What business books are bankers favorites? Some of the choices might surprise you.
By Steve Cocheo, executive editor,
Remedies in print: books bankers live by
Perhaps it’s mere fancy, but we’d like to think that shortly after the wheel was invented, the business-improvement cave painting followed. The title might have been something like Who Moved Your Wheel? or maybe Spinning Your Wheel Into Success.
One could argue that much of the written word, through history, has dealt with improvement, be it on the spiritual, personal, or business level. Personal experience, of course, is the best teacher, but sometimes the written word can help someone give form to their own vague thoughts, guide them to a solution from chaos, or even lead to a whole new outlook on a problem or challenge.
Sometimes, a good idea just needs jostling out. Plato once wrote that, “Written words can do no more than recall the things of which they treat to the mind of one who knows them already.”
Whatever the result, bankers often look for aid in the printed word. We asked our “Pass the Aspirin” contributors what books had helped them the most over the last few years, and received interesting answers. Some spoke highly of very popular works, while others found benefit from books that are off the radar. In addition, we asked the bankers how they have applied what they have read to their banks and business lives.
Learning through stories
Even before Aesop and his fables, the wise ones in a village or tribe would pass on their wisdom in the form of stories with a message. Some current business books do the same.
For example, The Servant: A Simple Story About The True Essence of Leadership, by James C. Hunter (Crown Business/Random House, 1998) is a favorite of Terry Zeltinger, president of United Community Bank of North Dakota, Minot, N.D. The Servant tells of an executive whose life is falling apart on all fronts. He regains his abilities as a boss, husband, father, and coach after attending a seminar in a monastery. The monk who presents the seminar turns out to be a former Wall Street legend. The essential message of the book is that the foundation of true leadership is not power, but authority, which relies on relationships, love, service, and sacrifice.
“Servant leadership at our bank means we treat each other and our customers with dignity and respect,” says Zeltinger, “which is the way that we would like to be treated. And we are very good listeners.”
Servant leadership hinges on service to others, so the bank encourages employees to be active in their communities, and gives them time off in order to do so. The Servant is a quick read, according to Zeltinger, and he says he re-reads it frequently as a reminder of its principles. Zeltinger likes the structure, as a story, “instead of being a leadership book that is filled with theory, lecture, and detail.”
Another business “fable” is found in Ready to Lead? A Story for Leaders and Their Mentors, by Alan Price (Jossey-Bass/Wiley, 2004).
This is the pick of Debra R. Lins, president & CEO, Community Business Bank, Sauk City, Wis. Ready to Lead? is the story of Mark Gibson, a young executive who has been with his company for three years. When the story opens, his boss, Patricia, is meeting with him for his annual performance review. She says much that Gibson expects, and then shocks him. One of his best assets, she reveals, is that he will own up to mistakes, and, then, having done so, go about fixing them. The company has him in mind for bigger and better things, she says, if he is willing to step up and take the challenge.
“This book shows the differences between being a manager and being a leader,” says Lins. “It is a quick read and is fun to read. I saw myself having to make some of these same choices as Gibson along my own career path.”
Lins turned this book into the beginning of an internal education and expansion program.
“I asked the bank’s officer team to read it,” Linns recalls, “as well as four other leadership books, to help them determine if they aspire to be a leader or a manager.”
She linked this with another exercise: During a planning session, “Each officer shared who they felt had been (or is) a great leader and why,” says Linns, “and then wrote down the ten qualities that they think make for a great leader. Then we sealed them in envelopes.”
The plan was to review what they wrote then at the end of 2006 at a similar session.
“The goal is for each officer to look at their 2005 list to see if the qualities listed last year for a leader are the same, or if they now have further insight into the qualities of leadership,” says Linns.
Rounding up good business ethics
For Ted Awerkamp, coming up with a favorite book was easy. Awerkamp, president and CEO, Mercantile Trust & Savings Bank, Quincy, Ill., named Cowboy Ethics. The book was written by James P. Owen, head of an investment firm, and features numerous full-color photos of modern cowboys at work by David R. Stoecklein. It was published in 2004 by Stoecklein Publishing & Photography, www.drsphoto.net.
“It’s the best business book I’ve read in the last year,” says Awerkamp. “It was a gift from an advisor, a simple coffee table book in paperback, but a wonderful work and reinforcement to what good business people already know.”
Awerkamp explains that Cowboy Ethics “revisits the basics, the unwritten ‘cowboy code’ of working hard and honestly, doing what you say you will, knowing right from wrong, making and sticking to a commitment on a handshake.”
The subtitle of the book is, What Wall Street Can Learn from the Code of the West. Owen, owner/partner at Austin Capital Management, Austin, Texas, writes in his foreword that he produced the book in response to the scandals that exposed the dark side of Wall Street and which helped spawn the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. He writes that his musings on what could cure Wall Street intersected with his long interest in the Old West. The text is his distillation of what cowboys lived by. Owen brought these down to ten key points, which he illustrates through the book with citations from cowboy books, poetry, movies, and more. Here is a sampling:
• Live each day with courage.
• Take pride in your work.
• Be tough, but fair.
• Know where to draw the line.
A civilizing influence
A book written as a “handbook for the practical use of civility,” Choosing Civility: The Twenty-Five Rules of Considerate Conduct, was the top pick for banker/prescriber Richard Chenoweth, president, The Rawlins National Bank, Rawlins, Wyo.
Choosing Civility, written by P.M. Forni (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2002), has much to say of interest to bankers, according to Chenoweth. “For bankers who spend their lives serving the public and working in a highly labor-intensive service industry, the book offers information and methods to assist with the daily stress and issues that we face.” Chenoweth summarized some of his favorite points from the book:
• Civility is a form of goodness, but not just to other individuals; it also entails an active interest in the well-being of the communities in which we live.
• “Listening has three basic components”:
1. Plan your listening. “Say to yourself, this is the time to just listen.”
2. Show that you are listening. “Establish eye contact, give the occasional nod, interject brief expressions, and encourage the speaker to continue.”
3. Be a cooperative listener. Separate what is important from what is not. Give shape and direction to what the other person is trying to say not only with words but with body language as well. Ask open-ended questions and ask what the alternatives are.
The hands-down winner for most frequent mentions by our banker-prescribers is Jim Collins’ Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t (HarperBusiness). A good half-dozen prescribers praised Collins’ 2001 book with tremendous enthusiasm. A core point of the book is that “good is the enemy of great.” That is, complacency with decent performance makes the difference between those firms that excel, and those who stop at good.
“The book shows that when you continue to carry employees who perform at a lower level, you weaken the organization, and the good employees see that you allow sub-performances,” says Patrick J. Glotzbach, president and CEO, New Washington (Ind.) State Bank.
Roger E. Claypool, president and CEO, Shelby County State Bank, Harlan, Iowa, has modeled his last two strategic planning sessions around this book.
He is a fan of the book’s “hedgehog” concept. In brief, this is that the hedgehog does one thing very well—it can protect itself by rolling into a ball. One of the pillars of Collins’ book is that great companies aren’t necessarily those that look sexiest, trendiest, or smartest. Instead, they are companies that concentrate on an essential, or several essentials, that they do really well.
At monthly executive lunches, says Claypool, “we always talk about the three things that make up the hedgehog concept: What can we be the best at doing; what we are passionate about; and what drives our economic engine.”
Robert Braswell, president and CEO of Carolina Bank, Greensboro, N.C., says Good to Great, which stresses the importance of having the right people in the right positions, convinced him it was time to refocus on the bank’s hiring process.
“It needed to be upgraded,” says Braswell. As a result, the bank now administers personality tests to certain groups to insure that they are the proper fit for the bank.
Give it to ‘em straight
Taking author’s license, one more book we think makes an excellent quick read on management essentials is the politically incorrect Harry Says: Boss Talk Without the Warm Fuzzies (Blue Point Books, 2006, www.harrysays.com). This book not only doesn’t read like most management and leadership books, but doesn’t look like them either.
The book’s editor, Bruce Feldman, had long urged his good friend and extraordinary boss—Harry—to put his thoughts on managing down on paper. It turned out that Harry did, in a spiral-bound notebook that he asked his daughter to pass to Feldman after he’d died. The book, consisting of short quotes, is printed in a style resembling notebook jottings.
“Harry knew more about business and people than anybody I’d ever met,” Feldman says in an introduction. Here are samplings of the often pungent Harryisms:
• “A BOSS ISN’T: A grandfather, grandmother, father, mother, uncle, aunt, brother, sister, husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, best friend or, for that matter, any kind of friend. A BOSS IS A BOSS.”:
• “Judge people by what you have seen them do, not by what they say they did. And never confuse, ‘I can do it,’ with, ‘I have done it.’ One is confidence talking. The other is experience.”
• “Too often we try to hire people to solve our problems when we should be hiring them to carry out our solutions.” BJ
The electronic version of this article available at: http://lb.ec2.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/sb/ababj0207/index.php?startid=20