“Do you really get something out of all of those business books?”

I read a lot of business books on leadership and management.

A lot.

Business Books

Recently a co-worker asked if I really get something out of each of them. It offered me an opportunity to stop and articulate why I think it is so important to continue to expose myself to materials (books, articles, video, etc) on management and leadership. Even if that means I end up reading over the same ideas presented in a different model, with its own corresponding vocabulary.

Boiled down, I think there are three reasons that people in leadership positions (formally recognized or not) need to be regularly checking their understanding in this area.

The first applies to every area of life: Important topics deserve multiple perspectives. This is not only to expose yourself to the different sides of things, but to the different models that are used to understand them.

I know myself enough to know that when I encounter a new way of looking at something, I spend some time engrossed in that perspective and see everything through that lens. I know that directly after reading an exciting new presentation of How Things Really Are is NOT the time to decide that we need to Do This New Thing. Rather, it’s a time to examine my context in light of this new perspective and see what learning it brings. It doesn’t become the model du jour, it becomes another tool in the toolbox.

The second reason I like to keep abreast of new materials is because leadership is about using yourself to move others to action. Which means that fundamentally it is about managing yourself. Whether it’s a single unit of work, a project, a department, or a business, the challenge is the same – how do you get the best from the people doing the work?

Do you naturally dive in and start problem-solving? Do you ask questions, and then immediately provide the answers? Do you give ambiguous impressions of your priorities to your team? Are meetings more or less productive when you are in them?

How do you know?

The are many things needed to build an empowered and effective team (delegation, feedback, communication, team-building, mentorship, etc) but there is one commonality running through them: you. Knowing more about how your attitudes and behaviors affect others can have significant impact. Learning about common leadership / management pitfalls, and combining it with real-time feedback from others, can help identify where you can be better.

Lastly, though I start out with the best intentions with my team, I often revert to trying to solve all the problems myself (we call this ‘the fun part’ around ReadyTalk) or dictating how things have to be. I know that empowering my team to solve problems and to own the solutions is the best thing to do. I know that this is the way we get creativity, buy-in, ownership and opportunities for professional growth. I know this…but still fall back to old habits.

I don’t know about you but acknowledging something about myself (e.g., when I get excited I tend to start cutting people off in a conversation) doesn’t mean I will reliably spot the signs and cease the behavior going forward. It takes different exposures, explanations, and feedback to change my behavior in a way that makes me (and ultimately my team) more productive.

The urgency of the every day tends to move me away from those practices that best empower the people around me…I need to return again and again to remind myself to get out of the way.

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Rick Newman

As the Director of Engineering at ReadyTalk, Rick Newman is focus is on helping his team of Engineering Managers become better leaders as their teams focus on the on-time delivery of awesome software. He's energized by seeing unique groups of individuals moving in the same direction but in their own way. Prior to finding his passion for leadership and building great teams, Rick spent time in traditional engineering roles—QA, web developer, software engineer, engineering manager—with some great companies including ReadyTalk, Rally Software, and MediaNews Group. On any given Saturday, you might find him reading (classical or modern literature), listening to music (prog rock) or spending time with his family (wife, 3 kids, and 2 dogs). He also enjoys binging on House of Cards, BBC television, and playing European board games like Cataan, Carcassonne, and Agricola.

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