Step Up: A book review by Bob Morris

Step UpStep Up: Lead in Six Moments that Matter
Henry Evans and Colm Foster
Jossey-Bass/A Wiley Brand (2014)

How to “step up and demonstrate leadership in important moments, with or without the official title and authority to do so.

What Henry Evans and Colm Foster characterize as a “leadership moment” is by no means limited to residents of the C-Suite. Just as effective leadership is needed at all levels and in all operational areas of an organization, leaders occur there as well and — more often than not — have serious implications and significant consequences, for better or worse. Evans and Foster identify six and devote a separate chapter to each. I prefer to view these moments, rather, as guidelines or opportunities, although — as Douglas Conant and Mette Norgaard suggest in their brilliant book, TouchPoints: Creating Powerful Leadership Connections in the Smallest of Moments — at least some brief interactions can prove to be momentous.

I commend Evans and Foster on their skillful use of reader-friendly devices that include these:

o Dozens of embedded QR code (“Step UP”) links to supplementary resources
o Dozens of Figures that illustrate key points, relationships, sequences, etc.
o At the beginning of each chapter, an “Our Promise” alert to the material to be covered
o Also a “Recognize the Moment” that serves very effectively as a Head’s Pp
o At the conclusion of each chapter, a “Summary of Key Learnings” and “Your Next Steps to Step Up and [whatever].”

These are among the dozens of business subjects and issues of special interest and value to me, also listed to indicate the scope of Evans and Foster’s coverage.

o The Six Moments That Matter (Pages 1-2)
o Developing Mastery of Experiential Learning: The Process (4-6)
o Recognize the Moment to Manage One’s and Others’ Negative Emotions (12-19)
o Recognize the Moment to Be Candid (39-55)
o Recognize the Moment to Be Decisive (65-77)
o Recognize the Moment When Change(s) Must Be Made (95-108)

Note: Some of the most valuable material is provided in Chapter as Evans and Foster focus on how to recognize, accept, and then make whatever changes (however difficult, however unpleasant, however “inconvenient”) must be made…especially if the change(s) required involve one’s self.

o Recognize the Moment to Leverage Pessimism to Achieve Positive Results (125-140)
o How to Recognize the Moment When to Leverage Negative Momentum So That It Can Reverse Direction (151-159)
o It Isn’t All About You, and, Why [Creating Emotional Safety] Works (175-180)
o Two Keys to Succeeding as an Organization’s “Director of Emotional Safety” (180-183)
o Your Next Steps to Step Up and Create Emotional Safety (191-192)

Here are four brief excerpts that are representative of the thrust and flavor of Evans and Foster’s narrative style:

“The key to developing your ability to remain intelligent, even as your blood begins to boil, is to recognize that anger is not a binary, ‘either-or’ emotion. That is, there are many levels of anger. At the mildest, you are slightly irritated, and then you become frustrated. If the situation persists, you become angry; and if the emotion continues, you may become enraged. To learn to become intelligent while angry, you must start small — that is, learn to retain your thinking ability when you are merely irritated and then move on frustration and so on.” (Pages 19-20)

Openness to change is a basic personality characteristic, and although challenging mental models and cognitive biases is an effort for all of us, those who are lower on the openness-to-change scale will find doing so especially daunting. People who are highly open to change are intellectually curious and are great at starting new projects. They tend to have lots of varied interests, read a number of books at any one time, and enjoy interacting with all sorts of people.” (107)

“The leaders in an organization are the people who [begin] habitually move [end] from stating problems to finding solutions. Whenever they sense that negative momentum is building, they immediately convert to a solution-oriented dialogue. Those leaders can come from [begin] any [end] position on an organizational chart; title doesn’t matter.” (165-166)

“Great leaders create an atmosphere characterized by genuine personal connection and warmth, one where the cold light of intellect is balanced with a human touch. [Achieving the right balance between rationality and warmth] will go a long way toward creating an environment free from politics and gaming, one in which employees feel comfortable discussing real issues openly and honestly. People will be free to admit mistakes and learn real lessons as a result of reviewing both failures and successes.” (187)

Obviously, no brief commentary can possibly do full justice to the abundance of information, insights, and counsel that Henry Evans and Colm Foster provide. However, I hope I have at least indicated why I think so highly of their book. If you agree, you may also wish to check out Evans’ previously published book, Winning with Accountability: The Secret Language of High-Performing Organizations.

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