The Texas summer is heating up, which means it’s time for my annual bag of beach books for corporate counsel. So stow the briefcases, grab the sunscreen and fire up the e-readers. This year’s books focus on persuasion, leadership and career development.
Persuasion is a key skill for corporate counsel. In “The Rules of Influence: Winning When You’re in the Minority,” William D. Crano drives home the point that the minority can persuade the majority only if the larger group sees the smaller group as a part of the majority. Exhibit A: Opponents of California’s Proposition 8, which prohibits same-sex marriage, lost at the ballot box. Why? None of their ads showed gay couples doing what heterosexual couples do: buying a house, going to the bookstore or driving to work. The ads were just a bunch of Hollywood celebrities lecturing on human rights. Crano’s bottom line: “[T]he minority must become recognized as a legitimate part of the larger group.” He tells readers how to make that happen.
In-house lawyers can learn to harness the power of the reptile brain in persuasion by reading “Neuromarketing: Understanding the ‘Buy Buttons’ in Your Customer’s Brain.” Patrick Renvoise and Christophe Morin teach readers to use the power of contrast, cut clutter and limit points of an argument to three, which is all the reptile brain can absorb. The book is easy to read, with eye-pleasing fonts, bullet points and lots of white space.
For general counsel who are challenged in their efforts to change their companies’ culture, check out “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business” by Charles Duhigg. The big idea is that people can replace one habit with another through sheer hard work. He writes that Starbucks leaves nothing to chance with a customer interaction, using constant training to wire employees on how to react to a situation before it arises. This book contains lots of nuggets of wisdom.
Creating change is well explained in “The Shibumi Strategy: A Powerful Way to Create Meaningful Change” by Matthew E. May. It is a business fable based on Buddhist ideas, including seeking continuous improvement, prospering through relationships with (instead of exploitation of) one another and knowing that an apparent defeat often is just a disguised victory.
Speaking of Buddhism, I recommend “Being Buddha at Work: 108 Ancient Truths on Change, Stress, Money, and Success” by Franz Metcalf and BJ Gallagher. The authors break down the book into 108 questions, answering each in just two to three pages (the way all business books should be written). For example, is the legal department handling a sexual harassment issue? Lawyers must understand morality. Harassment must stop because it prevents people from realizing their full potential, not merely because it is against the law.
Another key skill set of corporate counsel is leadership. On that topic, I like books that show instead of tell. There are no better books than those dealing with President George Washington and President Abraham Lincoln, both great leaders who, again and again, subordinated their egos and images to the greater good. Start with Richard Brookhiser’s “George Washington on Leadership”and David Herbert Donald’s “Lincoln.”
In “American Crisis: George Washington and the Dangerous Two Years After Yorktown, 1781-1783,” William M. Fowler Jr. writes about management of the two greatest startups of all time: the American Revolution and the United States of America.
But history is not written only by the winners. Read “Almost President: The Men Who Lost the Race But Changed the Nation,” Scott Farris’ meditation on how those who lose often have the greatest impact. By failing to gain the presidency, Henry Clay stayed in Congress, fashioned the compromises that forestalled the Civil War and ultimately, albeit inadvertently, ensured that an industrialized North was able to defeat an agriculture-based South. There’s a lot more insight in this book.
Make this the summer for Shakespeare. Corporate counsel, especially at the GC level, deal as much with human nature as they deal with the law. For what makes people tick, there is no better teacher than the Bard of Avon. Daunted by the archaic language? Many of his plays are in the “No Fear Shakespeare” series, which present the original language on one page and a modern translation on the facing page.
Shakespeare was a feminist before there was feminism; read about the genius of Portia in “Merchant of Venice” or the courage of Isabella in “Measure for Measure,” both legal thrillers that culminate in a trial. John Grisham has nothing on Will.
Shakespeare was fascinated not just by the law and justice, but by love and sex. So dip into the sonnets while on the beach and discover that love is hell (Sonnet 129: “A bliss in proof, and proved, a very woe”) or heaven (Sonnet 29: “For thy sweet loved remembered such wealth brings/That then I scorn to change my state with kings”).
The Career Ladder
If an in-house lawyer needs to focus on career development, three solid books can help.
The first is “How Will You Measure Your Life?”by Clayton M. Christensen, James Allworth and Karen Dillon. They offer many gems. For example, when planning a career move or a business venture, always ask: What has to prove true for this to work? In short, start with the key assumptions and work forward; don’t start with the goal and work backward.
Second is “Shine How to Survive and Thrive at Work: Upping Your Elvis Factor.” Chris Baréz-Brown packages his ideas into 222 chapters, each two to three pages in length. Some of his advice? Hang out with resonators instead of energy-draining vampires. Also, try doing a favor for an enemy and watching the resulting good karma.
Third, “The Start-Up of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career” is an easy read packed with great advice from LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha. Their advice: Always be in a beta mind-set, never accept what is and always think about what could be.
I leave you with two books by Leonard Mlodinow. The latest is “Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior,” in which he writes of “motivated reasoning,” which is the hard-wired but unconscious belief that we are better than we are. But, that’s good. “Motivated reasoning enables our minds to defend us against unhappiness . . . to inspire us to strive to become what we think we are,” he writes. It turns out, according to him, that a little self-delusion actually is healthy.
In his first book, “The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives,” he makes a powerful argument that people live at the whim of chance and circumstance. But then he gives this penetrating advice: “What I’ve learned, above all, is to keep marching forward because the best news is that since chance does play a role, one important factor in success is under our control: the number of at bats, the number of chances taken, the number of opportunities seized.” Want to succeed? Fail more.
So remember: You do look great in your new bathing suit, keep swinging away and have a great summer.
More from Michael Maslanka:
“Asking for a Facebook Password Can Be Risky“
“How to Handle the New ADA Landscape“
“10 Lessons from 30 Years in the Law“
“Lesser-Known Speeches Hold Lessons for GCs“
“The Power of Influence: Insight Into Persuasion Is Key to Helping Others Find Wisdom“
“Identity and Meaning in and Outside Law“
“When Legal Sense Trumps Practical Sense“
“Litigation Lessons from the Battles of History“
“Summertime Beach Reads for In-Housers“
“Reminders About Right and Wrong“
“Train Managers Now in ADA Amendments“
“Ditch New Year’s Resolutions and Reprioritize for 2011“
“What to Do and Not Do in Voir Dire and Opening Statements“
“What Cognitive Theory Can Teach Corporate Counsel“
“High Courts to Weigh Noncompete, Retaliation Cases“
“Commentary: Ask and You Shall Receive“
“ADA Amendments Mean Seismic Shift for Employers“
“Lessons of Letterman: The Top Reasons Bosses Should Be Concerned About Workplace Relationships“
“Beware of Employees’ Conduct-Based Suits“
“Commentary — The Reptile Brain: Develop a Cognitive Sixth Sense“
“Have You Come a Long Way, Baby?“