Book Review: Building the Best

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Stay away from John Eades’s book, Building the Best: Eight Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. Eades gives you principles the title promises but there are important things wrong with this book.

Let’s begin with the good part. There are eight principles and they will guide you if you are in a leadership role. Here’s a list of the principles.

1. Use high levels of love and discipline to elevate others.

2. Without strong relationships, you can’t lead.

3. Culture starts with you, but your people prove it.

4. People persevere because of purpose, not pay.

5. Goals aren’t achieved without priorities put into action.

6. The instant you lower your standards is the instant performance erodes.

7. Accountability is an advantage; make it your obligation.

8. Coaching unlocks potential and elevated performance.

Each principle gets a chapter and each chapter has a summary which outlines Eades’s key points.

So, what’s wrong with this book?

The writing is not good. The chapter-long descriptions of each principle are often confusing or boring or both. Eades goes out of his way to use his own terminology instead of standard terminology. That makes it harder to connect the ideas and suggestions in Building the Best</em> to other leadership books 

There are way too many coaches used as examples and founts of wisdom. I’m a sports fan. I think there are things business can learn from sports and from coaches. But there are times when this book seems like a motivational booklet for a Junior High football team.

Those problems are irritations. There are two significant problems with Building the Best. Here’s an example of each.

One of the hardest things most leaders must do is talk to team members about behavior or performance. Eades devotes several pages to this. He says that you should tell the team member about the “facts.” Then, pause and give the team member an opportunity to respond. So far, so good.

The pause is potentially powerful. It can be the start of a dialogue. The team member can explain things that you may not know. Eades assume you have the facts right going in and converts what happens next, which he calls a “dialogue,” into a sales process. The boss relays the facts, which he is sure of. The team member raises an objection. The boss meets the objection. And so on, until the team member agrees to what the boss is suggesting.

I’ve worked with, studied, and coached supervisors for almost half a century. One thing I’m sure of is that you can’t count on having things right. If you’ve witnessed a situation directly, you may not know the background and the history. More often, you get someone else’s report of the problem. You may think you have the facts, but you don’t. You must probe for them.

This is important. If you follow Eades’s advice, you’re likely to come off as the know-it-all boss and destroy any possibility of a good relationship with your team members. Even worse, you may reprimand someone for performance he or she is not responsible for. That will ruin your relationship with that team member and it’s likely to ruin your relationship with all the team members.

The other big issue is about the use of sources. In his chapter on coaching, he refers to Anders Ericsson’s research. Eades says this:

“Ericsson’s finding from over three decades of research, which he highlights in his book, Peak, says that deliberate practice is the key to achieving high levels of performance.”

That’s true, but it’s not the whole story. What Ericsson actually says in Peak is that deliberate practice is only appropriate for certain fields, like music or chess. Deliberate practice is only appropriate for fields with a recognized domain of knowledge. The field must also have a standard development process. And there must be a cadre of experienced coaches who use the knowledge and the process. Leadership does not meet those criteria.

In fact, you can’t many things a leader needs to learn, the way a piano student practices. Ericsson addresses this in Peak. He says for a new leader to improve, he or she needs to start with a mental model of what good leadership looks, then work toward the model.

How can you get better if you can’t use standard deliberate practice? You learn in the flow of leading. Ericsson outlines that Peak.  Robert Thomas goes into more detail in his book, Crucibles of Leadership.

I’ll be blunt. Good books don’t get important things wrong. This book gets important things wrong.

Buy Building the Best for the principles or buy a summary that gives you the essence of them. But, fair warning. This book gets important things wrong, and if you follow its advice, you will get them wrong, too.

You can check out some of my highlights and notes from this book on GoodReads.


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