Archive for Summaries and Reviews

“Thanks for the Feedback,” by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen

Thanks for the Feedback, Stone and HeenRecently, I was attending a school leadership convention, and one of the speakers referenced (and highly recommended) the book Thanks for the Feedback, by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen. So, of course, I picked up a copy to read, and I have not been disappointed.

The book focuses on the topic of feedback, primarily from the perspective, and for the benefit, of the person receiving feedback (the subtitle is “The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well – even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and, frankly, you’re not in the mood”). The authors begin by identifying the three primary triggers that affect our response to feedback: truth triggers, relationship triggers, and identity triggers. The remainder of the book fleshes these out, and explains how to spot these triggers, and how to navigate the feedback well so that you can learn from it and have healthy dialogue.

I fully agree with the person who recommended this book, and so I in turn would highly recommend this book for you. Immediately after I started reading, I applied what I was learning in an interaction with one of my administrators. I had just finished reading chapter 2, which differentiates between feedback that comes as appreciation, as coaching, or as evaluation, when I needed to have a conversation to address a potential concern, and I was able to specifically explain the type of feedback I was giving, which helped it to be received in the way it was intended. Then a couple of weeks later, the business office received a dissatisfied email from a parent, and I was able to apply a lesson from the book to help those in the business office receive the feedback in way that helped them to understand the parent and to learn how to improve what was already a good process, as a result of the feedback.

This book also took me back to another time in my own life what I was being given feedback from my boss, and the feedback was difficult to receive, in part because I disagreed both with the messenger and with his method of delivery. My dad, again with his great wisdom, helped me to know how to enter that meeting prepared to receive the feedback I needed to hear in spite of the messenger, and years later I was able to look back and see what I had learned (both from the process, and from the circumstances that led to the meeting). Then, as I read this book, I found principles that directly reflected my dad’s wisdom so many years ago (which, for me, only affirmed my dad’s wisdom).

Therefore, I can say that this book is an excellent book on communication, and especially on the type of communication and response that takes place through feedback. It is practical, understandable, and beneficial, so if you haven’t read it, you ought to.

Incidentally, this is the third book I’ve read recently that also referenced Mindset, by Carol Dweck, which I likewise found to be an excellent book, and another one you definitely need to read if you haven’t done so already.

“The Happiness Advantage” by Shawn Achor

The Happiness Advantage, cover The Happiness Advantage, by Shawn Achor, is another book in a category that has become much more popular recently: positive psychology. Psychology historically has studied human nature in order to identify and address humanity’s brokenness and negative behavior, in order to try to correct it or fix it, but the relatively new category of research in positive psychology is focused on understanding positive and successful human behavior, in order to help others replicate it. The Happiness Advantage takes that route, with the premise that our brains are hard-wired to perform at their best when they are in a positive framework.


Achor explains seven principles that can be used to develop a positive state of mind, principles that when used will not only effect our individual attitudes and performance, but those of the people around us as well. These seven principles are:

  • The Happiness Advantage – developing a positive outlook
  • The Fulcrum and the Lever – believing in potential
  • The Tetris Effect – learning to see opportunity
  • Falling Up – growing through adversity
  • The Zorro Circle – learning to build on small successes
  • The 20-Second Rule – small adjustments that help to change behavior
  • Social Investment – cultivating relationships that enhance effectiveness


The lessons and illustrations that Achor shares are useful for shaping your mindset, learning to think about and respond to life in a way that moves you forward and helps you grow. He writes in an engaging and enjoyable style, and backs up his ideas with research. And he is right – how you think about life and circumstances has a profound effect on how you live and how you grow.

As Ecclesiastes says, “there is nothing new under the sun,” and this book is no exception. Positive Psychology is being viewed as a relatively new approach to understanding human behavior, but the ideas here that speak truthfully about humanity are not new; in fact, those same ideas that are true are found in the Bible, given to us by God, which provides us with an understanding of who we are, how we think, how we act, and what God intended us to be. The only difference is that the Bible points out that our nature was given to us by God and then damaged by sin, and therefore God is the most credible resource and solution for understanding and addressing the needs and issues of humanity.   So, I thought it was a great book, with helpful explanations and tools, but I also believe that there are foundational principles behind the ideas that we should recognize (and that is largely why I think it is a helpful book).



“Mindset,” by Carol Dweck

Mindset, Dweck, coverDo you believe that your qualities are predetermined and unchangeable, or that they can be cultivated through effort, application, and experience? This is the question that Carol Dweck addresses in Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.

According to Dweck, your “mindset” is the view you adapt for yourself, which in turn profoundly affects the way you lead your life. She defines two different mindset options – fixed (qualities are predetermined and unchangeable) and growth (qualities are changeable and malleable) – which then affect your life in many ways, such as how you handle challenge, the value of effort, resilience when you face setbacks, and your perception of performance, ability, and limitations. As she differentiates between these two, she describes how a fixed mindset limits learning and growth and leads to negative responses to failure, while a growth mindset learns and grows from challenge and failure. She also provides data (with illustrations and stories) to show how the choice of mindset can affect the development of ability and achievement. The remainder of the book walks through the contexts of sports, business, relationships, parenting, and education, discussing how each of these topics is affected by the two mindsets.

In essence, she says, a fixed mindset believes that intelligence and talent are static, while a growth mindset believes that intelligence and talent can be developed. The mindset, in turn, through which you filter your view of life has a direct impact on how you view challenges, obstacles, effort, criticism, and the success of others. The result is that the individual with a growth mindset tends to reach higher levels of achievement without plateauing.

This book not only helped me to be conscious of my own mindset, intentionally seeking to develop and maintain one that is growth-oriented, but it also helped me to be able to identify the mindset in my employees. This was quite helpful in the process of evaluating employees and assessing my own leadership; but more importantly, helped me to see how my mindset can positively or negatively affect my relationship with my wife and my children. It is definitely a good book for your shelf.


Dweck, C. (2006). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Random House: New York, NY.

“Scaling Up,” by Verne Harnish

Scaling Up, Harnish, coverI was recently in a board meeting, during which the conversation had drifted to some strategic planning discussion, when someone mentioned “the Rockefeller Habits.” This person started talking about how they – the Rockefeller Habits – had been implemented in his workplace, and how they had benefited his organization, and encouraged the rest of us to look into it. So, I went home and ordered a copy of Verne Harnish’s Scaling Up: How a Few Companies Make It . . . and Why the Rest Don’t, which had the unofficial subtitle of “Mastering the Rockefeller Habits 2.0. The book primarily walks through the four crucial decisions that leaders have to make in growing their organizations, decisions related to:

  • Leading people
  • Setting strategy
  • Driving execution
  • Managing cash

Each section/category is broken down into more detailed explanation, with worksheets and documents to help guide the process. Along the way, woven into the four categories, are the applications of the 10 Rockefeller habits. Ultimately, the intent of the book seems to be to provide tools and strategy to help any organization grow significantly larger and still succeed. For that purpose, it is a very practical and valuable book, with excellent ideas. If, like me, you are not necessarily trying to grow your organization, but simply trying to lead it well so that it constantly improves, you can still find a lot of great help in the book. Some of the ideas are not so easily applied because I am not trying to grow my organization, but the principles are still legitimate and valuable, and I believe will certainly make any organization – including my own – better, if I will implement them. After the fact, I am glad I purchased the book, and have a number of excellent take-aways that I have already begun to use. No surprise, then, that I would also recommend this one for you.   Harnish, V. (2014). Scaling Up: How a few companies make it . . . and why the rest don’t. Gazelles, Inc.: Ashburn, VA.

“Finding Purpose at the Intersection of Passion, Ability, and Opportunity,” by Jeff McMaster

Finding Purpose coverFinding Purpose at the Intersection of Passion, Ability, and Opportunity is a book I originally wrote almost ten years before it was published (I even went so far at that time as to apply for a copyright and submit the manuscript to a publisher). However, much like what happened with the rebuilding of the temple described in Ezra 4 and 5, God – in His divine sovereignty – saw fit to put a stop to the process until the time was right. It seems He still had more to teach me on the matter.

Now, I know that I will continue to learn and grow for the rest of my life, and I also know that “the more I know, the more I know I don’t know,” which means if I waited until I have full and perfect knowledge, this book would never have happened. And so eventually I reached a point in time when God prompted me to pick up where I left off and re-engage, and – with some revising and additions to the original – to publish.

In essence, this book addresses the question of “How do you know God’s purpose? How do you know what He wants you do?” When I look back over many of my experiences, it is clear that God was working out His purpose in my life. So then, as I have analyzed the circumstances and events that have taken place, I have focused in on three common factors that keep appearing in these situations that have helped me to know His purpose. These three factors are:

1)    Passion – the things that I strongly desire, that I want to pursue,

2)    Ability – the things that I have the talent to do, and

3)    Opportunity – circumstances that occur in my life.

It is these three lines in our lives – passion, ability, and opportunity – that, when they intersect, form the point where we find the greatest fulfillment and contentment, with a certainty that we are where we should be. Picture a geometric graph, with three separate lines, one representing our passion to do or be something, one representing our talents and abilities, and one representing the opportunities that appear before us. At some place on this graph these three lines intersect at one specific point. This is the place where we find that we are doing something that brings us joy and that matches our talents well.

These concepts first came together in my mind while facilitating a student retreat quite a few years ago, and over the time since, I have seen them applied in my life many times and in many ways. God has placed opportunities in front of me that matched my passion and abilities in ways that have allowed me to be His instrument while finding fulfillment in my work. My prayer for you would be that you would identify these three factors in your life and find your purpose.

To order a copy of my book, Finding Purpose at the Intersection of Passion, Ability, and Opportunity, on Amazon, click here.

“The Advantage,” by Patrick Lencioni

The Advantage, Lencioni, coverPatrick Lencioni’s book, The Advantage, is primarily about how to have a healthy process and environment in your organization, and why that is the most important thing you can do for your organization. The premise is based on four disciplines that healthy organizations adhere to:

  1. Build a cohesive leadership team (using the strategies laid out in one of his previous books, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team)
  2. Create clarity by ensuring that the leadership team is aligned to six critical questions (why do we exist, how do we behave, what do we do, how will we succeed, what is most important right now, and who must do what?)
  3. Over-communicate clarity “repeatedly, enthusiastically, and repeatedly” (with an intentional emphasis on repetition)
  4. Reinforce clarity, by establishing simple, basic processes and systems the for people that support that clarity

After explaining these ideas (with his usual flair for using analogies and stories to explain the point), Lencioni adds a few more helpful principles that are necessary for health, including a plan for incorporating effective meetings, steps for establishing momentum, and the importance and role of leadership.


Like his other books, The Advantage is a very practical guide for organizational health, with lots of great examples and illustrations. I finished reading this just as I finished my first six months as headmaster in a new Christian school, and I found the ideas to be a tremendous benefit. I already had a previously scheduled planning meeting with my Lead Team, and providentially it then coincided with the completion of this book, so I was able to incorporate the insights and wisdom into the planning process that took place. Based on this experience, I would wholeheartedly say that this is an excellent tool for your leadership and book for your shelf.



Lencioni, P. (2012). The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business. Jossey-Bass: San Francisco, CA.