Tuesday, January 18, 2005

3 Books on Action Inquiry by Leaders and Managers

By Moje Ramos-Aquino, FPM
Paradigms & Paradoxes Corporation

A Bias for Action: How effective managers harness their willpower, achieve results, and stop wasting time
By Heike Bruch & Sumantra Ghoshal
Harvard Business School Press

Action Inquiry: the secret of timely and transforming leadership
By Bill Torbert and Associates
Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

Inspire! What great leaders do
By Lance Secretan
John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Bruch and Ghoshal recall the origin of the phrase: Crossing the Rubicon:

“On January 11, 49 B.C., Julius Caesar made a crucial decision: to cross the river Rubicon with his army, thereby effectively declaring civil war against Pompey, who held power in Rome. With the words alea iacta est (the die is cast), Caesar resolved to return with his leions to the city. Once he crossed the Rubicon and ventured into the Roman heartland, he knew there was no turning back. Either he and his soldiers would take the city, or Pompey would destroy them.”

The authors aver that Caesar’s decision changed the course of history. “Before he crossed the river, taking Rome had been merely an idea, a wishful desire that he might achieve. After the crossing, it became an unalterable course, with the force of his whole will behind it—which in itself practically ensured success.”

Bruch and Goshal assert that to move from “motivation” to “willpower,” a manager must undergo precisely this decisive shift to total commitment. “Managers who engage the power of their will typically have crossed their own personal Rubicon. Before it, a person experiences desire—the driving force behind often volatile and superficial motivation. At that time, a person can always go back.”

A Bias for Action gives actionable tips for harnessing our willpower to achieve results, distinguishing active nonaction (endless meetings, emails and phone calls) from purposeful action, marshaling energy and focus and, thereby, crossing our own Rubicon. It also advocates cultivating a company of action takers by developing purposeful managers, unleashing organizational energy for collective action and freeing people to act. It gives instructions on how organizations can move from Corrosion, Resignation and Comfort Zones to productive Zone and stay there a long while. The authors remind us that management is the art of doing and getting done.

On the other hand, Bill Torbert bats for Action Inquiry (AI) as a transforming leadership skill to finally make things happen. He asserts that AI is not a set of prescriptions for behavior that, when followed, invariably manipulate situations as we initially wish and yield the success we dreamed of. He says AI is not a process that can be followed in an imitative, mechanical way, learning a few ideas and imagining that parroting them back to others occasionally means we are doing AI.

Torbert claims that AI begins we (any one of us, or any family, or organization) experience some sort of gap between t\what we wish to do and what we are able to do. Ai is simultaneously productive and self-assessing.

Tolbert identifies four parts of speech used in AI:

1. Framing – explicitly stating what the purpose is for the present occasion, what the dilemma is that everyone is at the meeting to resolve, what assumptions are shared or not shared. That is, to put one’s perspective as well as understanding of the others’ perspectives out onto the table for examination.
2. Advocating – explicitly asserting an option, perception, feeling, or strategy for action in relatively abstract terms, e.g. “We’ve got to get shipments out faster.” “Do you have a pen?” is a question which is easily answerable by a no. In contrast, “I need a pen (advocacy). Do you have an extra one (inquiry)?” might yield an answer like, “No, but there’s a whole box in the secretary’s office.”
3. Illustrating – telling a bit of a concrete story that puts meat on the bones of the advocacy and thereby orients and motivates others more clearly. For example, “We’ve got to get shipments out faster (advocacy). Our biggest client has got a rush order of his own, and he needs our parts before the end of the week (illustration).”
4. Inquiring –questioning others in order to learn something from them. In principle, Tolbert reminds, the simplest thing in the world; in practice, one of the most difficult things in the world to do effectively. One reason is that we often inquire rhetorically, as we just did. We don’t give the other the opportunity to respond; or we suggest by our tone that we don’t really want a true answer. “How are you?” we say a dozen times each day not really wanting to know. “You agree, don’t you?” makes it clear what answer we want.

The author also writes that AI is a way of organizing and proceeded with how this is done. Read the book and find out how.

I love quotations and the book Inspire! has lots of them because it deals precisely with inspiring people to act. Author Secretan says motivation is something we “do” to someone; inspiration is something that is the result of a soulful relationship.

This book is a good companion on chilly evenings like we are having nowadays (thanks to the winds from Siberia) and it also helps us plan for the next day. Read the book for tips and how-to’s on many topics of inspiring self and others. Meanwhile, let us meditate on some of the quotations:
• Keep your fears to yourself, but share your inspirations with others (Robert Louis Stevenson)
• Life is change. Growth is optional. Choose wisely. (Karen Kaiser Clark)
• Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever. (Mahatma Gandhi)
• Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the pay-it-safers, the creatures of commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary. (Sir Cecil Beaton)
• Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen. (Albert Einstein)
• I’ve had many problems in my life—most of which never happened. (Mark Twain)
• Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves. (Carl Gustav Jung)
• Most of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to get their jobs done. (Peter Drucker)
• I don’t dream at night, I dream all day; I dream for a living. (Steven Spielberg)
• Courage is the power to let go of the familiar. (Raymond Lindquist)


Balanced Scorecard Step-by-Step: Maximizing performance and maintaining results
By Paul R. Niven
John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

The Strategy Maps: Converting intangible assets into tangible outcomes
By Robert S. Kaplan & David P. Norton
Harvard Business School Press

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