Week three went well, at least in terms of no backsliding.
I read lots of articles and blogposts this week. I did of course read books, but am starting to wonder if I am going to be able to get through the list itself. So far, since starting the #TBR20 challenge, I’ve read four books I own. However only two of these have come from the list of books I said I’d read. Would it be cheating if I just read twenty books I own, rather than stick to the list?
This week I read Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel. The back of the book says it’s a “brilliantly told graphic memoir”. It’s billed as a sequel to Bechdel’s Fun House; where Fun House told the story of Bechdel’s father and her childhood, Are You My Mother? is about her relationship with her mother and spends some time looking at Bechdel’s love relationships and experiences in therapy as well. I enjoyed Fun House more, mainly because I wasn’t expecting to read so much about the life and work of psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott in the book. (She also touches on Adrienne Rich’s writing, along with Virginia Woolf and Alice Miller.) I suppose if I’d wanted to learn more about child psychology this might have been an easy introduction to it. As it was I found it hard going in parts. I do love Bechdel’s style and honesty and think she is a fine artist.
The other book I read, and am still reading, is Leadership Without Excuses: How to Create Accountability and High Performance (Instead of Just Talking About It) by Jeff Grimshaw and Gregg Baron.
There are so many management/leadership/Holy Grail books out there, it can be hard to take them seriously. Management guru Peter Drucker himself said: “I never read management books.” And so many of them are written by and for people who work in the for-profit sector, and their focus on “growth” can often be less than useful for those of us who work in the government sector. And I’m mindful of the danger of too much reading and pondering and not enough action.
All that said, I find that reading some of these books does help me think through what I need to do. I find that reading descriptions of situations similar to what I experience or observe at work is helpful, as this helps me realise that my situation is not unique. I don’t have a lot of opportunity to talk with peers outside MPOW about people-related issues at work, so learning about others’ experiences through books helps me. And of course more importantly, learning skills or techniques to change or improve how I do things is very helpful. Take for instance this situation, as described in chapter 2 of Leadership Without Excuses:
Recently, a marketing team working on a high-stakes project came together for two days to prioritize activities and divvy up responsibilities. At the end of the second day, with everyone exhausted, the leader summarized the notes he’d taken about commitments and next steps. “Are we all on the same page?” Everyone nodded. “Did I miss anything?” Everyone shook their heads.
At this point, our consulting colleague, Emil Bohn, the facilitator, very diplomatically noted for the record that he wasn’t buying any of it. Emil believes that in the absence of explicit evidence to the contrary, the default assumption should be that a group of people does not have shared understanding about who is doing what by when. Why? Part of it is the inherent frailty of human communication: Of course there are going to be misunderstandings to clarify. But he also believes that there is sometimes a darker motive: “We collude with each other by keeping our requests ambiguous,” Emil says. “This provides all parties with an escape route—a convenient excuse they can deploy if needed.”
So instead of asking, “Are we all on the same page?” or “What am I missing?” and accepting predictable responses, one should conclude a meeting by going around the room and asking each person to say aloud what they are committing to do and by what date.
And what happened in the important team meeting when the tired participants did as Emil suggested? The same thing that happens every time he tries this experiment: Instant incredulity and scoffing at the prospect of such a mindnumbing activity, followed by resignation to it (Emil never backs down!), followed by the humbling discovery that more than half the people in the room had no idea what they had just committed to do by nodding their heads in agreement.
What I liked about this tip is that it’s a concrete and simple thing to do, to build understanding and accountability. I also like the fact that I’d figured this technique out myself and have used it when working on projects with a team of people. (Not to blow my own trumpet or anything ) Leadership Without Excuses is just the book I need at the moment – helping me work things out and plan for work.
In other news, I managed to wander around the shops this weekend and not buy anything except two cakes of soap! So one unexpected outcome of this challenge might be a change to my spendthrift, insane consumer habits – which is a good thing. (I have considered that when I get through the twenty I could well lurch into a mad splurge. We’ll see.)
What will week four bring? I have just started reading Clive James’ Poetry Notebook.