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Book Review: TouchPoints

May 22nd, 2011 · 1 Comment

TouchPoints: Creating Powerful Leadership Connections in the Smallest Moments by Doug Conant and Mette Norgaard

We all love a transformation story, one in which someone’s life changes and, as a result, they change who they are. Stories like these filled the Oprah show but rarely do you see them in business books. Often even the memoires of CEOs like Jack Welch don’t connect you to real people who change some part of the world as they take on their own transformations.

Touch Points: Creating Powerful Leadership Connections in the Smallest of Moments by Doug Conant, the CEO of Campbell’s Soup, and Mette Norgaard, an expert in strategic learning, is such a story. Reading it you’ll find yourself feeling as if you finally know a CEO, up close and personal, and you’ll like him.  As a result you’ll trust him and, by extension, you’ll also trust his leadership. I think that’s the responsibility view of the book and its point, also.

Conant and Norgaard’s narrative isn’t filled with radical new ideas, but it adds a layer to what’s proven that will make you sit up and ask yourself if you’ve been paying attention to the simple, most basic ideas of leadership. It’s like being reminded by someone you respect, your grandmother for instance, that The Golden Rule is relevant to how you live your life every day. TouchPoints is a guidebook to decision making on the small, intimate scale and the kind of practices that would have pleased my family. They ran businesses according to principles based on “what makes sense here, now, for us?”

Here TouchPoints’ highlights:

The action is in the interaction. This describes moving from something that only one person or group sees to something shared by everyone affected. Leaders take on issues, put themselves in the circle with the challenge, and do not divide up sides. This results in ripple effects far and wide. Trust and openness spread because people know they will not be excluded if they bring forward their issues. TouchPoints believes in a combination of tender and tough hearted leadership, recognizing that choice in the moment is the best approach.

Commit to mastery. The lesson that really resonated with my experience is that you have to make time for mastery. It won’t develop in the regular course of events. Part of what’s required is taking care of oneself as a person so that there is energy available to master new and more demanding roles. This calls for a whole-person approach, not just skill building. Without a whole person present, mistakes are made more often and less learning is possible. TouchPoints sums it up as “head, heart, and hands.” The Responsible Business calls for Will, Being, and Function. Both offer the idea that there’s more to be mastered than the “doing” of leadership.

One aspect of this chapter that I especially appreciate is the caution against relying on models. All models have been created by particular persons in particular situations or circumstances. This makes adopting them hazardous. TouchPoints suggests that they are good for reference but not for copying. I agree and I add best practices to the list. The authors do offer the Campbell’s Soup Model but I will leave that for you to grapple with as you read the book.

Commit to inquiry. Conant and Norgaard propose that ongoing inquiry is necessary for the creation of one’s own leadership approach. Questions to ask in particular are, “What makes people give the very best of themselves? And what makes for ever stronger performance in an ever changing world?” Examine your own experience and that of others. “To be fully alive, you need to be curious and ask good questions, finding an approach that works in each unique culture and context.” This chapter reminds us how important it is to be fully present in all situations, rather than only mechanically in the room.

Commit to reflection. Among many of TouchPoints’ strong messages is that it’s not just business, it’s personal. I appreciated the point that it’s essential to make time for what you think is important. I have worked with business leaders around the world for thirty-five years, and I’ve seen most of them get caught in the rat race, the fires, and the pressures. TouchPoints gives meaningful examples of how to reflect and make choices based on what’s important to you at both the personal and business levels. Learning and growth—and recovery—don’t happen unless they are built into one’s work.

Commit to Practice. The authors point out that leaders are exposed to many new ideas but fail to incorporate them into leadership if they don’t make a conscious effort to do things the “new way.” The core example here is one of practicing communication in ways that genuinely improve it rather than allowing it to back into old patterns. An old lesson that rarely gets absorbed is the one that highlights learning to be a good listener, not just practicing clear expression of one’s own ideas and positions. Listen deeply with your heart, exponentially with potential in mind; then speak with a heartfelt message based on understanding. (This example did not come as a surprise. For many years Norgaard worked with the Covey organization, which is closely associated with the message, “Seek first to understand.”)

Master the touch of lifting others. This final touch point is summarized as four A’s: Alert, Abundant, Authentic, and Adaptable. To be alert is to read a situation by paying very close attention. Even when you have back-to-back events in very long days, give each new one your full attention. Abundance means rejecting the scarcity mindset. It is associated for the authors with the “and” mindset, rather than “or” or trade-offs. Authentic is the process of fully embracing a situation and allowing yourself to be vulnerable in the process. Let people see your full intention, not just your surface. Adaptability is just as we most often think of it—to cultivate a broad range of skills which will allow for moment-to-moment adjustment to the unexpected.

TouchPoints’ closing coda is the caveat that “leadership is hard.” This counsel is drawn from the personal experience of the authors. I particularly heard Conant’s voice in this final summary. Maybe that’s because I listened to his story at conantleadership.com, which I would encourage all of you to do as well.

I doubt you will find anything you disagree with in TouchPoints, if you are a leader who has been learning and growing over the years. You’ll definitely find yourself experiencing the journey more than is possible in most books written by CEOs to condense their leadership learning and experience into advice. This is probably because anyone who has lived by the true touch points, as these authors recommend, shines in heart, head, and hands.

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Nancy McCabe // Oct 14, 2011 at 8:30 am

    Thanks to this thoughtful review and an HBR interview/podcast with the author: http://t.co/Q4GPyDe9
    Touch Points will be up for discussion in our Boston area biz book discussion series in 2012. Thank You!

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