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Ah, summer! Let’s hit the beaches, swim in the surf, pour on the tanning oil, and trade briefcases for beach bags. And here’s one more vacation tip: Stick a book in your bag, and not the latest convoluted Tom Clancy or overwrought John Grisham. Instead, bring along one that transforms you from a mere competent counsel to a trusted adviser, which morphs you from expendable soldier to irreplaceable consigliere. (Hmm, sounds like the next summer blockbuster to us.) So, here are some reading suggestions for your summer vacation. First, a scary fact: Where are your company’s most valuable assets stored? A computer database? A factory? A warehouse? Not quite. They are inside your employees, some of whom are valuable but flawed. As corporate counsel, your role in protecting those assets is to become a turnaround specialist for the employees. Here are some resources to help out. A must-read is “The 12 Habits That Hold Good People Back: Overcoming the Behavior Patterns That Keep You From Getting Ahead,”by James Waldroop and Timothy Butler. We all resist being categorized and believe ourselves to be special, like snowflakes, no two the same. But in truth, we all fit a profile. Waldroop and Butler give us 12 profiles of 90/10 employees: 90 percent of the time they’re great, 10 percent of the time a source of endless frustration. Like the Emotionally Tone-Deaf employee, who doesn’t understand that indifference to a co-worker’s feelings and perspectives stops the Tone-Deaf employee from maximizing his potential. The Tone-Deaf employee is not bad, just clueless. One strategy to help clue him in is to make him practice interpersonal skills: Tell him not to speak in a meeting until at least two co-workers have spoken or to not end the meeting until he praises at least two co-workers. This forces him to become more in tune with others, less tone-deaf and more productive. Or consider the Bulldozer, who gets the job done but leaves lots of collateral damage in her wake (Waldroop and Butler advise you to be direct and let her know she will be voted off the island if she doesn’t change); and the Home Run Hitter, who is always swinging for the fences but striking out (they suggest using the leverage of compensation to rein him in and explain why it’s the more seasoned employees who are given the toughest job assignments). If you’re overworked and only can get away for a long weekend, try “It Takes More Than a Carrot and a Stick,”by Wess Roberts, for a slimmed-down version of this topic. Roberts identifies 15 types, spends about 10 pages discussing each and considers three perspectives — as a subordinate, a peer and a boss. Here is a sample: Empty Suits; Fault-Finders; Perpetual Victims; Temperamental Tyrants; and Imperious Jerks. Any of these sound familiar? Let’s look at his advice on effectively working with a Temperamental Tyrant or an Imperious Jerk. With a Temperamental Tyrant, show some courage, refuse to be abused and take the opportunity to learn something new by sincerely asking the tyrant to explain something she knows about. It flatters her. For Imperious Jerks, Roberts recommends that you bring something of value to the table (the only route to gaining an Imperious Jerk’s respect), learn to separate their tactless putdowns from constructive criticism and, finally, don’t be a wimp. (If that last one has you shaking in your tassel-toed loafers, check out “How to Grow a Backbone,”an excellent book on the workplace by Susan Marshall.) As corporate counsel you’ll be asked more and more to help executives communicate with their employees. A user-friendly book, albeit with an odd title, “Tongue Fu!: How to Deflect, Disarm and Diffuse any Verbal Conflict,”by Sam Horn tells you about such useful tactics as reverse empathy phrases (forcing another person to see things from your perspective by asking a question such as “What decision would you make?” and then being silent); pre-empting a war of words (instead of responding in anger to a verbal assault, simply ask “What do you mean?”); or how to be a useful coach, not a useless critic (stay away from telling employees “You should have done this,” or “You were supposed to do that” and focus on prospective phrases such as “From now on, I expect” or “Next time we can”). Got a tough conversation coming up? The one you’ve been dreading and putting off? Check out “Difficult Conversations,”by Douglas Stone, a primer on what to say and how to say it. If you’re more in the mood for a buffet of ideas, look at the Harvard Business Review on “Effective Communication.” AVOID TEMPTATION For dealing with the media — especially in a crisis situation — pick up “Crisis Control: Preventing and Managing a Corporate Crisis,”by Ross Campbell. The chapter on dealing with the media is worth the price of the book. Need a graceful exit from a contentious press conference or interview, where questions come as fast as a Roger Clemens fastball? Simply say, “You must excuse me now. There is much to be done, but I will return to give you an update in one hour.” Golden advice. Because this article may tempt you to check out the airport book stand on your way to a vacation in the cool climes of Canada, or the warmer ones of Mexico, we want to give you a word of caution: There is a seemingly never-ending compilation of books whose authors take the wise words of a historical figure and — by engaging in more tricks than a rodeo clown — twist them into work-related advice. Many are like chocolate-covered doughnuts: tasty, but empty calories. It’s often hard to tell what’s a book. So, quick, can you identify which one of the following is not a real book? “What Would Buddha do at Work?”; “Gandhi in the Boardroom”; or “Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun.” (The answer is in the last paragraph of this article — no skipping ahead.) From this genre, we do, however, recommend “Expect the Unexpected (or You Won’t Find It): A Creativity Tool”based on the “Ancient Wisdom of Heraclitus,” by Roger Von Oech. He uses 30 of Heraclitus’ epigrams to approach problems from a fresh perspective and get you thinking creatively. Or if you want to avoid “Classics Lite” and tap directly into the source, we suggest a new translation of “Sun-Tzu’s the Art of War: The Denma Translation”with loads of helpful commentary. As Sun-Tzu might say, a corporate counselor’s transcendent value comes not from knowing an answer, but from framing the question. To learn how, look at “Winning Decisions: Getting it Right The First Time,”by J. Edward Russo and Paul Schoemaker. They take you through framing an issue, developing the necessary information to make a decision and how groups make decisions. The chapter on gathering information, for instance, clears away the cobwebs by explaining confirmation bias (the tendency to favor evidence supporting your current beliefs, and rejecting evidence to the contrary); discussing distortion bias (“If you torture the facts long enough, they will confess”); and looking at availability bias (being unduly influenced by information whose principal virtue is that it’s the most available, or recent or vivid). Their chapter on issue-framing is a must-read for anyone who wants to go toe to toe with the big dogs in the boardroom. A CEO we know uses the techniques described in the book and tells us that if he didn’t, his decisions would be the misguided “ready, fire, aim” — not “ready, aim, fire.” If you prefer a sampler on decision-making, there is no better reading than the Harvard Business Reviewon “Decision Making,” a compilation of the best articles from the Reviewfrom the last 30 years. Books not only predict change waves, but also tell you how best to surf them. Here’s an inevitable change wave: the trinity of CEO/COO/CFO looking to you — yes, you — for targeting and solving ethical dilemmas in business. The days of serving only as, to borrow a phrase, a repository of controlling legal authority only can be seen in the rear-view mirror. In her book “Good Intentions Aside: A Manager’s Guide to Resolving Ethical Problems,”Laura Nash addresses 30 common ethical problems at work. For example: Should you promote the destructive go-getter who outruns his or her mistakes? How do you handle employees who have the enemy mentality and refuse to cooperate with others in the company? Is lying by omission to employees for the sake of the business ever OK? Nash gives you questions that help you determine if there is an ethical problem, then she gives you decision-making models to resolve a problem. Jeff Seglin’s book, “The Good, The Bad and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart”is another valuable source. Or check out “Leading Quietly: An Unorthodox Guide to Doing the Right Thing,”where Joseph Badaracco Jr. takes you through a number of unorthodox notions, including figuring out what we can learn from “quiet leaders,” the ones who deal with ethical dilemmas by choosing responsible, behind-the-scenes action, over public displays of heroism (the second sounds like something an Imperious Jerk would do). If none of those recommendations spark your interest, consider “Good to Great,”by Jim Collins. It talks about how companies make the leap (if you’re not reading it, your CEO is). Or try “First Among Equals,”David Maister’s latest, which educates you on how to manage a department of professionals (a GC or associate GC must-read). Then there’s “Love is the Killer App”by Tim Sanders. It tells you how to build a network of contacts (wise counsel in good times as well as bad). So that’s pretty much it. Have a good vacation. Check out a few sunsets, or starry nights, take a walk on the beach or in the woods, talk with the spouse, the significant other, the kids, and recall why you became a lawyer in the first place. But also remember the counsel of Mother Jones, a union organizer from the early part of the 20th century, who said: “Sit down and read; prepare yourself for the coming struggles.” Solid advice then and now. Oh, by the way, in looking for something to read, don’t ask the clerk at your neighborhood bookstore for “Gandhi in the Boardroom.” Michael P. Maslanka and Theresa M. Gegen write the Texas Employment Law Letter, which can be accessed at hrhero.com. They are board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and practice with Andrews & Kurth, www.akllp.com. Have a book suggestion? Share your knowledge with your colleagues and e-mail the authors at [email protected]or [email protected].

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