Saturday, November 08, 2008

The Integrity Dividend: Leading by the Power of Your Word by Tony Simons

The Integrity Dividend: Leading by the Power of Your Word
By Tony Simons
Copyright 2008
Jossey-Bass/Business/Non-fiction

. . . in 2005 integrity was the single most looked-up word on Merriam-Webster's Dictionary Web site, which implies that people are not exactly sure what integrity means. Think about that for a minute: people know integrity is important but they are not sure what it means.

Often people use the word integrity to describe a general quality of acting ethically. Ethics are important, but they are not what this book is about. For the purposes of this book, integrity means the fit between words and actions, as seen by others. It means promise keeping and showing the values you profess.

What led you to pick up this book? It's the word "integrity" that caught both my eye and that of my husband. We both enjoy business books for different reasons, but we're also people who believe that honest communication is crucial in every facet of life -- parenting, marriage, friendship, and work.

Describe the book without giving anything away. The Integrity Dividend is specifically about leading with integrity and how doing so has been proven to have a direct effect on profitability.

But, it goes much further than just describing a tie between the power of keeping one's word as a manager (either as an individual or part of the management team) and the bottom line. It also goes into the difficulties of maintaining integrity -- how easy it is to mislead people and the struggle to regain integrity once it's been lost. The author talks about how to prevent such pitfalls, how being direct and honest effects the overall atmosphere of an organization and how to untangle messes that have already occurred. He discusses both middle and upper management, how middle managers can get stuck looking bad if upper management sends down a directive that creates a moral dilemma and how to potentially handle such directives. And, he goes into the benefits of performance appraisals when they're handled with humor and honesty, how things can go wrong and how to avoid misleading employees if appraisals aren't handled well. He even talks about the fact that "American managers may be particularly susceptible to giving lopsidedly positive feedback."

The Integrity dividend can be seen in hard financial payoffs, but also appears as more loyal and cooperative relationships, a more engaged and directed workforce, and better change implementation.

What did you think of the subject matter and how it was presented? Excellent subject, beautifully presented. I'm a big fan of honesty and integrity in business and I think it's often the lack of integrity in management that creates a hostile work environment, so I love the topic. This particular book has a little bit of a textbook flavor. It took me a while to adjust to the style and some of the terminology that I haven't dealt with in recent years; but it's written with intelligence and clarity. The author throws in a tremendous amount of appropriate examples and stories to help the reader translate principles into reality. Also, each chapter is nicely summarized and closes with questions to consider and principles to act upon, in order to help leaders put the advice in this book into practice.

What did you like most about the book? There's a lot to like about this book. The author is very blunt about the fact that managers and employees are human, and there are inherent flaws in communication between humans. Instead of just tossing out a bunch of key words and catch phrases, he talks about how to be a person employees trust -- how to build credibility -- but he also talks about what can go wrong, how easy it is to confuse employees or lose their trust. You know the dreaded "mission statement" people are often supposed to know by heart but which often is frankly meaningless? He talks about how important it is to make it clear what your goals and values are but keep them simple and memorable: "Promise less, but do it more often." He talks about repetition and how repeating a company's values helps to unify employees and solidify their purpose.

Is there anything you didn't like about the book or topic? It can be a tiny bit dry, at times, but there are so many examples interspersed throughout the book that it never put me to sleep.

In general: An excellent resource for managers at all levels. My husband is also quite enthusiastic about this book. He appreciated the numerous examples and liked the textbook tone of the book and how well the concepts are presented and summarized.

A side thought: As I was reading this book, it occurred to me that these same basic principles about saying what you mean and following through can easily apply to other relationships, particularly parenting. For example, when you set specific guidelines/consequences for a teenager -- to be home by a certain time or complete all his school tasks before playing computer games or watching TV -- and don't follow through by applying the consequences when those rules have been violated, the result is often chaos. Boundaries are important in home life, as they are in the work force. The author talks about how easy and common it is for us to deceive others or make a promise and then not keep it. I think we could all learn a bit from this book, actually, just by taking the basics and applying them to every facet of our lives.

Unusual numerical rating: This book is so nicely written (dry, yes, but clearly laid out and without overlooking the important human factor) that I think it's a rare 5/5. I highly recommend it to managers of all levels.

Cover thoughts: It's hard to see in the image, above, but there's a silver outline of two hands clasped (a hand-shake) on that bright green background. Perfect. A hand-shake implies the giving of your word of honor in agreement for some specific action. That image is definitely indicative of the meaning of this book. Plus, I love the bright green. In general, business books have the worst covers, but the cover of The Integrity Dividend is more appealing than most.

11 comments:

  1. I think it's so cool that you read books like this. You inspire me to pick up books outside my comfort zone and see what else is out there and what might surprise me.

    So sad to hear about your Italy trip being a no go. I was looking forward to meeting up with you in Turin. It looks like the hubs and I might be here longer than expected, so next time around be sure to let me know!

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  2. I really appreciate that you review this genre! This is prob the category of books my hub reads most. I will rec this to him. Thank you.

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  3. Nikki,

    Why, thank you for telling me that. It makes me feel good all under, knowing my bizarre range of reading material inspires you in some way. :)

    I know! I was really hoping to meet up with you, too! We're going to give up and order a birth certificate so we can get passports renewed (just the kiddo and me -- hubby's is always up to date), but there should be other chances. I'm glad you'll be there a while longer; maybe it'll still work out next year, then.

    Care,

    Wahoo! I'm so glad someone who knows someone who reads business has read my blog. I was thinking, last night (after I noticed there still were no comments) that most of my readers probably are more literary and not particularly interested, but I get off on that stuff. I love management with a bit of psychology thrown in -- organizational behavior is one of the areas I originally considered getting a PhD . . . before my husband took me to the hinterlands and ruined my educational possibilites . . . but we won't go there. :)

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  4. thanks for the good and thoughtful review! would it be pushy of me to encourage you to cross-post it on Amazon?

    --Tony Simons

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  5. I read a fair number of business books, for no good reason, really. Just because I find them fascinating, all that focus on organizational behaviour etc. This one sounds very good; some of these kind of books can be a bit hokey, so I'll be looking out for this one for sure.

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  6. Tony,

    Thank you for dropping by! I'm glad you enjoyed the review. Nope, it's not too pushy. I don't post to Amazon often, so I'll have to ponder to remember my password, but I'll give it a try. :)

    Melanie,

    I think I'd enjoy reading business books even if I didn't happen to have a business degree. Some of them are really fascinating. But, yes, lots of hokey stuff out there -- way too many business books are heavy on generalities and low on substance. This particular title is excellent -- very meaty.

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  7. I love books like this and will look for this one. It is heartening to think that maybe integrity will resume its place as something to aspire to -- as opposed to simply financial success.

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  8. Jenclair,

    My sentiments exactly! I thought it was really quite thrilling to find out that integrity in management leads to a domino effect that actually increases financial success. Wouldn't it be great if everyone realized that and went back to old-fashioned honesty and service?

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  9. I dnt know, I never read these kind of books sadly :)

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  10. Just HAD to come back and write another scathingly brillian remark here... I know one of the reasons (there are many) that I love your blog is your variety. AND that you read and reviewed a book that I had also: http://bkclubcare.wordpress.com/2007/12/06/the-five-dysfunctions-of-a-team/
    and you might also like this post where I touch on this subject of biz books...
    http://bkclubcare.wordpress.com/2007/12/11/books/

    Enjoy! (?)

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  11. Veens,

    Business books aren't everyone's thing. I really enjoy them, but I think there are just a few gems and a whole lot of books that are splashy but low on content. This particular title is excellent. :)

    Care,

    All of your remarks are naturally scathingly brilliant, of course.

    I haven't actually read The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, but my husband has that one. It's been floating around my house for a year. I'll go check out your post on business books, thanks!

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