Book Review: Leading from the Roots-Nature-Inspired Leadership Lessons for Today’s World by Dr. Kathleen E. Allen

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“Leadership today is about unlearning management and relearning being human.” – Javier Pladevall, CEO of Volkswagen Audi Retail

You know I like a book when I mark it up with post-its, write notes in the margins, highlight certain passages and nod my head along like one of those bobble-head figurines. Which is exactly what I did while reading Dr. Kathleen E. Allen’s fascinating, timely and revolutionary’s book Leading from the Roots: Nature-Inspired Leadership Lessons for Today’s World.

This book implores organizational leaders (and pretty much anyone else with a stake in the workplace) to look beyond the confines of the physical spaces where we toil to nature and how it can help us and our companies thrive.

Leading from the Roots is divided into 11 well-researched,  and finely-written chapters on concepts like cooperation, diversity, lack of waste, curbing excess, the power of limits and so much more.

Each chapter gives ample evidence on how nature can help worker’s productivity and commitment to their jobs and how simple it is to work these practices into the workplace that won’t break the bank, take up too much time, or distract us from our tasks at hand. Dr. Allen provides ample evidence through both her extensive end notes and bibliography. And each chapter concludes with a summary of the chapter’s main focus and points to ponder and discuss.

Simply put, Leading from the Roots inspired me. Dr. Allen’s lessons are doable, practical and very audience-friendly. It’s ideal for everyone-managers, workers, students and grads, religious leaders, politicians, activists, teachers, creative types, social workers, medical personal, entrepreneurs, and so on.

Leading from the Roots is a great addition to my book shelf. I highly suggest you add it to your book shelf.

Book Review: Herding Tigers-Be the Leader That Creative People Need by Todd Henry

“Much of the dysfunction and tension that exists in the workplace is the result of highly creative people’s needs not being met. If you step back and examine the patterns, you’ll find that a lot of bad behavior occurs when there is poor or inattentive leadership”-Todd Henry

And that, my fellow citizens of the Island of the Misfit Creatives is the gist of Toddy Henry’s practical, timely and eye-opening book Herding Tigers: Be the Leader That Creative People Want.

There is an idea that dealing and managing creative types is like managing cats, but Todd thinks that idea is insulting to creative types. No, it’s more like herding tigers-creative types are often brilliant, driven and need the proper environment to bring all their talents that provide results that satisfy management, clients and yes, creative types.

After a brief introduction, the book leads off with a chapter on what creative people need. It also dispels myths about creative types. These myths include concepts like creative types wanting full control to create and we’re obsessed with working on ideas that are considered “cool.” Creative types are totally insecure (when we aren’t being total egomaniacs). Creative types are flaky and flighty and lack analytical ability and business acumen.

Okay, we got the myths out of the way. But what do we need in the workplace? Creative people need both stability (clarity and protection) and challenge (permission and faith) to thrive in the workplace.

Now, this is easier said than done and Henry builds on this theory throughout Herding Tigers. After providing us a clear mantra on what creatives need. Herding Tigers divides itself into two distinct parts. The first part implores management to focus on its current mindset. In the second part Henry shares the mechanics when it comes to leading creative types for both established management and for those who go from being peers to management.

While reading Herding Tigers I kept nodding my head, thinking to myself, “Yes, someone who gets it!” I also felt a wee bit bereft because as a creative it is Henry’s idea of managing creatives, which has been missing the most in my life as a working creative. I’ve often felt misunderstood, caught up in feelings of lost, angry and stuck in places where I should have flourished. If I was queen of the world, every manager and every organization that relies on work by creative types, would be required by law to read this book and implement Henry’s wise, compassion and practical advice, concepts and checkpoints when handling me and my fellow tigers. And don’t worry managers of Tigers, Henry is also in your corner. He truly cares about all of us. (And to be honest, I think Herding Tigers is just a good management book even if you’re not leading creative types).

Herding Tigers is a book that I can imagine reading again and again. In fact, my copy is littered with little post-its, highlighting passages and ideas that I agree with or I find interesting and valuable. I’ve also written down Henry’s advice in a notebook to refer to again and again.

I highly recommend Toddy Henry’s Herding Tigers to both management and creatives. Creatives will recognize themselves and management will be enlightened by Henry’s timeless and timely book. Herding Tigers isn’t just one of the best books on leadership I have read this year; it just might be one of the best books leadership I’ve ever read.

Book Review: Up All Night-From Hollywood Bombshell to Lingerie Mogul, Life Lessons from an Accidental Feminist by Rhonda Shear

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I’ve often used the phrase “if so and so didn’t exist we’d probably have to invent them.” I’ve used them so often that it’s become a tired cliché. Note to self: Make one of your New Year’s resolutions to come up with a new phrase.

But I don’t have to apply this to Rhonda Shear. Shear is all about invention and re-invention. In fact, Shear is a potpourri of re-invention, a sex kitten who has lived nine lives, and will probably live nine more. And she dishes the dirt and tells her tale in her biography, Up All Night-From Hollywood Bombshell to Lingerie Mogul, Life Lessons from an Accidental Feminist.

During her life, Shear has been a New Orleans beauty queen and a struggling and striving actress who got to kiss Fonzie from the TV classic Happy Days.  Shear later became a stand-up comic and host of the popular USA network program Up All Night, fueling the fantasies of horny teenage boys, grown men and probably a few lesbians. Shear is also a hopeful romantic who found her way back to her teenage love, now husband, Van Hagen. And last but now least, Shear is now a successful “bimboproneur,” inventor of the Ahh Bra and other underthings, which she sells on HSN.

Life began very modestly for Rhonda Honey Shear born and raised in New Orleans. Named after movie star Rhonda Fleming, Shear’s parents, Jennie and Wilbur Shear, doted on little Rhonda and got her involved in dance lessons at a very young age. It was then and there Shear knew she was destined to stardom. She began to compete (and win) local beauty pageants. She also found the love of her life, Van Hagen and together they had a sweet but somewhat volatile teen-age courtship. After high school, Shear got a BA in communications from Loyola University.

After she received her degree, Shear moved to Los Angeles, where she tried to make it as an actress. She got parts in D-list fair but also got a role in Mel Brooks’ Spaceballs. She guest starred on quite a few TV shows like the aforementioned Happy Days, and shows like Cheers and Dukes of Hazzard. Shear. (But she also had to deal with a lot of #metoo issues from some unsavory types in the age before the “Days of Weinstein and Roses.”)

It was through these appearances Shear was able to hone her comedy skills, which inspired her to do her own comedy act. She spent plenty of time working at some questionable clubs but also did her act at iconic comedy showcases like the Comedy Store. She worked a lot with other comics like Gilbert Gottfried, but also developed a comedy act with other funny ladies.

But her teenage swain, Van Hagen, was still on her mind. Through the power of social media, she found her high school honey and once again they connected in a way not often seen other than in Hollywood romantic movies.

But Shear also had dreams of owning her own business and along with her new hubby, created a successful lingerie and lounge wear company, which after a few struggles is doing very well and is sold both via HSN and her website Rhondashear.com. One notable item from her line is the Ahh Bra, an actual comfortable bra!

Up All Night is composed of three parts, part one is about Shear growing up in the Big Easy, part two is about her life in Hollywood and part three is about her life in Florida with hubby Van Hagen and her life as a successful business women. These three parts are composed of chapters Shear calls lessons, lessons which include: Beauty Matters, Don’t Wait for Opportunities, Create Them and Love Has No Expiration Date.

Is this book perfect? Of course not. At times I found it a bit rushed and not fully developed. I wish Shear would have gone deeper into various phases of her life. At times, Up All Night just skimmed the surface. I wanted more cake, less frosting. Perhaps, Shear’s life would be better served through several volumes of her life story. But it’s very likely her publisher wanted to pack it all into one book.

Some of the advice Shear offers verges on Hallmark card clichés or something you might find on a bumper sticker or a fortune cookie (but then again, the advice is pretty good and I think Shear’s heart is in the right place-she really wants to be there for the reader).

Oddly enough, I found myself quite interested in her life as a beauty queen. This could be because I’m from the land of the Green Bay Packers, Wisconsin, where women where cheeseheads, not tiaras.

And as a fledgling jewelry designer with a mad love for Martha Stewart and lesser known ladies of business, I gobbled up her tale about developing her business, coming up with the Ahh Bra, and other sexy and also comfy lingerie and lounge wear designs. And I appreciate how Shear shared the good, the bad and the ugly of running one’s business, how she made her mark on HSN and life as a lady mogul. When it comes to our breasts, ladies, I don’t care if you are an A Student, packing a couple of killer Bs, a tempest in a C cup or a cornucopia of riches, a comfortable bra is every women’s birthright!

Ultimately, I grew to like Shear and her brand of feminism. Feminism is often open to interpretation (not too mention misunderstanding). You can be a feminist in so many ways, and Shear more than proves it.

Book Review: Leap-Leaving a Job with No Plan B to Find the Career and Life You Really Want by Tess Vigeland

Even though the economy is supposedly getting better and jobless rates are lower, Americans are still dealing with unemployment, underemployment, wage stagnation and just all-around job dissatisfaction.

By now you know the color of your parachute. You’ve leaned-in more than once or twice. You’re no longer a dummy or an idiot when it comes to creating a great resume or handling an interview. You’re on LinkedIn. You’re fully engaged on various social media. But what other steps are there when it comes to career success? I know I’m trying to figure it out, and maybe so are you. I often look for books that take these issues head- on and offer doable, concrete advice on how to navigate the world of work (and looking for work) in the 21st century. Sadly, Tess Vigeland’s book Leap: Leaving a Job with No Plan B to Find the Career and Life You Really Want is not one of those books.

When I found Vigeland’s book Leap, and thought “Yes, this book might help! Someone found herself at a crossroads when it came to work and didn’t have the perfect plan on how to proceed! And I bet this book will feature other people going through the same thing and what can be done to get back on track!”

For the uninitiated, Tess Vigeland was a host for NPR’s Marketplace. Vigeland initially wanted to work in television news but found a place in talk radio. And due to her talent and ambition became quite successful. Vigeland worked for several years at Marketplace and was beloved by both NPR and its audience.

Now you’re probably wondering, “What happened? Was Tess fired? Was Marketplace cancelled? Was she dealing with some awful behavior in the workplace?”

Nope, none of these things happened. Vigeland just felt unfulfilled…so she left Marketplace, and she had no other job in sight and no concrete plan on finding another.

Now you may wonder how being jobless with nothing on the employment horizon affected Vigeland? Did she end up dead broke, nearly homeless? Did she have to work a bunch of crappy jobs, go on food stamps, sell her belongings or really struggle after she leapt?

No, Vigeland didn’t deal with any of that. Instead, she had a great deal of money saved up, is married to a successful man and a she also has a network of well-connected and well-off close friends. If this isn’t a net, I don’t know what is!

So instead of taking whatever opportunity that came her way, Vigeland was able to “find herself” in a staycation version of Eat, Pray, Love. While on this pursuit, she never really questioned why she felt so unfulfilled at Marketplace. To me, it seems as if she needed a lot of external kudos and applause and Marketplace wasn’t fueling her ego. Now, this I can understand; people often only define themselves and their worthiness by what they do for a living. People want their jobs to be more than just earning a paycheck.

So Vigeland didn’t have a job, and without a job, she didn’t have an identity and she didn’t have a paycheck. But she did have a lot of free time to interview other people who also made the choice to Leap, and like Vigeland, they also had privileges that most of us don’t have. And by the time Leap got to this point, I was starting to get pissed off. Story after story consisted of privileged, moneyed, well-connected people who just didn’t feel fulfilled, talk about first world problems. And as I read their tales, I grew more and more bored…and cheated.

Leap (at first glance) is sold as a how-to but it is just another memoir, and a fairly dull one at that. Vigeland is hugely self-absorbed but not very self-aware. She never truly acknowledges her privilege, not just when it comes to her professional success, but also the privilege she has had since she was a child-upper-middle class parents, excellent education, fancy internships, a network of well-connected friends and classmates, a loving and supportive spouse, and so on. I do not hate her for any of those things. And I fully acknowledge her intelligence, ambition, talent and work ethic in a culture that seems to undermine these qualities. I just think of a bit more of self-awareness and fully owning up to one’s privilege would make Leap a bit more bearable to the reader.

So don’t let this book Leap onto your reading list, and dust off those copies of What Color is Your Parachute and Job Hunting for Dummies. They’ll probably be a bit more useful.

 

Book Review: Under the Affluence-Shaming the Poor, Praising the Rich and Sacrificing the Future of America by Tim Wise

under the affluenceEvery once in while there comes a book that makes me want to shout from the roof tops, “Everybody, please read this book if you truly care about humanity and society!” Tim Wise’s book Under the Affluence: Shaming the Poor, Praising the Rich and Sacrificing the Future of America, is one such book. And though it may sound melodramatic, I truly think Mr. Wise’s book is an excellent primer on exactly why our nation seems so skewed, confused and messed-up, especially during one of our most scary, yet important presidential election years ever.

Scholar, activist and writer, the aptly named Tim Wise, has focused on societal issues since college and one of his first jobs was working against former KKK grand wizard, David Duke’s presidential bid. Since then Wise has worked on behalf of many progressive causes and has written several books, Under the Affluence being his latest.

In 2016 Wise wonders why do we (as a nation and a society) shame the poor (and let’s face it, anyone who isn’t mega wealthy) while praising the super-rich? And what does that say about us and what impact is this having on society?

Wise calls this detestable movement “Scroogism,” and, yes, based on Ebenezer Scrooge from the Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol. And it is a theme that has shaped our thinking about the haves vs. the have-nots and have-lessers, much of it encouraged by big business, Wall Street, billionaires and millionaires, CEOs, the radical right political pundits, the current state of the GOP, conservative Christianity, mainstream media and often, ourselves. And yes, that includes the have-nots and have-lessers. And Wise offers evidence through nearly 40 pages of end notes to give gravitas to Under the Affluence.

Under the Affluence and its theme of Scroogism is divided into three well-researched, scholarly, yet audience friendly, maddening, heartbreaking and in the end, cautiously hopeful chapters. These chapters include:

  1. Pulling Apart-The State of Disunited America
  2. Resurrecting Scrooge-Rhetoric and Policy in a Culture of Cruelty
  3. Redeeming Scrooge-Fostering a Culture of CompassionIn Resurrecting Scrooge,

Wise carefully researches how in the 21st century the United States is a society that bashes the poor, blames victims, the unemployed and underemployed, embraces a serious lack of compassion and celebrates cruelty while putting the wealthy and the powerful on a pedestal. And Wise examines the origins of class and cruelty in the United States, the ideas of the Social Gospel and FDR’s New Deal, the myths and realities of the War on Poverty from its inception to Reaganism (and how liberals responded), and the concept how culture of cruelty affects who receives justice and who receives nothing at all except horrifically de-humanizing insults, both in rhetoric and reality. It is probably these two chapters that truly stirred my rage, and at times, I had to put Under the Affluence down and take a few deep breaths.But just as I was about to chuck Under the Affluence across the room and spend a week in the corner rocking back and forth, I read the final chapter, and felt a bit of hope. Perhaps, as nation things aren’t as bleak as they seem. In this chapter, Wise reminds us to look for possible roadblocks on the way of redemption. He also mentions that besides facts, use storytelling because behind every fact there is a very human face with a story that must be heard. He behooves us to create “a vision of a culture of a compassion” and how we can help communities to control their destiny.

Now, I am a realist. I know for the most part Under the Affluence is a book that preaches to the choir, especially in 2016. But maybe, just maybe, Under the Affluence will open minds, soften hearts and act an agent for, as Elvis Costello so aptly put it, “peace, love and understanding.” Under the Affluence is not only one of the most important books to come out in 2016; it is one of the most important books to come out in the 21st century.

Wise also takes a look at the world of the working poor and the non-working rich, the myth of meritocracy, horribly mean-spirited remarks, much of it coming from the radical right, including pundits and politicians, excessive CEO and big business pay, the devaluing of work that truly benefits all of society-nursing, teaching social work, protecting the public, improving our infrastructure, creating art, taking care of the elderly and disabled, and so on. And let’s not forget the very valuable work that doesn’t pay-parenting, eldercare, volunteering, etc.

In Pulling Apart, Wise takes a hardcore look at our current state of joblessness, wage stagnation, underemployment and how they affect us in this stage of “post-recession recovering” America. He investigates today’s realities and the long-term effects of income and wealth inequality. Wise contemplates who and what caused these problems and how race, class and economics are involved.

Book Review: Trust Me, PR is Dead by Robert Phillips

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PR is Dead; long live PR could be an alternative title to Robert Phillips’ book. Trust Me, PR is Dead is a book I felt compelled to read because I have spent some time in the trenches of public relations. But as someone who has also done some time in the journalistic trenches, I also look at PR with some very jaded baby blues.

And apparently Phillips is also a bit jaded when it comes to PR because he has been a PR professional for most of his working life, most notably with the PR powerhouse, Edelman. He knows the world of PR—the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Now, you might be thinking, “Wait a minute! Phillips worked in PR and is now telling us PR is dead? Is he biting the hand that fed him (and fed him very well)? Or has he learned a few things on his PR journey and now realizes PR is dead (or at least on life support), and seriously needs to change…or else?”

Well, after reading Trust Me, PR is Dead, I can safely say Phillips’ is definitely in the latter camp; and his book is a treasure trove on how PR has made major missteps and how it can change in a time where people are developing finely tuned BS detectors when it comes to media, politics, business and entertainment.

In other words, PR peeps—You can’t crap on a cone and expect people to call it ice cream.

In Trust Me, PR is Dead each chapter is dedicated on how  PR has to change as society changes, using key components of evidence such as quotes from PR professionals, business leaders, advertisements, journalists, social media and various PR tools of the trade like press releases, professional profiles and interviews. Some of the names of various parties Phillips uses in this book have been redacted using heavy black bars. Phillips probably did this to protect the innocent and not-so-innocent. And perhaps to cover his bum so he doesn’t get pulled into court for possible “libel” charges.

For the longest time PR has been about making an organization look good to outside parties. In theory, this sounds good so—put your best foot forward, stamp out a great impression, and make the most of what you got. We often do this as individuals when we do our very own personal PR, right? But often organizations slip up. Instead of traditional PR owning up and taking responsibility for an organization’s missteps and misdeeds, some which are harmful and often lead to death and destruction, PR ignores them or tries to cover them up with a lot of PR glitter and gloss. This glitter and gloss does nothing to rectify the situation. And this is in a time where the public is becoming more educated on organizational BS (or at least should) and wants solutions and carefully chosen actions, not meaningless words.

Today’s PR professionals must realize the most important component in PR is trust. The public wants to trust a company or organization and the products and/or services they provide. Not only does the public require trust, the public also requires authenticity, engagement and honesty. Or what Phillips calls public leadership.

Now how have we come to this point? Simple, in the past few years we have experienced an economic meltdown, the worst since the Great Depression, one that still affects us today. We have dealt with Wall Street greed, corporate malfeasance in the forms of Lehman Brothers, Worldcom and Enron, political misbehavior and other forms of detestable conduct. People are fed up! And many of them are learning about this not just through traditional media, but also through social and alternative media and good old-fashioned word-of-mouth.

To rectify this PR professionals must now employ several key strategies to gain the public’s trust. Among them include the following.

1) Embrace data and specialists
2) Focus on different skillsets and talents to better serve clients and the public
3) Look at the general public as citizens, not merely as consumers
4) Strive for excellence and eschew bureaucracy
5) Advertising is one thing; it is not the whole thing

Trust Me, PR is dead is well-written in an audience-friendly way that even non-PR types will find valuable. I hope it finds a wide audience and is embraced in a time when politics, media, business, entertainment, sports, charities and other organizations need to keep it real. Believe me, we as a society not only want this; we demand it!

I have to give a shout out to Jeff Abraham, a wonderful PR professional from Jonas PR. Jeff has been instrumental in sending me galleys and advanced copies of books for me to review including In the Company of Legends by award-winning documentary filmmakers Joan Kramer and David Heeley and Kelly Carlin’s memoir A Carlin Home Companion-Life With George. Jeff’s work has always been professional and without hype. He respects my work and never pressures me to write positive reviews. He truly values my input. Jeff is a total mensch and is what PR should be. Thanks Jeff!

Book Review: Copygirl by Anna Mitchael and Michelle Sassa

copygirlI’m not usually the biggest fan standard-issue chick lit featuring hapless, yet hopeful heroines working in “glamour” industries like fashion, PR, show business or advertising usually in New York City. The cover is usually some shade of pink and features one of the holy trinity of chick lit graphics—statement handbag, high-heeled shoe, or fancy cocktail.

Copygirl, authored by Anna Mitchael and Michelle Sassa, features a pink cover the shade of a rather attention grabbing shade of fuchsia. However, there was no handbag, shoe or cocktail to be found on Copygirl’s cover. Furthermore, Copygirl was described as a hybrid of The Devil Wears Prada and Mad Men. I actually liked The Devil Wears Prada, who hasn’t had a nightmare boss? And I just finished binge-watching Mad Men and related only too well to copywriter Peggy Olson, so I decided to give Copygirl a whirl.

Meet Copygirl’s protagonist Kay, after finishing college where she studies advertising, she follows her crush Ben to NYC where they both get jobs one of the city’s hottest agencies with the unfortunate of initials of STD. While in ad school, Kay thought she would write memorable copy like “Think Different” and “Just Do It.” She also thought she’d get romantic with Ben. Sadly, none of those dreams seem to be coming true for our heroine. Instead, Kay is dealing with the STD’s overlords who make Pol Pot look like Mr. Rogers and is writing hapless copy for accounts her much cooler hipster co-workers reject outright. As for Ben? Right now he’s sleeping on Kay’s couch, not her bed.

STD is riddled with egotistical tyrants, high fashion hotties, pretentious creatives and one Diet Coke-obsessed intern with the last name of Bouffa. Bouffa may not have the schooling or experience for this particular internship, but she does have something deemed more important—family connections.

Kay feels completely out of it at STD with her family connections from the Midwest, her wardrobe of sneakers, jeans and hoodies and her low-key, modest and easily intimidated personality. Will she ever measure up and find success? And will she find love with Ben or will she lose him to the office hot girl?

To appease her battered and bruised sense of self Kay makes wax dolls and films them in absurd situations. The main character of Kay’s magnum opus is a doll named Copygirl who warns everybody “Don’t be a copygirl.” Kay shares her videos with her best friend who is currently studying in France. This best friend starts uploading Kay’s videos for the world to see and they become a huge sensation, making Kay feeling both awkward and proud.

Meanwhile, Ben moves out and Kay is convinced he is having a fling with the office hottie. However, Kay finds this hottie is more than a pair of designer boots and a killer wardrobe, and though Bouffa may have family connections, she is also willing to work hard and is pretty nice kid. And then there is suit-wearing guy who might be more than what he seems.

Kay struggles daily with writing appropriate copy for the latest, hippest soda trying to grab the much-wanted Millennial market only to be treated with contempt by her fellow creative co-workers, clueless clients and tyrannical agency heads. Will she find the secret sauce to come up with the right lines that will be iconic as such classic ad copy she dreamed of writing? Or will she be fired with only her wax dolls to keep her company?

Ultimately, I liked Copygirl. It was a fun and breezy read, and I rooted for Kay throughout the book even though at times I wanted to shake her. Spending time in the copywriting trenches I could totally relate to her daily struggles, pretty much dealing with the same obnoxious behavior she dealt with even though I come from Milwaukee. And I also know how creative “me-time” activities Kay indulged in helped alleviate her stress and gain her both kudos and confidence.

But what I really liked about Copygirl was how it didn’t focus so much on romance, but on Kay’s growth in her career and how she forges strong bonds with her female co-workers rather than seeing them as competition both professionally and personally.

In the end Copygirl is a fun read, both fluffy and profound, and I think most working girls will be able to relate to Kay’s plight even if your Devil wears H & M, and your place of work is a mixture of both Mad Men and Mad Women.