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Three Books For The Holidays


December 17, 2015 | by Dr. Joseph St. Meyer, Senior Consultant, St. Meyer and Hubbard



The holidays are a time to wipe the windshield and see more clearly how your approach to your career is affecting your reality.



The holidays are a chance to decelerate work-involved stress and reflect on what’s important in life. Although you might be reveling in a few days away from the office, your career should be involved with the holiday festivities. By no means am I recommending that you labor as if you work for Ebenezer Scrooge. I suggest that time away from the office and the field can be a rejuvenating time, the effects of which are greater if you include some time to reflect on a broad view of your career and seek ways to adapt. The holidays are a time to wipe the windshield and see more clearly how your approach to your career is affecting your reality. As my gift to you, this article recommends three books that offer substance and insight while keeping the yawning away.


For managers and leaders (which I consider fungible in this article) reading one of these books, or any other book about leadership, is a way to consider your role in larger, more abstract terms. This is a chance to expand your views and deepen your perspective. Reading books related to your career, which encourage you to step above the daily grind, will challenge your perceptions and presumptions. Opening yourself to new ideas will catalyze your growth by providing you with new concepts and explanations.


Your relationship with your career is a habit, a state of mind that you go to bed in at night and wake up in. If you’re like many people, you know of ways you could change for the better, but either you don’t have the means or you don’t have the will. Ultimately, change is possible when you’ve lost the ability to lie convincingly to yourself. Be honest about what you secretly know, and focus your energy on being true to yourself.


So during your holiday relaxation, I encourage you to pursue the knowledge in three management books, which I promise will shine light on some darkened corner of your career. Act like a farmer, who sows seeds, cares for the soil, reaps what he had sown, and enjoys the harvest. Don’t be a grocery store clerk, who merely takes what comes his way and passes it along.


The three recommended books share themes relating to new approaches to management. Fundamentally, the concept of leadership/management is now treated as a teaching relationship. Both manager and employee are expected to believe in the organization’s values, principles, and mission. They’re each, therefore, responsible for the other’s success.


Peter Senge describes how leaders are now “designers, stewards, and teachers. They are responsible for building organizations where people continually expand their capabilities to understand complexity, clarify vision, and improve shared mental models—that is, they are responsible for learning.” [340]


Suggestion 1:

Susan Fowler, Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work…and What Does (San Francisco: Berret-Koehler Publishers, 2014)


Susan Fowler asserts that management can’t motivate us because motivation is inherent; it isn’t something that is done to someone, but comes from inside him. Her main statement is that: “People are always motivated. The question is not if, but why they are motivated.” [2] Despite motivation’s intrinsic basis, there is room for influence by leaders because, according to Fowler: “Motivation is a skill. People can learn to choose and create optimal motivational experiences anytime and anywhere.” [19] Employees in today’s work culture are expected to find within themselves a reservoir of energy and the willingness to work with management to focus it. Fowler explains that motivating people is impossible, but the leader “can help facilitate people’s appraisal process so they are more likely to experience day-to-day optimal motivation.” [18]


Appraisal should spark in the employee self-regulation and self-assessment, which are crucial activities for motivation because they are the foundation on which motivation is built. This ability and willingness to confront reality, despite its ugly side, is one of the first things necessary for motivation to have a chance. Fowler recommends that self-regulation occur as mindfulness (clear away self-obsessive thoughts and reject habitual thought patterns); values (premeditated cognitive standards and enduring beliefs chosen to be guidelines); and purposes (values-based and noble intentions lead to higher achievement). [64]


With his own understanding of himself, the employee can join his manager in a dialogue about creating and applying his optimal motivation outlook. Such an outlook helps employees “self-regulate by linking assigned tasks, goals, or projects to their developed values.” [64]


Although the leader can’t motivate someone directly, she can have a significant impact. First, during the dialogue she must accept as legitimate the employee’s feelings and emotions. She can appeal to his natural interest in particular activities and design inherently motivating projects that will set the conditions for motivation. Second, she can encourage the employee to self-assess and reflect on his attitude and performance. Listening empathically to his thoughts and feelings, she can then provide honest, descriptive, and holistic feedback. Third, with the first two steps in mind, she can ask open questions and provide structure-based options to assist the employee in assessing his goals and timelines.


Suggestion 2:

Stephen R. Covey, Principle-Centered Leadership (New York: Summit Books, 1990)


In the traditional approach to management, a Boss led based on his status, power, and control over the fate of his employees. He seemed to possess the organization. His will was an unwavering standard against which the employees had to account for themselves. The relationship between the Boss and the worker was top-down, with the worker left scrambling to read the Boss’s dictates, find the procedures required to fulfill them, while nervously awaiting either anonymity from the Boss’s ire or an authoritarian tongue lashing. Leadership was transactional; it was a deal between the leader and the led in which the latter surrendered autonomy in exchange for job security.


Stephen R. Covey has rejected this concept of workplace influence. He disagrees with the notion that a Boss is required to monitor, guide, assess, punish, and reward an employee. This role can be taken by “a set of proven principles” that are “governing social values” found in healthy societies.


Principle-Centered Leadership is the application of social laws to the daily practices and long-term intentions of an organization. Covey describes the principle- centered paradigm in this way:


"Now we work with fairness, kindness, efficiency, and effectiveness. We work with the whole person. We see that people are not just resources or assets, not just economic, social, and psychological beings. They are also spiritual beings; they want meaning, a sense of doing something that matters."


Covey recommends composing a mission statement, both personally and for the organization, which will “encompass, in one brief sentence, the core values of the organization; it creates a context that gives us meaning, direction, and coherence to everything else.” [295] “To be effective,” Covey states elsewhere, “your mission statement should deal with all four basic human needs: economic or money need; social or relationship need; psychological or growth need; and spiritual or contribution need.” [166]


Leading based on a shared mission statement and identified principles clarifies the situation between the manager and employee. The manager communicates the values-based mission of the organization, thereby signaling that her intention is to hold the employee to a high standard, which she shares, as a way to focus the employee’s energy and help him align his strategic goals with his core values and notion of his career’s meaning and purpose. She leads by clarifying the purposes, showing that behavior and values are linked, and by aligning strategies and tactics to principles, roles, and goals. [69]


The manager and the employee should also collaborate on a what Covey calls “a win-win agreement.” This is a contract between the employee and organization to establish a mutually beneficial relationship. There are five steps to set up and manage a win-win agreement: 1) specify desired results; 2) set some guidelines; 3) identify available resources; 4) define accountability; and 5) determine the consequences. [194] Such an arrangement improves the communication between the manager and employee; it contextualizes dialogue; and it spells out the plan in clear and specific terms.


For Covey, transformational leadership is the aim of principle-centered leadership, the mission statement, and the win-win agreement. This concept of leadership addresses our need for meaning as it relates to our purpose in life, values, morals, and ethics. It rises above daily affairs, short-term anxieties, and confusion between symptom and cause. The transformational leader is focused on the long-term alignment of values, principles, and procedures. She concentrates on mission and strategy. Her employees receive recognition and reward, and are given opportunities to realize their potential.


Suggestion 3:

Peter Senge, The Fifth Discipline (New York: Currency Books, 1990)


Until recently, management required control over an employee’s behavior; it was outcome oriented. Today, as Peter Senge explains, successful organizations have become dedicated to teaching employees how to think critically, clearly, and competently. They create a learning environment that fosters a sense of responsibility not only for an individual’s performance, but also for that of the organization. The employee is involved in the organization’s high-level aspirations, which are based on core values. These values shape a shared vision of what the company stands for and how it will maintain its integrity. The shared vision provides clarity, focus, and direction. Financial profit is still important, but the path to getting there involves a continuous learning process.


Senge reports that employees thrive in a learning environment in which management collaborates with them to structure the work experience around values-based intentions that align with performance aims. The result is a meaningful career that rewards the individual with a conviction of social purposefulness in his daily work.


With the new approach to management, autonomy is a significant part of the learning organization. Autonomy for the employee challenges him to gain a new discipline of personal mastery. Personal mastery releases attributes and habits that catalyze success. People who have acquired personal mastery have, according to Senge, “a special sense of purpose that lies behind their visions and goals.” [141] They see the present as an open space for new advancement, not a closed cell of daily stress. They are inquisitive, connected to others and the organization, and live in a perpetual state of learning.


According to Senge: “Leading in learning organizations involves supporting people in clarifying and pursuing their own visions, ‘moral suasion,’ helping people discover underlying causes of problems, and empowering them to make choices.” [311] To begin, the employee must be clear about his priorities, and then check them with a clarified perception of his circumstances. To accomplish this, discussing the situation with his manager would be helpful.


Susan Fowler, Peter Senge, and Stephen R. Covey agree that today’s workers are inspired by opportunities to grow, learn, and achieve. Their careers and values are linked such that financial success is most appreciated when it involves purpose and meaning. In short, they have career aspirations, not an appetite for cash or toys.





Dr. Joseph St. Meyer has earned bachelor's degrees in psychology from the University of Iowa and in history from Northern Illinois University. In 2013, Dr. St. Meyer was awarded a Ph.D. in history from Stanford University. His intellectual training focuses on the origins and developments of modern psychology, philosophy, and politics. He has taught at Stanford University and delivered research papers at universities nationally and internationally. Dr. St. Meyer is a senior consultant at St. Meyer & Hubbard. He writes about coaching and coachability, especially the relationship between thought processing and performance.