The Book Corner

Faculty Members Review the Latest Business Books

2006 Volume 9 Issue 4

Featured in this issue:

Financial Intelligence: A Manager’s Guide to Knowing What the Numbers Really Mean

By Karen Berman, Joe Knight, and John Case
Harvard Business School Press, 2006

Recommended by Steven Ahn, Adjunct Professor of Finance

Financial Intelligence is a different type of “finance for non-financial managers” book. It covers financial management from a non-technical perspective and provides guidance on financial decision making in a world of imperfect information. Due to its organization, clarity, and practical prioritization of financial objectives such as optimizing cashflows, managing capital, and maximizing return on investment, Financial Intelligence is another good how-to guide in a sea of similar books.

What sets this book apart is as much about the information that is excluded as what is included and how it is explained. The authors de-emphasize accounting profitability, which makes the book all the more practical. They avoid developing the notion of “financial intelligence” into some ethereal mindset, but use it as a term for awareness and the ability to effectively apply financial tools and concepts in all business activities. The authors acknowledge that financial management is an art, but avoid dwelling on the science aspect of such management since the book is not intended to be an academic or technical reference. This cautionary stance and attention to avoiding pitfalls beginning with the first chapter, “You Can’t Always Trust the Numbers” shows importantly that in financial management, knowing what questions to ask and being able to identify inconsistencies are as important as mastering financial management techniques themselves.

One exceptional though subtle aspect of the book is the implicit notion that financial management should be passive in terms of serving a facilitating, enabling role. This book illustrates the true purpose of financial management for a firm of any size, effectively facilitating the strategic value-maximization operations of the business rather than being an active profit center or breeding ground for non-core activities and rogue opportunism.

As a practical guidebook, Financial Intelligence adequately serves its targeted readership financial managers of small to medium-sized businesses, non-financial professionals in larger companies, entrepreneurs, and C-level executives. The book also gives any recent MBA graduate practical ways to apply financial tools learned in business school, a big picture of the various integrated aspects of financial management, and a subtle reminder of the ethics-laced purpose of financial management within any organization.

In short, Berman and Knight enhance the standard what you need to know approach with a practical dose of what you need to do, provide helpful tools that assist you in spotting what you need to beware of, and offer a subtle ethics reminder of what you should always do three important components of acquiring true “financial intelligence.”

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Encouraging the Heart: A Leader’s Guide to Rewarding and Recognizing Others

By James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner
Jossey Bass, a Wiley Imprint, 2003

Recommended by Farzin Madjidi, EdD; Director of EdD in Organizational Leadership, Pepperdine Graduate School of Education and Psychology

Kouzes and Posner are best known for their book The Leadership Challenge, currently in its third edition. Their Leadership Practices Inventory, LPI, is widely used in 360-degree employee-executive-subordinate reviews. In The Leadership Challenge, the authors identify five practices in which leaders with extraordinary successes engage. As the title suggests, this book focuses on the practice Encouraging the Heart.

The book is divided into three parts. Part 1 is based on the work of the Center for Creative Leadership and Daniel Goleman, the guru of Emotional Intelligence, among others. The authors build a compelling case that leaders who rely on soft skills produce superior results and business climates than do those who exercise strict control over their subordinates. They argue that today’s employees are starved for recognition and that most managers and leaders do not know how to properly give employees positive feedback.

In the second part of the book, Kouzes and Posner present the seven essentials of encouragement. They also provide an assessment tool, the “Encouragement Index,” which measures the degree of one’s competency in encouragement. The authors next break down the seven essentials and explain each concept with examples drawn from leaders with whom they have worked. Finally they offer 150 techniques that readers can use to practice, develop, and express their own “voice” their own approaches to encouragement.

This book is most useful for emerging business managers and leaders in private, public, for profit, and non-profit settings. Teachers and parents can equally benefit from the essentials and the techniques offered in the book as well as seasoned executives who struggle with their people skills.

At a first glance, the formulaic approach of the book may give a mechanical flavor to the soft art of encouraging the heart, and the book appears to be stating much that is obvious. For example, one chapter details how to tell a story. Who doesn’t know that? However, closer examination reveals that much of what we may view as obvious to us may not be what we are proficient at exercising. In fact, storytelling is an art featuring techniques that can help managers recognize their people’s talents more effectively. Therein lies the value of this work: the step-by-step techniques to help managers improve on what appears to be so simple to do, yet so difficult to do well.

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The Encouraging the Heart Workbook

By James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner
Jossey Bass, a Wiley Imprint, 2006

Recommended by Sam Farry, MBA, Adjunct Faculty of Applied Behavioral Science

This workbook is about leadership. Doing something with heart is a metaphor for doing it enthusiastically, willingly, and with a positive attitude. This attitude makes it easier to lead and leaves more energy for top performance and improvement.

Encouraging the heart means connecting in a personal way with the people you lead. This does not mean just engaging them at the head level in terms of ideas or data or in a matter of fact or neutral way. Instead, it means connecting with them person-to-person. Doing so communicates that you listen and that you care, that you are truly interested in the other person and are willing to share some of your humanness. You encourage those you lead by expecting their best and recognizing and rewarding their efforts and results.

The book can be worthwhile for anyone seeking to improve his or her leadership skills. It is both research based and inspiring. As the word workbook in the title implies, this book is not merely a read, but is primarily a do it manual. It stimulates thought, reflection and action. The value of the book lies in each reader’s experience as he or she is guided through a series of provocative exercises to increase skill in the component activities of the practice of encouraging the heart. For example, you start your journey by examining your values and your own reactions to praise and attention. You assess how you relate to others in your current leadership practices. Then you look at each of these activities one by one in terms of what each entails, what they mean to you, how you practice them, and ideas for improving them. The book concludes with an extended list of specific ideas that will contribute to your practice of encouraging the heart.

There is little doubt that your reading journey will be valuable. However, if your reading experience is like mine, the book does take persistence to complete. Furthermore, this book would undoubtedly be most meaningful if you and other committed learners would together undertake reading and practicing its precepts and working independently, but sharing experiences as you proceed.

Although this workbook stands alone, it addresses only a part of the total leadership process. I recommend that you approach the book’s practices in the context of other works, such as The Leadership Challenge and the companion book Encouraging the Heart by the same authors.

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Smarter, Faster, Better: Strategies for Effective, Enduring, and Fulfilled Leadership

By Karlin Sloan with Lindsey Pollak
Jossey Bass, a Wiley Imprint, 2006

Recommended by Rick Hesse, DSc, Professor of Decision Sciences

This title grabbed me. The irony about a book like this, which distills Sloan’s experience in helping leaders prioritize their lives, is that if you can make time to read the book, you’re halfway there! It is like listening in on several one-on-one sessions that coach leaders on how to be smarter, better, and faster.

It is easy to read a bit at a time and with some judicious underlining, you can very quickly review the book’s flow. Within a week’s reading, you should have a good perspective on what can make you smarter, faster, better as a leader or manager.

The author does a good job of explaining how to achieve leadership strategies “smarter, faster, and better,” yet each of these three attributes is a paradox. To be “smarter” means accepting the limitations of not knowing everything, asking questions, and finding people who know the answers. Einstein was once asked what the value of pi was. He replied that he didn’t know, but that he could look it up! Asking questions implies asking the right questions. Authors Sloan & Pollak urge us to embrace and cultivate our curiosity to help create visions that can be shared. The authors also encourage surrounding yourself with people who have diverse talents and appreciating their respective different views and skills.

To be “faster” means to slow down, simplify your life, and concentrate on the essentials. Frederick Taylor discovered 100 years ago that laborers worked four times faster when given rest breaks every hour. These days multitasking robs us of our time and energy, yet gives us the illusion that we are accomplishing something. The fact is that we are spread so thin that we are not effective at accomplishing any of our tasks. Thus we are advised to not only prioritize our tasks, but also our values, and to prioritize the task of prioritizing!Finally, the authors urge us to use our time and energy wisely by slowing down and doing less.

To be “better” means to be “better with others” rather than “better than others.” This means working with your people, not competing against them or with other companies, and viewing success and power as something that is shared. This strategy also points to being involved with something larger than merely yourself a transcendent goal for the leader and the organization being led.

Exercises used with many clients over a period of years and proven effective appear throughout the book and guide the reader to start practicing these skills and to tailor them to fit each individual.

In short, if you want to be smarter, faster, and better, read this book!

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Leviathans: Multinational Corporations and the New Global History

By Alfred D. Chandler, Jr. and Bruce Mazlish, Editors
Cambridge University Press, 2005

Recommended by Sean D. Jasso, PhD, Practitioner Faculty of Economics

Leviathans is an important collection of essays with the simple, yet profound objective of fully illuminating the characteristics of the multinational corporation (MNC). Chandler and Mazlish, both distinguished scholars in the fields of business history and globalization, build from Thomas Hobbes’ seventeenth-century book Leviathan, the thesis of which is that the sovereign state or nation is an “artificial creation, representing a physical body and a human mind and soul.” Also a human creation, the new Leviathan has in many instances surpassed the power of the state in the form of the multinational corporation.

The inspiration of the book stems from a United Nations’ statistic that of the “100 entities with the largest gross national product, about half were multinational corporations. This meant that by this measure these big MNCs were larger and wealthier than about 120 to 130 nation-states.”

Leviathans is essential reading for today’s manager, who is immersed in the language of outsourcing, cost-reduction, profit-maximization, shareholder value, globalization, and transparency, etc. The book offers insightful historical and case analyses to teach global market stakeholders (basically everyone who has a job, buys products and services, and wants an improved standard of living) where the MNC has been, where it is today, and what the predictions are for the future.

The authors reach back to the 1500s as the benchmark for modernization and follow the enterprise enterprise being the key word portraying an organization whose aim is to allocate resources to satisfy demand and to produce wealth to the present day. The new leviathan, therefore, surfaces as a major economic, political, and social influence characterized by the enterprise’s need for international movement of capital, labor, resources, ideas, and technology.

In addition to rich historical context, the book provides objective statistics that reveal the MNC’s enormous world impact. The authors do a good job of offering balanced studies illustrating how the MNC has played both positive and negative roles in the shaping of the last five hundred years most significantly the years following World War II to the present day. One of the most compelling chapters is the essay entitled “Global Elite” which measures the global scale of single organizations and nations exemplified by conglomerates such as General Electric or the United States, both holding worldwide, hegemonic influence upon capitalism, wealth distribution, democratization, and jurisprudence.

Ultimately, the book challenges the reader as a practitioner of globalization by asking hard questions about the moral, ethical, and strategic implications that the enterprise of the 21st century encounters daily from this artificial creation called globalization and the wake of its instrument called the MNC.

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The Wisdom Network: An 8-Step Process for Identifying, Sharing And Leveraging Individual Expertise

By Steve Benton and Melissa Giovagnoli
AMACOM, 2006

Recommended by Charles P. Leo, PhD, Adjunct Faculty of Organizational Behavior

The Wisdom Network presents worthwhile ideas and recommendations for organizations of all sizes and industries, including both profit and non-profit organizations. The authors discuss eight steps to implement the “wisdom network.”

In discussing these eight steps, the author includes examples and anecdotal information that further clarifies the major themes presented in this book. Of particular value is the way that the authors contrast traits and characteristics of “conventional organizational teams” with their concepts of “organization learning teams.” Another strong theme the book includes is judging new ideas on their merit, rather than on their place of origin. The authors’ recommendation that management should be open to the “unexpected expert” makes good business sense. Management should encourage the regular sharing of work-related problems and solutions, and become an advocate for a well-defined knowledge management policy.

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Mastering Business Negotiation: A Working Guide to Making Deals & Resolving Conflict

By Roy J. Lewicki and Alexander Hiam
Jossey Bass, a Wiley Imprint, 2006

Recommended by Jeffrey Schieberl, JD, MBA, Practitioner Faculty of Business Law

The new book by Lewicki and Hiam joins several others in the crowded category of negotiations and conflict resolution. Based on research, Mastering Business Negotiation offers viable approaches to a variety of business as well as personal matters.

Interestingly, the authors are of the view that although in a strict sense, one is not required to engage in negotiations, the alternative is clearly unattractive. While the reader would do well to have a basic understanding of the dynamics of negotiating and conflict resolution, the stated purpose of this book is to relieve the reader of the need to spend years studying that literature because the authors have ferreted out the most salient and valuable elements on the topic and have presented them in a manner in which the reader can readily understand and apply without being overwhelmed with the specialized vocabulary of the study of negotiations and conflict resolution.

The book begins by addressing the “Negotiation Imperative.” The notion of negotiation is very broadly defined as the “daily give-and-take of social interactions.” It would seem that most people do not realize when they are negotiating. Lewicki and Hiam explore a variety of negotiating styles and pose the cogent question to the reader about the style or approach that they instinctively use in negotiation.

The authors advise readers that negotiation is not a “random process.” There are predictable steps or stages in negotiating. An intriguing assertion by the authors is that negotiation is appropriately characterized as a “game.” That is, negotiating has established rules, and the outcomes of many negotiations are somewhat predictable.

However, Lewicki and Hiam argue persuasively that preparation for negotiation is crucial and that such preparatory foresight often dictates the negotiation’s outcome. The book explores aspects of negotiation and conflict resolution such as competitive negotiations, the art of collaboration and compromise, the need for accommodation, multiparty negotiations, and the impacts of power.

The last chapter of the book entitled “Mastering Personal Negotiations” is the only discussion of negotiation principles in the context of non-business matters. It is a valuable exploration of the concepts, principles and techniques presented in the preceding eleven chapters regarding scenarios as mundane as buying a used car, planning a wedding, or entering into a home repair contract. In each of these scenarios, the authors offer basic advice to the reader: Do your research and communicate clearly with the other party.

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The Age of Fallibility: The Consequences of the War on Terror

By George Soros
Public AffairsTM, a member of the Perseus Books Group, 2006

Recommended by Darrol Stanley, PhD, Professor of Finance, and Carole Stanley

George Soros is a self-made, highly successful financier who has emphasized “far from the equilibrium” investment strategies. Soros has been called “the man who broke the Bank of England” due to his brilliant currency trading of the British pound. The Age of Fallibility‘s tone is such that you might conclude that this is his last intellectual contribution. At age 75, he has indeed made his mark, the shadow of which will reach outward through his numerous philanthropic foundations.

The book is divided into two parts. The first develops his conceptual framework based on the work of Karl Pepper, his final year tutor at the London School of Economics. The framework centers on an open society that is built on the interaction of freedom, government, and inherent imperfection. Soros’ orientation often seems pessimistic, perhaps due to the fact that he is a Jewish-Hungarian survivor of the World War II Nazi occupation of Hungary. Yet his comment that mankind’s power over nature has progressed faster than mankind’s ability to govern may indeed be correct.

The second part of his book applies his conceptual framework to an open dialogue regarding situations existing in the world today. Here we partially recount them from our perspective of not only what we believe Soros is saying, but also from their order of importance as well.

  1. Soros believes that this century could be called the Age of the Rogue Nations. Almost everyone can accept the fact that the world is being signally impacted by terrorists. Soros believes that events and actions are rapidly bringing rogue nations into a cooperative relationship. He sees such nations coming together potentially to advance their own interests to the detriment of that of the West, whose lifestyle such nations intend to destroy. He indicts Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld for their failure to develop a workable anti-terrorism policy after 9/11. He passionately believes that America’s response has actually unified rogue nations’ ever increasing tendency to support one another in achieving their individual goals. Ultimately, Soros appears to conclude that the western world as we know it could very well be destroyed due to this “far-from-equilibrium” situation.
  2. Soros is convinced that American society is in serious difficulty. He suggests that America was turning into a “feel good” society before 9/11, and that the country thereafter accelerated its pace in that direction. He attributes this U.S. trend primarily to the rise of consumerism and its application to politics. Soros maintains that America’s presidents reflect this change. From the time of a “can-do” and “call it what it is” Harry Truman, he notes that the U.S. in modern times now has presidents and a government unwilling to attest to reality. He believes that if this “feel good” orientation prevails over the “can-do” orientation, America is doomed.
  3. Although Soros is not against globalization, he is very concerned about it. However, he firmly believes that the current form of globalization is flawed. He believes that the U.S. has global markets with no political institutions to match them. Globalization is, of course, complicated by the challenge and the economic power of rogue nations.
  4. Soros cites a number of other serious problems that have been highly publicized by many others as well, among them issues centered on the effects of global warming, real estate overvaluations, the implied overvaluations of other financial assets, and the global energy crisis. These issues are, however, secondary to his major themes.

This book is well worth reading; a mere book review does not do it justice. Soros, as author of a book and indeed a member of the “thinking rich,” develops a convincing argument that not only America, but also the world is entering a “far-from-equilibrium” condition. The failure to return to equilibrium will have dire financial, social, and geo-political consequences. Yet Soros remains optimistic in his view that America, and only America, due to its unique position and clearly open society, has the ability to alter the equilibrium condition. He remains hopeful that America will elect leadership wise enough to continue “Pax America” and to stabilize world equilibrium.

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The Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) Handbook of Coaching: A Guide for the Leader Coach

By Sharon Ting and Peter Scisco
The Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), 2006

Reviewed by Nelson Zagalsky, PhD and John Rehfeld, Adjunct Faculty of Marketing

The CCL Handbook of Coaching includes some practical advice for business leader coaches. However, its primary value seems not to stem from its presentation of and references to the Center for Creative Leadership’s (CCL) coaching process or to its inclusion of material specifically relevant to the Leader Coach, on whom the book is focused. Instead, we found the book to be a collection of somewhat useful articles on topic areas such as: Foundations of Coaching, Coaching for Special Populations, Coaching for Specific Leadership Challenges and Capacities, Coaching Techniques, and Extending the Coaching Practice. Furthermore, the book’s bibliographies are quite extensive.

The first section describes some special considerations that need to be taken into account by leader coaches. All three chapters under “Coaching for Specific Leadership Challenges and Capacities” provide useful information. We particularly liked the summary of Daniel Goleman’s Model of Emotional Competence in the chapter on Coaching for Emotional Intelligence.

We also liked the “Seven Important Elements to Coach for During Times of Transition” in the chapter on Coaching Leaders through Change and Transition. The Model of Exercise Behavior in the chapter on Coaching for Physical Well-Being provides a nice framework for determining how to move clients experiencing different stages of exercise behavior into more intensive exercise practices. We also found the chapter on coaching senior leaders to be somewhat useful, especially the compilation of coaching themes for senior leaders.

Of the three chapters on Coaching Techniques, only the one on Brief Solution-Focused Coaching seemed very useful. The ones on Artful Coaching and Constructive-Developmental Coaching address coaching methods that we suggest may be too specialized for the Leader Coach, or even the majority of external professional coaches.

In summary, while we might like to keep a copy of the book in a reference library to refer to on occasion when wrestling with the design of a coaching program, we believe its value lies in being a collection of useful material on a few special coaching topics, not necessarily as a unified guide for the Leader Coach.

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Focus Like a Laser Beam: 10 Ways to Do What Matters Most

By Lisa Haneberg
Jossey-Bass, 2006

Recommended by Sam Farry, MBA, Adjunct Faculty of Applied Behavioral Science

This book is about practical, simple, and specific things one can do to improve his or her leadership. Likely to appeal most to aspiring and developing managers, this book’s idea of focus seems to refer to effectiveness: that is, how to improve your effectiveness as a leader. To echo the celebrated management thinker Peter Drucker, a critical distinction exists between the concepts of efficiency and effectiveness. In today’s parlance, efficiency means essentially to stay the course, while at the same time trying to get more for less cost.

Effectiveness, on the other hand means doing the “right” things that will lead you to where you really want and need to go. The book’s author believes that the current global business scene requires effectiveness more than ever. I concur.

Perhaps paradoxically, this book on focus appears initially to lack focus. However, as it explains its constituting metaphor, a laser beam, this early impression changes. One comes to see that in order to get the concentrated power of a laser, photons need to be bounced among light-excited atoms and mirrors at the ends of a laser tube until enough energy is amassed to allow the photons of the same color and wavelength to escape through an optical opening at one end of the tube. Thus, they achieve the desired intensity, coherence, and direction. The idea is that in leadership as well, in order to truly focus, a lot of energy must be amassed, aligned for coherence, and aimed.

My original impression was that, like the excited atoms, the book was a rather diffuse and bewildering array of things to do, how to do them, sources for determining how to do them and examples of how and where they have been done. However, soon the book fused all of these characteristics into an organized, sequential set of three essential qualities and activities. Three, rather than 30 or 40 items seem to make the idea of focus easier to assimilate and also illuminate the author’s suggested process for effective leadership. Further, the apparently scattered what and how to dos actually represent a worthwhile collection of leadership practices to reference and to try out. Thus, according to this model, focus, and therefore effectiveness can occur when there are enough of these qualities and activities in play to sufficiently bring together one’s people and resources to move toward particular and desirable goals.

The book is a quick and easy read. It addresses issues with examples that are easy for both women and men to relate to. In a very short space it prompts one to appreciate, not only that effective leadership consists of many parts, but that these actions must be practiced, that it helps to try-out new and even seemingly foolish things and that there is a coherent process for bringing these actions together to focus on desired objectives.

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About the Author(s)

Graziadio Business Review, is an online journal that delivers relevant business information and analysis for business, government, and non-profit managers. From accounting and finance to ethics and work/life balance, the Graziadio Business Review extends current business debates in new directions that you can use to advance your business and professional career.

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