Candor: A book review by Bob Morris

CandorCandor: How to have courageous coaching conversations when it really matters
Steven Stowell and Tony I. Herrara
CMOE Press (2013)

How to identify and correct ineffective patterns of communication when guiding, coaching, and giving feedback to others

In a previous book that Steve Stowell co-authored with Stephanie Mead, Strategy Is Everyone’s Job, Chapter 3 offers a case study of a fictional corporation (Galaxy) and a protagonist (Adrian) that illustrate key points. The material focuses on several leadership challenges, the most important of which (in my opinion) is the need for middle management to think strategically (Big Picture, connecting organizational “dots,” visualizing ultimate objectives) as well as tactically (execution initiatives in day-to-day operations). In terms of developing a strategic mindset as well as utilitarian skills, managers must also be leaders, as Lee eventually realizes.

The same fictional company and characters appear in this book, co-authored with Tony I. Herrara. Once again, the reader is asked to serve as one of the characters, Adrian, a senior-level executive at Galaxy. His challenge this time around is to be much more candid in his communications with those for whom he is directly responsible, notably Lee. The details of the narrative are best revealed in context. However, as Stowell and Herrera explain, their purpose is to help their readers “appreciate the vital importance of having effective conversations about challenging subjects, recognize the defensive tendencies that often hamper such conversations, and explore and practice a tested framework for facilitating balanced conversations under stress (i.e. when tensions are high or the topic is controversial).”

They introduce a five-step courageous conversation process in Chapter 7 (provided by Taylor, a recently retired former colleague of Adrian’s) and presumably they wait until then in order to serve the purposes of the plot, such as it is. Meanwhile, in Chapter One, they focus the reader’s attention on an evolving situation at Galaxy. They use direct address (“Your morning….”) and sustain through the tenth and final chapter so this is an extended business narrative that, if it were a film, the reader would be the central character, with Stowell and Harrera providing the voice over.

There are no head-snapping revelations in this book, nor do Stowell and Harrera make any such claim. The fictional case study worked in the previous book but is much less effective when called upon to bear the full weight of the narrative in this one. My guess is a chapter devoted to Adam’s briefing by Taylor would have been sufficient. In residential real estate, every home has a buyer out there, somewhere, and every business book has a reader out there, somewhere. One man’s opinion, this book will be of greatest interest and value to those who are about to assume a major supervisory role or who have only recently done so

Those in need of more thoughtful and more substantial guidance should check out Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable and Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High, Second Edition, co-authored by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler.

More a quibble than a complaint, this book needs an index and one should be added if and when there is a new edition.

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