HGL Book Review, by Greg Wiens
Rework  by Jason Fried, David Heinemeier Hansson goodreads

Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson is probably not at the top of your reading lists if it is on it at all. After reading this little gut-puncher of a book, may I suggest that it should be. If you want to understand the mentality of the young adults in your congregation, if you want to find out what motivates entrepreneurs, or if you simply want lead a dynamic and flexible organization—which will be the key to growing a healthy business over the next decade—then you should read Rework. As our culture continues to change rapidly around us, what we learn to use today, will have a very short shelf life.


Rework author Jason Fried is also the founder of the web design company, 37Signals. Co-author and business partner, David Heinemeier Hansson built success by listening to customers, speaking plainly and – here’s the revolutionary part—sticking to their word. To get an idea of their mindset, here are a few of 37Signals guiding principles:

Useful is forever: Bells and whistles wear off, but usefulness never does. We build useful software that does just what you need and nothing you don’t.

Clarity is king: Buzzwords, lingo, and sensationalized sales-and-marketing-speak have no place at 37signals. We communicate clearly and honestly.

Long-term contracts are obscene: No one likes being locked into something they don’t want anymore. Our customers can cancel at any time, no questions asked. No setup/termination fees either.

I work with a lot of organizations that espouse lofty values that they do not actually carry out. Fried and Hansson saw this same scenario played out across the marketplace and decided that they were going to do things differently. Rework is not about the values themselves, but about creating a leadership culture that upholds the values. Many principles shared in the book fly directly in the face of what is taught in MBA programs and management courses.

The book covers about 70 subjects including Progress, Productivity, Competitors, Hiring, Damage Control, and Culture. No more than three pages are dedicated to each subject, and the writing is pithy and humorous. The language is surely not redeemed, but their insight is. I found myself laughing and crying as they expose so many truths about the business management world that were contrary to what I had previously believed.


When reading the book you must intentionally suspend any preconceived notions you have based on what you have been taught or experienced in business. As I let this book inform what I learned in my MBA and leadership study, it felt like the ground under me was shaking. Fried and Hansson are quick to support their “heretical” leadership positions with research or real-life proof, but they can still be hard to accept. Upon contemplation and application, however, I began to feel liberated from much of the rigid, arbitrary principles that govern the organizations I have led.

Take, for instance, the standing meeting. Almost every company has one: the weekly staff meeting, the monthly management meeting, you name it. Fried and Hansson say that you should cancel every standing meeting on your calendar, and only schedule meetings to deal with a specific problem or need, and only invite the parties relevant to that need. I decided to take their advice and cancel our staff meetings, which had been a struggle for years: Someone always felt left out, bored or otherwise unproductive. I had never admitted to myself or others that the meetings were ineffective, but in my gut, I felt it.

Life without the weekly staff meetings has been wonderful. We still have meetings, but they are on an ad hoc basis, and only the people who need to know are in attendance. Even when we just need to catch up, I will call everyone into the conference room for 15 minutes or so for some connection time. This method is so much more efficient and freeing, but is so contrary to current business practices.


Here are some more of the principles outlined in Rework that challenge the status quo.

  • Failure doesn’t teach you how to succeed. It only teaches you how to fail. Success teaches you how to succeed.
  • Build what you need, not what you think others want.
  • If you want it bad enough, you will make time for it regardless of how busy you are.
  • Make everything as simple as you can. Don’t add too many details. Details can be added later if they are needed (and often they won’t be).
  • Shorter is better. (The 57,000-word Rework manuscript was reduced to 27,000 words!)
  • Interruption is the enemy of productivity. If you are staying late and working long hours, it isn’t because you have too much to do, it is because you are allowing interruptions to keep your productivity low.
  • Creativity is the first thing to go when you lose sleep.
  • Make small to-do lists, and keep them small.
  • It is much better for people to be happy using someone else’s services or product than being disgruntled using yours.
  • Be happy with obscurity, you can take risks without anyone noticing.
  • Don’t be afraid to show your flaws, no one likes plastic flowers.
  • Here are the questions that you should continue to ask yourself:
    • What are you doing?
    • What problem are you solving?
    • Is it useful?
    • Are you adding value?
    • Will this change behavior?
    • Is there an easier way?
    • What could you be doing instead?
    • Is it really worth it?


As you can see, these principles apply directly to any business, but most importantly, their leadership. If you lead a smaller organization, highlight the advantages of your size instead of trying to act like a big business. There are plenty of others out there who feel much more at home among a smaller setting instead of being just a face in the crowd.

Very few books have made as big a difference in the way I view leadership as Rework. My staff meetings are a thing of the past, my to-do lists are shorter, and I am a much different, hopefully, more effective leader today than I was a year ago when I read this book. Read it and see how it changes you.

Integrity: The Courage to Meet the Demands of Reality

HGL Book Review, by Greg Wiens
Integrity: The Courage to Meet the Demands of Reality by Henry Cloud goodreads

We all know people of integrity. We know it when we see it, but it’s not so easy to define. In his book Integrity: The Courage to Meet the Demands of Reality, Henry Cloud brings a breadth and a depth to the subject that few could. The book is as appropriate for a CEO of a Fortune 100 Company as it is for a small group in a local church. Cloud thoughtfully examines integrity and how to develop it.

In the book, Cloud identifies six abilities that create integrity. People with integrity have the ability to:

  1. Connect authentically (leads to trust)
  2. Be oriented toward the truth (leads to finding and operating in reality)
  3. Get results and finish well (leads to reaching goals, profits, or the mission)
  4. Embrace and deal with the negative (leads to ending, resolving, or transforming problems)
  5. Be oriented toward growth (which leads to increase)
  6. Be transcendent (which leads to enlargement of the bigger picture and oneself)

Cloud helps navigate the difficult waters of personality differences as he analyzes integrity. Some leaders are not naturally people-oriented and they resort to bullying their people to accomplish tasks. Other leaders are so people-oriented that they never get anything done, but everyone loves them!  Leaders today typically capitalize on their strengths while ignoring their weaknesses. Although building on your strengths is important, leaders should realize that some perceived weaknesses are often contributors to integrity.

Behaviors like follow-through (the third ability listed above) are sometimes identified as a weakness. Cloud appropriately identifies the difference between weakness and a lack of integrity. Each leader will work more on certain areas of integrity than others, but all six must be developed.  If a person never follows through to complete their goals (#3), this is an issue of integrity, not simply a weakness. The same can be said of denying reality, which some would call faith (#2). You surely must have faith (#6), but if it keeps you from seeing the truth it is not integrity.

Cloud helpfully illustrates how each of these components must work in concert with each other. Integrity can only be called integrity when all six of these abilities are integrated into one whole. This cannot be done mechanistically, but rather dynamically.  Most older leaders have had to learn the consequences of failing to effectively develop in the leadership role. We all know someone who has been “dethroned” because they failed to develop in one or more of the six areas outlined in the book.

This book has the potential to accelerate the development of a leader’s integrity by identifying which areas he or she lacks. The book allows for an intentional process rather than a random approach to developing integrity in our lives.

What This Book Means To Me

I find this book so refreshing because Cloud’s words challenge me, both personally and professionally. He leaves no part of my life untouched. I first read the book several years ago. I took my team through the book and we spoke into each other’s lives as we reviewed the chapters. It was one of the most humbling, yet growing experiences that I have encountered in team development.

In rereading it for this review I was reminded of the power of the principles to transform a mediocre leader into a truly impactful one simply by building integrity into their life. I was also reminded of my need to go through it again with some trusted friends. I recommend doing so for yourself and with those around you.

A Failure of Nerve

HGL Book Review, by Greg Wiens
A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix  by Edwin H. Friedman, Edward W. Beal (Editor), Margaret M. Treadwell (Editor) goodreads

There are few books that literally change the way I view my whole life outside of the Bible, but I have just read one: A Failure of Nerve by Edwin Friedman. Maybe it’s the content, maybe it’s the time in my life during which I came across it, or maybe it’s the point that our culture has reached–this book pinpoints why we see anemic leaders throughout our society. Although Friedman died before he could finish writing this book, it is complete enough to challenge much about what you believe about yourself, your family, and the organization you call “work.”

Friedman’s background allowed him to write the book toward the end of his rich, full life of working with all types of people from the President of our nation, to congressmen, to Fortune 100 company presidents, to pastors and rabbis as well as parents and children. His work taught him that if you can’t have a healthy relationship in the home you are not going to have them in the church or on the job. We are all called to be leaders in our homes, our churches and in our society. He believes that it is the same principles at work in one venue as another. This flies in the face of current beliefs and is especially relevant today as leader after a respected leader allows personal immorality to cloud professional credibility.

Additionally, in our current culture (and most homes) a system has developed which inhibits good leadership and will literally rebel against a good leader should she or he decide to step up and drive change. Only truly self-differentiated leaders will be able to lead in these emotionally regressive cultures, and even then, some have a failure of nerve and pull back.

Friedman was a student of history. He saw many parallels in our current leadership culture to those faced in the Dark Ages. He posits that the type of leadership needed to bring us through our anxiety-ridden and leadership fearing current culture was exactly the same leadership needed to bring the world out of the Dark Ages. He sees many similarities between the emotional anxiety that kept the world in the dark and what is keeping our world from making progress toward health.

At the time of his death, Friedman identified an emotional cultural trend in which leadership becomes more and more anxious and afraid to attempt what is necessary to improve the health of the nation. For instance, we are more concerned about showing empathy to emotionally dysfunctional people than we are to helping them improve their pathology. We, therefore, refuse to require responsibility of people. We dumb down our organizations to accommodate the lowest common denominator or the most dysfunctional person.

If someone desires to lead in a healthy manner they will often find followers sabotaging them in a manner that emasculates the leader. This is where the title of the book originates; under this pressure, most leaders suffer “a failure of nerve” and capitulate to the sickest member of the organization due to fear. There are real fears of lawsuits, lack of promotions or accusations of being insensitive, arrogant or simply uncaring. Friedman admits that to lead as needed today, one will not be politically correct. So, if a leader’s desire is to have a sick society applaud his or her efforts, they will never be able to lead effectively.

Friedman’s historical analysis shows that this current condition is very similar to the culture that Columbus faced during the late 15th Century. At that time, the Greeks had known the earth was round for more than 2,000 years, but leaders were still unwilling to stake their fortunes and very lives on it for fear of persecution and ridicule. It was Columbus who was willing to be called a fool and sail in the face of the contrary opinion. Had Columbus (among others) not been willing to demonstrate self-regulated leadership, Friedman was convinced that the Dark Ages would have continued for potentially centuries longer.

Friedman elaborates upon five characteristics that Columbus and other world explorers possessed that led to an entirely new civilization in the New World. What we inherited here in America as far as our view of leadership is a direct result of the foundation laid by those explorers starting with Columbus and continuing on through the establishment of our nation, as we know it today. It is these same five factors that must be demonstrated by leaders in any socio-emotional system that needs a renaissance.

The five characteristics are:

1. A capacity to get outside the emotional climate of the day.

There is so much written today about vision. But for Friedman, vision is not a cerebral exercise. The ability to see things that don’t exist now generally is an emotional phenomenon. It requires you to be emotionally free enough to not conform to existing patterns of knowing and relating and breaking free of others’ expectations. It is knowing where you as a leader begin and end and knowing the same with everyone else in your life. This is emotional, not cognitive! Very few leaders have the emotional resilience to get outside of their current climate.

2. A willingness to be exposed and vulnerable.

As long as a leader is afraid of criticism or failing in front of others they will never be able to lead others out a state of anxiety. When a leader must take total responsibility for their own response to their environment they are very exposed. There must not be a fear of standing where no one else will stand with them; this is where true leadership begins. So many leaders will lead until they are left exposed and alone, and then they have a failure of nerve.

3. Persistence in the face of resistance and downright rejection.

To lead in a new direction (out of the state of anxious culture) requires the kind of drive and motivation that appears to others to be out of balance. In this usage, “balance” is an epithet for the unwillingness to take the risk of stopping the emotional entropy that keeps the culture slipping into the quicksand of anxiety.

As Friedman states

…no one has gone from slavery to freedom with the slaveholders cheering them on, nor contributed significantly to the evolution of our species by working a 40-hour week, nor achieved any significant accomplishment by taking refuge in cynicism.” The resistance not only comes from the outside, it often comes from inside the leader as thoughts like “How can you have it right and everyone else be crazy?

4. Stamina in the face of sabotage along the way.

The key here is that there will be saboteurs who seek to undermine the efforts of the leader. Most leaders are aware and prepared for this. However, often this becomes an impediment when those who start out on the same team with the same passion and ownership of the vision as the leader eventually lose their nerve and mutiny. For every 10 leaders that can handle sabotage from enemies, only one will survive the sabotage of a friend or teammate without experiencing a failure of nerve.

5. Being headstrong and ruthless at least in the eyes of others.

Each of the explorers in the new world did not allow their relationships get in the way of the vision to which they were consumed. Friedman points out that these leaders did not manipulate or use others, but they were very clear in the priority in vision over relationship. In other words, when forced to choose between maintaining a relationship or completing the vision, each explorer stayed with his or her goals. They didn’t rationalize not accomplishing their goals for the sake of “team-building” or “not leaving anyone behind.”

Friedman gives an example from the life of Columbus, which personifies all five of these qualities. On the way to the Canaries, the Pinta’s rudder broke and the crew struggled to fix it. After waiting several days, Columbus felt that this whole incident was an attempt to sabotage his efforts. He sensed his colleagues’ will waning. He finally signaled that he was going on to the Canaries by himself and would wait for them there. He was prepared to go on alone, yet two days later, the Pinta arrived. Columbus was so focused on his goal that whether or not the ships could make a return trip was an afterthought. The objective was reaching his destination, no matter what.

Leadership is never easy and it is never finished. It is like a muscle that requires continual exercise to remain strong. My hope is to see more leaders who are willing to develop, maintain, and use this kind of strength to improve themselves and their organizations.

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