Business Book Review

Monday, October 30, 2006

Book Review: The Third Opinion - by Saj-Nicole A. Joni, Ph.D. - HABIT OF RELATIONSHIP

Reading Suggestions & CONTENTS
About the Author


The absence of high structural trust relationships is a critical hole in your leadership team.

The hardest part of leadership is to keep sustained focus on what is essential, not just what is urgent.

Leaders need to understand how they work with team members and with thinking partners—Habit of Relationship—to ensure that they undertake the right kind of thinking—Habit of Mind. Knowing oneself is the starting point. The next step is to build relationships that will support and sustain leadership—with trust. “Trust,” says Joni, “is an issue that leaders must regularly revisit. It is perhaps the central question of leadership, because leaders must work through others to achieve their goals.”

Early in their career, leaders need people that they can trust personally, i.e., that they feel comfortable talking with, and have confidence in, knowing that these people can do, and will do, their jobs well. The second kind of trust, and one that is needed particularly as managers advance into mid-level leadership roles, is expertise trust, i.e., trust in expert subject matter advice. As leaders rise through the ranks, they come to understand the degree to which they trust the expertise—the knowledge—of people with whom they work, regardless of the level of personal trust involved.

The third kind of trust is structural trust. Having structural trust in someone means having no doubt that the people that are chosen as thinking partners do not have, and will not have, competing agendas. As leaders progress up the ladder of corporate responsibility, their relationships with people, including those with whom they have shared personal and expertise trust, changes. In most companies, early in a leader’s career, there is little reason to be concerned with structural trust, but as Joni points out, as leaders advance into higher positions, people, for a myriad of purposes and reasons (to support their own goals, interests, etc.), will want to influence the leader’s thinking. Building a strong leadership circle means developing the ability to seek, and attract, people of high personal, expertise, and structural trust. A key idea that Joni elaborates in this regard is that while leaders can, and should, work with people with whom they share a medium level of structural trust, in their inner circle they must have some people with whom they share the highest levels of structural trust, as well as high personal and expertise trust.

Regardless of their industry, leaders find themselves involved in, and balancing, three categories of relationships: action vs. inquiry, internal vs. external, and working vs. inner circle. To create balanced, and ultimately powerful leadership, leaders must have action teams (those who carry out the day-to-day operations) as well as inquiry teams (those who help the leader think beyond the day-to-day operations, that think with them about direction, focus, and sustained growth). Many of the same people will populate both teams to drive results and performance. Leaders must also build internal and external relationships, both of which are required to truly think exponentially. “You can’t do the whole job without regularly thinking about unfiltered information . . . without vetting key ideas with people not invested in the perspective of your organization,” according to Joni. Developing a varied group of business and personal contacts will help leaders fill their inquiry teams.

Leaders’ working circles are made up of the people with whom they are in regular contact in the course of business; leaders’ inner circles will be developed over time as they rise through the ranks. The need for an inner circle comes into focus as leaders assume responsibility for large or broad corporate divisions, with responsibility over people who themselves have significant managerial responsibilities. Once leaders arrive at senior levels, the distinctions between working circles and inner circles become even more distinct. The most personal part of a leader’s advisory network will be the external inquiry inner circle team members—the part over which a leader has the most choice—and it will be the group that provides “uniquely powerful perspectives, freedom, trust, and wisdom. You turn to these people for your important third opinions.” This group of thinking partners is committed to, and capable of, acting without conflict of interests or divided loyalties. They are a leader’s peers (peers meaning those with an equivalent range of experience, ability, and judgment). “The external inquiry inner circle allows you to think the unthinkable in complete confidence, without fear of inadvertently setting events, and an avalanche of reactions, in motion before you are ready.”


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