation to become the best at what you do.

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“The new leaders. Transforming the art of leadership into the science of results ” by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis and Anne McKee

“The glue that holds people together in a team, and that commits people to an organisation, is the emotions they feel” is one of my favourite quotes from this book.

I long believed that all that matters in business and work environments is getting things done. Business and project management literature supported the belief. Recent research on Emotional Intelligence begs to differ and for good reasons. Emotions and moods have real consequences for getting those same things done in any project. To paraphrase the authors of the book, the project manager’s ability to survive everyday surprises depends to a large extent on whether he/she has first the ability to manage his/her own emotions in the face of the change and thus lead the team through unchartered waters.

This book was like a mirror to me. It made me ask myself some important questions. It also helped in navigating better through the repertoire of leadership styles I see around me from visionary, coaching, affiliative, democratic, pacesetting to commanding and their impact on work climate.

The authors guide the ones who seek to change through the metamorphosis with practical tips and inspirational transformational real life stories, touching on self-management, team management as well as navigating the world of stakeholders we engage with for outcomes that matter most.

“What makes a leader” by Daniel Goleman

Is the project manager a leader? Does he/she need leadership skills? What kind of leadership skills?

Emotional intelligence (EI) is a concept that slowly but surely gets into the pragmatic business world, management quarters and project management. EI is defined by the author as the ability to read and understand emotions in ourselves and in others and to handle those feelings effectively.
It is a valuable book to me also for development management involving international teams spread over many countries.
The book explains why IQ is important to get a management job and why to keep it EI takes over.
I experienced the book the way a novice gets to know the taste of different coffees. Each chapter came with different strengths and flavours for many of a leader’s moments of the day. Simple language explains the affective and social neurosciences behind the EI.
Take away 1: Leaders needs many styles for the very best climate and business performance
The author explains the six styles of leadership he calls authoritative, coaching, affiliative, democratic, pacesetting, coercive, each with benefits and drawbacks and advice on when to use them either singularly or in combination for best results.
Take away 2: The four competences of EI: a leader needs self-awarness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management to create resonant leadership i.e. match reaction to situation at hand.
Take away 3: Ready to make changes? The author offers a simple and effective five-part process for self-descovery amd reinvention, all based on brain science.
Take away 4: Tools for reflection to regain inspiration. There is quite a choice from reflecting on your past, defining your principles for life, expanding your horizon, envisioning the future to reconnect with your dreams, creating reflective structures to be with your own thoughts to working with a coach.
Take away 5: Followers mirror their leaders. Literally.
Take away 6: the Emotional and Social Competency Inventory, a behavioural assessment tool.
Take away 7: the key habit of good leaders is practicing genuine listening.
Take away 8: awareness of different types of focus that makes a person a leader. Inner focus in the 24/7 world, bottom-up relaxed and open attention for creativity and innovation, top-down focus on what is immediately at hand. Outer, Inner and Other focus concepts will get your attention.
Take away 9: to get attention and focus regularly practice meditation or mindfulness, a meditation method stripped of a religious belief system.
Take away 10: our times demand leaders that are not just smart but wise in targeting the greater good of our world beyond the boundaries of one group or organisation.
This book has one shortcoming: it is simply too short. Looking forward to reading more by Daniel Goleman.

“Research skills for policy and development. How to find out fast” edited by A. Thomas and G. Mohan

I come back from time to time to this book when projects touch upon policy and public action. The book “is aimed at development managers and others who are involved in policy investigation” states its Introduction. In project management, I found it a useful resource when we need to gather information in project design; or we need to learn about stakeholders and their agenda in policy making contexts.

The book is both very informative and an invitation to reflect. It offers tips and lessons learned for example in avoiding pitfalls in research. It covers “thinking with documents” and “thinking with people” for a participative approach. A number of tools such as structured surveys and semi-structured interviews as well as the importance of the subjective and personal are presented.

The book also covers how to bring in data and combine it with qualitative information. Personal integrity and effectiveness in research are brought in as topics of academic debate in the challenge of “trying not to get it wrong”.

In sum, if you are looking at how to inform the public policy-making process and how to communicate the results the book will serve you well both in an policy research and project context.

“Managing Development: understanding inter-organizational relationships” edited by D. Robinson, T. Hewitt, J. Harriss

My interest in this book and hence its value for my work stems from the importance of relationships between organisations, as a driver of close work for common purpose in development management. In other words, we follow the assumption that better we work together, better are the results in projects and beyond. There is general donors and governments’ consensus on that. The practice of it is more nuanced though (will come back to that in another post).

The editors organised the book around the three “ideal types” or modes of structuring inter-organizational relationships:  competition, co-ordination and co-operation. The authors warn us that these types shall not be understood as stand-alone and rigid concepts. There are significant overlaps between them and each comes with strengths and weaknesses, each peculiar to development stages and contexts.

The book might seem more academic, yet the background research abounds with practical relevance. Therefore, I come back to this book when relationships between and with stakeholders become too complicated and we seem to distance ourselves from our starting point. It helps understanding organisations’ dynamics, which jointly with the science of human behaviour, is a valuable knowledge to succeed in development management.

 

“Quiet influence: the introvert’s guide to making a difference” by Jennifer B. Kahnweiler PhD

I found the book valuable from a number of perspectives. It is well-researched and anchored in real-life experiences of introverts in different lines of businesses. Yes, introverts do work in sales and project management!

I am an ambivert, so the book spoke to me, as the narrative is respectful in the sense that the author does not re-educate the introverts. The book rather builds on introverts’ strengths and skills to help them maximise success with a clear call to stop acting like an extrovert. The basic idea is that you do not need to raise your voice or exude passion in excess in order to make a difference. The author offers towards that goal a number of tools, strategies and inspirational stories. I find many of them relevant in the project management world, as we aim at making a difference within and through projects.

I have successfully applied some of techniques, as I was reading the book. For instance, developing an influencing project plan, preparing LAQs (Likely Asked Questions) before a meeting, AEIOU technique, “the eyebrow test” and many more.

Enjoy reading it and share what you liked, as well as what other books you read on the topic.

“Getting Past No” by William Ury

“Getting past No” is one of my favourite books on the art of negotiation. Its author, William Ury, is the cofounder of the Program on Negotiation at Harvard University.

Cooperation is one of the most effective means of achieving the objective of any project, hence my interest in the art of negotiating and breaking barriers to cooperation.

The value of the book is in the techniques it offers and the explanations behind their efficiency and effectiveness in different power relations. So, if you are looking for inspiration or help in difficult situations, I highly recommend the book.

Case in point: how I used one of the techniques offered by the book to breakthrough in a difficult situation. The technique is called “don’t escalate: use power to educate”. The author used a quote from Sun Tzu to anchor this technique: “The best general is the one who never fights”. In one of projects under my responsibility, the team was confronted with a client whose desire to exercise power was notable. It manifested in the smallest project’s details, up to the desire to veto the selection of service providers. The team kept explaining how service providers are selected based on the legal agreement the project had with the sponsor. Nevertheless, many activities remained blocked as the client kept insisting.

I travelled to the project’s site for a face-to-face meeting with the client. We had one hour. I started the meeting with “easy to digest” stuff, were we achieved together considerable progress. My colleagues, noticing that 50 minutes into the meeting we have not tackled the contentious issue, started showing signs of worry.

I was waiting for the right moment. When the body language of the people on the other side of the table told me that they begun to relax, I brought up the issue. First, I reiterated what they already knew from my colleagues (to show that we act as a team and they can trust them). Secondly, I used our power to educate by explaining the administrative and legal consequences of an additional clearance mechanism, which was not in our initial agreement. I also knew how important for them was to complete the project on time, as any delays would have been costly. We concluded the meeting with the client by sealing our initial agreement and no further demands in this respect were made.  Upon the project’s completion, the client wanted to continue to do business, which is a clear sign of “win-win”.