December 19, 2011 | last updated June 4, 2012 11:30 am
BIZ BOOKS

Books explore managing innovation, managing up

"Behind the Executive Door: Unexpected Lessons for Managing Your Boss and Career" by Karol Wasylysyn, (Springer, $24.95).

By adapting your style to fit that of the boss, you get to play 'climb the ladder' in ways that capitalize on and showcase your skills. Wasylysyn identifies the characteristics of three common types of bosses and shows you how to manage up through "executive vignettes." Here's your guide:

"The Remarkable Leader" sees how the present creates the future. As an employee, you can count on: credible and understandable pictures of what it will take to get from Point A to Point B, keeping people on the same page, frequent and candid feedback and opportunities for learning and development.

Managing the remarkable leader relies on forward-thinking, too. You have to "stretch the boss's thinking." How? Stretch yours. Anticipate business issues by doing your homework on your industry and others so you can see how other firms plan and execute. Speak up; "inject strategic comments, questions and thoughts into regularly scheduled meetings."

"The Perilous Leader" flip-flops on strategy, objectives and how. Playing blame game when things go awry and hogging the credit for positive outcomes can be expected. Rarely satisfied and self-centered, the perilous leader keeps staff off-balance intentionally.

Managing such a boss is perilous, too. When you see the flip-flop coming, you need to tell the boss about what's been accomplished so far and stress the role he/she played in making things happen. It's not so much ego stroking as it is a way to remind the boss that you appreciate his/her input and feedback.

"The Toxic Leader" thinks he/she is the smartest person in the room — any room. This boss trusts 'I', not the staff to make decisions. Micromanagement is common. So is the lack of timely feedback. "Yes boss" is what such managers like to hear.

Short of leaving for greener pastures, the only thing staff can do is work together in order to control what you can control.

Getting and staying on the fast track always involves managing your boss.

• • •

"Creative People Must Be Stopped — 6 Ways We Kill Innovation (Without Even Trying)" by David Owens (Jossey-Bass, 29.95).

The issue: Everyone wants progress, but no one wants change. Out-of-the-box-thinking is often met with too expensive, too disruptive, too weird, too risky responses. Such responses mask the real reason: Fear of failure. Firms succumbing to that fear don't have the mindset needed to innovate.

Owens identifies six perceptions that must change to make innovation part of the organization's culture. The common threads binding them together are: 1. Incorrectly framing the problem. To a big-picture thinker, focusing on the details "may make ideas for innovation efforts seem disappointingly puny." The big picture may be lost on a master of details. Both views lead to the same conclusion: The problem is too complex to solve.

2. Problem-solving strategies. We tend to rely on approaches that have worked for us. "Proven" strategies "may cause us to overlook the insights we would gain if we tried alternative approaches." There's always another way; if you don't find it, someone else will. As an example, Owens cites the music industry's reliance on copyright laws to limit music sharing. Record companies sued over 20,000 music fans. Apple saw an opportunity to make music downloads work for the record companies and music lovers — iTunes.

Before deciding on strategy, he advocates multiple perspectives (not all of which come from internal sources) and viewing the problem "as a clue that points the way to a better solution." To wit, Spence Silver invented what his 3M bosses called "an inferior adhesive." Instead of viewing the problem as an inferior adhesive, he chose to make this "inferior adhesive" useful — we use Post-it Notes daily.

Each chapter has an assessment tool that makes you think about getting out of your own way.

Jim Pawlak is a nationally syndicated book reviewer.

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