Four summertime reads for relaxation and growth

Posted on Written by Jerald F. Robinson
Jerald F. Robinson

“Summertime, and the livin’ is easy.”

That lyric might remind us of iced tea, watermelons, canoeing, the ol’ swimmin’ hole, water skiing or other childhood activities. We were having fun, but we were also learning new skills or new ways of expressing ourselves.

You might recall having a book for summer reading, enabling you to escape the worries of the world and become engrossed. That book helped you to grow. What do you do today to grow and find ways to improve personally and professionally?

This summer, consider choosing a professional development activity — perhaps a management conference or workshop and not merely a boating convention. Or you could pick up a book or two — maybe even challenge other managers in your company to see who can read the most — and at the end of the summer have these reading champions report at an in-house workshop about what they read and how the books’ messages can be meaningful and profitable for the company.

I suggested reading as a summer fun activity in previous years, but this year I would like to recommend a few of my recent favorites — books that offer much food for thought. Your managerial work is stressful, but reading for learning can be quite a relaxing chore.

You might prefer golf or boating, but try just one of the following current books or favorites from the past. For each I am offering a teaser paragraph or two in the hope they’ll serve as hooks to capture your attention. The really good managers will probably want to read even more after they see there are lessons to be learned.

‘1001 Ways to Energize Employees’

Let’s begin with a bestseller, if not a true classic in management circles at all levels. Bob Nelson has a series of books, all with “1001 ways” to do better at some management function. In his “1001 Ways to Energize Employees” (Workman Publishing, 1997), Nelson goes beyond preaching; he offers real-world examples from various settings to develop ideas for managers in multiple settings.

He begins with the assumption that “organizations need energized people.” He builds in ideas for positive reinforcement, although this was not a common practice in the groups he studied.

One important point comes through early on: The most motivating thing one person can do for another is to listen. But how many ways can you listen? Nelson offers a multitude of ideas for listening, most of which probably will be new to you, but can easily be used when you return to the workplace.

A project manager argues that his job is removing obstacles and challenging people’s imaginations. Just how can this be done when you are not even aware of the obstacles? Nelson offers many ideas from real-world settings. Pick some and take them back to your workplace. This paperback can be read in one day as you sit by the pool or at the beach. I suggest you plan to dog-ear those pages with ideas you want to discuss with others and/or try when you return to the workplace.

‘Smart Trust’

A new Stephen Covey book has arrived: “Smart Trust” (Covey, Greg Link and Rebecca Merrill, Free Press, 2012). Covey is known as both a writer of leadership books and as a speaker and consultant. In his latest work, he argues that trust is the most important ingredient in any relationship, whether it is spousal, teacher-student, in a work setting, in politics or in overall society.

One illustration he often uses to portray a lack of trust is Dilbert cartoons. They are powerful examples of the author’s points. He examines the culture of significant business icons and seeks to find the presence of trust indicators and, in turn, to trace that trust example to its root cause. He found that in the Oprah Winfrey empire a simple statement by Oprah is the basic foundation of trust: “Keeping my word is a mandate I live by.”

Wow. That is quite an example to cite as a basis of that company’s culture development. You will find many more examples in companies you know as profitable organizations; Covey posits that the profitability is attributable, in large part, to the strong (smart) trust developed over time. It is never too late to start, he says.

This is not a one-day read. It might better be read over a week, a couple chapters a day, with time to digest the material afterward. It is certainly one to have other members of management read and discuss. A different manager could take each chapter, lead a discussion and point out how your company fits or what the misfit is. Such a discussion can itself create greater trust.

‘It’s OK to Be the Boss’

A novel way of looking at being the boss and feeling good about what you do is available in a new version of a book that is now on newsstands (“It’s OK to Be the Boss,” Bruce Tulgan, Collins Business, 2007, 2012).

Tulgan offers a basic management “course” and a step-by-step approach to being the kind of manager employees will respect and follow. He argues that managers should customize their managing to fit the employee.

Today’s manager must hold each person accountable for what is expected. Tulgan has found that most managers undermanage because they do not have a system for holding employees accountable. He offers ideas about how to do that. This book can be scanned in a day by the pool, but it will require more attention if it turns you on.

‘Drive’

Remember reading and studying Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and McGregor’s Theory X and Theory Y? A recently revived book by Daniel Pink suggests that all of the existing ideas about motivation should be reconsidered (Daniel Pink, “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us,” Riverhead Books, 2007). This is a rare book that attempts to change how you think. It offers a “paradigm-shattering” look at what truly motivates us and how we can use that knowledge to work smarter and live better. Be prepared to overwrite all that you have thought and been taught.

Most managers believe the best way to motivate ourselves and others is with external rewards such as money — the carrot-and-stick approach. All that we have studied in the 20th century has taught us this. Bob Nelson bases his book on this 20th century idea. However, that is a mistake, Pink says. The secret to high performance and satisfaction — at work, at school and at home — is the deeply human need to direct our lives, to learn and create new things and to do better by ourselves and our world.

Drawing on four decades of research on human motivation, Pink attempts to expose the mismatch between what science knows and what business does, and how that affects every aspect of life. He demonstrates that although carrots and sticks worked successfully in the 20th century, that’s precisely the wrong way to motivate people for today’s challenges. In “Drive,” Pink examines the three elements of true motivation — autonomy, mastery and purpose — and provides his techniques for putting them into action. Along the way he offers illustrations about companies that are enlisting new approaches to motivation and he introduces us to scientists and entrepreneurs who are pointing to a different way forward.

“Drive” is bursting with big ideas; on Page 231 Pink provides a website where you can take a self-assessment instrument to determine how well prepared you are to tackle the new motivational ideas. Pink’s work is not without critics. You owe it to your self-development to read this paperback (three mornings should do it) and be prepared to see whether his ideas become the norm in the 21st century.

Go to the large bookstore at the mall or the airport bookstore. All of these books should be readily available.

Good luck combining summer fun with professional development.

Jerald F. Robinson, Ph.D., is professor emeritus, international management, at the Pamplin College of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va. He can be reached at (540) 449-5870 or by e-mail: JFR@vt.edu.

This article originally appeared in the June 2012 issue.

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