One Amazing Woman

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Title: Happiness: Elizabeth I CEO

Date Completed: 3/3/2010

Author(s): Alan Axelrod

Copyright: 2000, Prentence Hall Company

# pages: 261

Genre: Self Improvement/Leadership

ISBN: 0-7352-0357-1

I’ll start by saying that I am both a business geek and a history geek so I’m coming at this with a bias.  I really enjoyed this book.  So much so that I think it should be required reading for any high school or college business course.  But, you don’t have to be in business to get something from this book.

First of all, it is possibly the best summary of the English history during Elizabeth’s reign that I’ve come across.  The first 21 pages are a quick recap of the events leading up to Elizabeth’s coronation, and the major milestones during her long reign.  I’ve always had trouble keeping track of the Henry’s, Mary’s, and Catherine’s.  Get the book just for this summary.  I’m pretty sure you will read the rest, but if you don’t you won’t have wasted your time or money.

Second, I think there is a lesson to be learned from someone who’s father had her mother beheaded, half-sister had her thrown in jail, and still led the country without a grudge, or a feeling that she was owed something.  How many of us could leave that baggage behind and accomplish the amazing things she did?

Finally, you don’t have to be in business to be a leader.  The leadership lessons in this book are applicable to all areas of life.  Axelrod uses examples from events in Elizabeth’s life to demonstrate the lesson to be learned.  One of my favorites is regarding the English defeat of the Spanish Armada.  This is possibly the most famous clash with the Spanish – because it makes for good movies.  However, there were lots of other ways that Elizabeth got at the Spanish.  She knew she couldn’t take them on in an all-out war because England didn’t have a full army.  But, she did have the ability to hit them in small ways.  For example, she funded Sir Francis Drake to raid Spanish ships and takes resources that hurt them strategically.  He raided as a privateer, basically a pirate, not as an official representative of England.  The leadership lesson is that it isn’t always necessary to go all-in when you need to accomplish something.  If you don’t have the resources, you might be able to hit strategically and still accomplish your goal.  Well, I don’t say it as eloquently as Axelrod, but that’s why he is a published author and I’m not.

One more thing…did you know that Virginia is named for Queen Elizabeth?  Me neither.  Virginia – for the Virgin Queen.  Ok, maybe she felt she was owed a little something.

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Book 15 – Its ok to quit

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Title: The Dip: The Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick)

Date Completed: 12/13/09

Author(s): Seth Godin

Copyright: 2007, Penguin Group

# pages: 80

Genre: Self Improvement

This is one of those easy read, quick life-lesson books that you can pick up and finish in the time it takes to watch a movie.  The premise of the book is that it is ok to quit.  In order to be the best at something, you need to quit the things that you do that don’t contribute to your pursuit of being the best.  The easiest example of this is that when people are in law or medical school, they are generally focused on that, and absolutely nothing else.  There is no time for family, friends (that aren’t also in school), vacations, volunteering, or really anything that is not focused on school.

I guess the positive spin on the philosophy of quitting is to focus.  That is really what Godin is saying – to be the best, you have to be focused.  Which is a great segue to the second point that he makes – you’ve got to be in it for the long-haul.  The Dip is the point at which you have lost the initial excitement and enthusiasm you have when you start to pursue something new.  In order to be successful, you’ve got to make it through the dip and come out the other side.  If you quit somewhere in the dip, you’ve unnecessarily used a lot of resources (time, money, energy) for nothing.  You need to either quit before you get into the dip (if you determine you don’t have what it takes to get through the dip), or you have to know up front that it is going to take sacrifice, guts, and resources to get to the other side of the dip.  People who are successful ride through The Dip.

Book 12 – Tension

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Title: Unleashing the Power of Rubber Bands: lessons in non-linear leadership

Date Completed: 12/1/09

Author(s): Nancy Ortberg

Copyright: 2008, Tyndale Publishing

# pages: 272

Genre: Self Improvement/Leadership

 I’ll admit…the reason I chose this book is because it was offered as a fee download to my Sony Reader.  But, even given the reason I read it, I would recommend it to others – even if you have to pay for it. 

 The author was the head of a church at one point in her life, and so a lot of the examples that she uses are from a religious standpoint.  However, the lessons in the book are defiantly not just for people who run churches.  These are lessons that can be put to good use in any business (or life, for that matter) situation.

 One of the first concepts that she talks about is that leaders must come to understand whether the situation they are leading should be handled by ‘fixing’ it, or if it is something that can (and will never) be fixed, and therefore, the correct approach is actually to ‘manage the tension.’  This is where the title come into play.  If you have a rubber band, and you don’t stretch it to the point where there is tension, then it really isn’t doing its job.  However, you can stretch a rubber band too much – and again, it will reach a point where it isn’t doing its job (because it broke!).  So, the only way that a rubber band does its job is if you stretch it enough…but not too much.  Between enough and not too much, there are many points at which it does its job.

 A business example that I think is very common is the tension that happens between two departments in a company who have different objectives.  For example, the sales people always promise things to customers that the manufacturing team can’t deliver.  This is because each of these groups have different objectives.    This is an age-old issue that we’ve all seen happen.  Ortberg makes the argument that this is not something that can be fixed.  A leader recognizes that there is no way to solve this problem, so the right thing to do is to manage the tension.  The tension between the sales department and the delivery department is something that can’t be fixed – it must be managed.  It is really just a mind-shift from thinking that everything can be fixed to realizing that in many circumstances, the problem will always be there and your job is to manage it. 

 I don’t know what this says about me…but, this was kind-of a lightbulb moment for me.  I’m a control freak by nature, so to think that there are situations where the right answer is that it won’t be fixed is a little out-of-the-box for me. 

 There were a lot of other great lessons that I took away from this book.  One of the things that I bookmarked was that leaders let people know ‘I am committed to your success.’  I like this concept and feel like there isn’t enough of it going around these days.  At least not in my workplace.  I used to work with a group of people where this was really part of our everyday lives.  I knew that everyone I worked with was committed to my success…meaning that we were all working toward the same goal and we could only be successful individually if we were successful as a group.  It is something that I really miss, and although I was aware of it at the time, I’ve only really come to understand the true gift it was now that I don’t have it anymore.