Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A Wonderful Discovery

Last week, I was visiting with a client and she mentioned that she had discovered a wonderful new book. I hear this often and am always curious to learn more. But what intrigued me the most was that she had downloaded it first on to her Kindle and then once she had read it, she went out and purchased a hard copy so she could reread it. And to top it off, she had even gotten a copy for someone who she coaches so they could read it.  

When a highly competent and effective senior executive, reads the same book twice and then shares it with a direct report plus discusses it with me, then I know that I need to check it out. Therefore, I immediately went out and got a copy for myself.

Last Friday, I had an open block of time in my schedule so I stepped away from the computer, opened up the recommended book and read. An hour and a half latter, I realized I was captivated by the content and that my yellow highlighter was all over the pages that I had just finished. Given how much I read each week, only the good stuff gets the yellow marker treatment. It means I am discovering solid and well thought out concepts.

I was particularly impressed by the way the author blended in high quality research and others’ perspectives into their material. As I worked through the pages, I often remarked to myself, “Oh, this author read Patrick Lencioni’s work on clarity, Buckingham and Coffman’s First, Break All The Rules, Kotter’s Leading Change, Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, and they have read a ton of Jim Collin’s research from From Good to Great to How the Mighty Fall.” The more I read the more I liked the book and the depth of integration of key concepts. It was both practical and very well researched.

This wonderful new book by Greg McKeown is called Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, Crown Business, 2014. It came out this past April and I completely missed it on my constantly scanning radar for good books. Still, I am delighted to have read it now and strongly encourage all of you to get a copy. You will find it very helpful as a person in a leadership position and it can be a very helpful resource when coaching others.

McKeown’s book revolves around the notion of how to get the right things done rather than trying to get more things done. As he explains, “Essentialism is a disciplined, systematic approach for determining where our highest point of contribution lies, then making execution of those things almost effortless.” 

As Peter Drucker wrote in his article “What is Our Business? in the June 2001 issue of Executive Excellence magazine, “The executive’s time tends to belong to everybody else.” And all of us know that everybody and anybody can move in on our time and eventually does. He also points out, “Executives are forced to keeping “operating” unless they take positive action to change the reality in which they live.”  As some of us have learned, we can not let the flow of events determine the priorities we hold. We must define what is important in spite of the flow.

Greg McKeown explains that these days all of us have too many choices and are experiencing the complete disappearance of boundaries. We live in a world where “technology has completely blurred the lines between work and family. These days there don’t seem to be any boundaries at all regarding when people expect us to be available to work.” As a result, “our connectedness has increased the strength of social pressure... It is not just information overload; it is opinion overload.” With everyone wanting our attention, people are “trying to cram yet more activities into their already overscheduled lives.” Furthermore, we have too many choices to make and it has “overwhelmed our ability to manage it. Psychologists call this “decision fatigue”: the more choices we are forced to make, the more the quality of our decisions deteriorates.”

This is where the author advocates rediscovering what is essential in our lives. He advocates we embrace the core mind-set of an essentialist which focuses on doing “less but better.” He encourages us to ask the question: “Is this the very most important thing I should be doing with my time and resources right now?” He reminds the reader that “once you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, [you] can make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter.”

With helpful sections on how to explore and evaluate your life, how to eliminate the obstacles, and how to improve your capacity to execute, it is both practical and thought-provoking. I particularly enjoyed the section on how to say “no” gracefully.  

I finished the book this past weekend, purchased a copy for home, and took eight pages of notes from it on Monday morning. I plan on rereading parts of it during the coming weeks, and am seriously considering it to be part of the required readings for the 2015 From Vision to Action Leadership Training. It’s that good.

Meanwhile, run, don’t walk to your nearest local book store or library, and pick-up a copy of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. You will find it a very helpful resource as you seek to be a better leader and a better person.

Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates 319 - 643 - 2257

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