Thursday, September 25, 2008

Using Your Smarts

As many industry titans like Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, and AIG have either bitten the dust or been forced into shotgun weddings with other firms, the judgment of CEOs has come under the scrutiny of investors, financial news analysts, think tanks, and business management schools. How timely, then, is Smarts: Are We Hard Wired for Success? authored by Chuck Martin, Peg Dawson, and Richard Guare. As noted in the “Top Shelf “column in the Summer 2007 issue of the American Management Association’s journal MWorld, the book reflects on 12 indispensable skills that define executives. Of those, 3 have become common refrains in my writing classes more than ever: self-restraint, task initiation, and observation.

In writing, a lack of self-restraint leads to all sorts of tone problems, especially in the gun-slinging, high-flying world of e-mail and text messaging. Being too hotheaded about someone or something can cause long lasting problems. Remember the Sonny Corleone character in The Godfather? His gut-response expression of interest in a deal with drug lord Virgil “The Turk” Sollozzo not only embarrassed his father and the Family, but ultimately led to a five-family war and to his own death.

As for task initiation, think about a time that you might have sat on something far too long, your self-restraint going to the extreme point of paralysis. That thank-you note you wrote but did not send would have kept you in the client’s memory long enough for him to invite you in the door one more time. Or that proposal you didn’t muster the courage to write to your boss eventually landed on her desk anyway, but it was penned by a teammate who was rewarded with a promotion. An over-the-top example of waiting too long pops up in Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations, when the fickle Estella and ambitious Pip squander their youth on glamorous yet shallow and separate lives without the enduring love they could have given each other.

Observation: What hasn’t been said about this talent? Being able to step outside oneself and at first look at the situation for what it is and not for what you think it should be is so important to actually changing it when it’s bad and to maintaining it when it’s good. Have you read troubleshooting reports that missed key details of transpired events or policy directives that in true dictatorial fashion do not give the rationale for the procedural change? Before calling these omissions a sign of indifference or arrogance, be sure the writer has not simply forgotten or never learned to include those points. I recall the episode “To Serve Man” from the 1960s TV sci-fi hit The Outer Limits. The Kanamits were aliens arriving on Earth “to serve man”; little did we delighted humans know that the Kanamits left out one important detail: They did not want to be our servants but to serve us on a plate as their supper. So much for our power of observation!

Our self-restraint, initiative, and observation indeed go a long way toward keeping us at the top of our writing game. Smarts would make for a quick and easy read as we relate the 12 cited executive skills to our developmental needs as writers.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Teach Them and Keep Them

“The Key to Retaining Top Talent” by Gail Finger (MWorld, Spring 2008) discusses ways of engaging employees to keep them focused on the organization and on the lookout for innovation. Finger argues for launching appropriate training and coaching, especially in times of radical change—and when isn’t there change in any business endeavor? As she explains, “During times of change and stress, it’s natural for people to revert back to the old, comfortable way of doing things. Training topics quickly get lost in the pressures of day-to-day work.”

For this reason, among others, I have noticed that many of my clients are calling for shorter, more specific writing programs tailored to specific topics, such as accident investigations, audit reports, grant proposals, lab analyses, executive summaries, and writing quickly. Rather than scratch the idea of cultivating talent, the best training managers continually seek ways of nurturing those who show the greatest potential and commitment.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

From the Education Minded to the Business Minded

I first heard about psychologist Howard Gardner when his highly theoretical Frames of Minds (1983) proclaimed his theory of multiple intelligences (MI), which became the mantra for schoolteachers interested in challenging the whole child and respecting different forms of intelligence. Gardner explained that humans have seven intelligences (linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, ad intrapersonal), and in 1999 her added an eighth, naturalistic, to account for those highly skilled in environmental concerns.

Nearly a quarter-century later, Gardner's Five Minds for the Future (Harvard Business School Publishing, 2007), adapts MI theory for a broader audience, extending beyond the classroom to the office, board room, laboratory--virtually anywhere. The Fall 2007 issue of MWorld captures the sound bites from the author himself on those five minds: the disciplined mind, the synthesizing mind, the creating mind, the respectful mind, and the ethical mind. All five contribute to the achievement of a successful thinker.

Friday, September 05, 2008

MWORLD in My World

The American Management Association’s MWorld is an excellent publication for businesspeople looking for practical ideas when planning key initiatives or making strategic moves. The quarterly journal has great feature articles on industry leaders, such as Douglas R. Conant, President and CEO of Campbell Soup Company (Fall 2007); Fred Hassan, Chairman and CEO of Schering-Plough (Winter 2007-2008); Tom Finn, President of Procter & Gamble’s Global Health Care Division (Spring 2008); and Edward J. Ludwig, President and CEO of Becton, Dickinson and Company (Summer 2008). Experts on industry trends also make brief but salient appearances. Recent stories have included mind guru Howard Gardner, author of Frames of Mind and Fives Minds for the Future; Erich Joachimsthaler, whose Hidden in Plain Sight has bolstered his reputation as a go-to guy on seismic opportunities for corporations; Donald L. Kirkpatrick and James D. Kirkpatrick, authors of Implementing the Four Levels, an important book for corporate training managers looking to determine value in their course offerings; and Chuck Martin, Peg Dawson, and Richard Guare, whose book Smarts explores the skills vital for executives to thrive today.

Florence M. Stone, Editor of MWorld, one of the best in the publishing industry, is a master of summarizing. In the brief space allotted (the publication usually runs 48 pages), she manages to pack a great deal of useful information from diverse sources, and she succeeds in keeping the stories fresh and concise in a familiar, readable format.

I’ll be dedicating the September postings of this blog to some hot topics gleaned from MWorld.