Business Book Review

Monday, October 30, 2006

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

Reading Suggestions & CONTENTS
About the Author


In The Third Opinion, the author provides an insight into successful leadership that many leaders—perhaps even unconsciously—seek. Most successful leaders, regardless of industry, do not rise through the leadership ranks without, at some juncture, reaching for a third opinion, without asking for outside insight. However, most do not do it routinely, or as part of an integrated business practice or plan. What Joni offers is a method of leadership development that intimately incorporates using outside insight that is systematic, seamless, encompassing, not industry-specific, and which can begin at any time in a leader’s career, even at a senior level.

It is important, however, to distinguish the different roles played by advisers and thinking partners. The two terms are not interchangeable. Advisers are more commonly used throughout the corporate world, experts who engage in expert thinking with leaders. Thinking partners, on the other hand, have a broader role to play; they combine expert thinking within the broader realm of exponential thinking. It is truly the thinking partner who provides the third opinion. “As you think about it, you will notice that there are people who may be superb advisory resources who are not as talented in the thinking partner realm. To cultivate the right leadership inner circle for you, you will want to hone your ability to make this distinction.”

It is also important to note the distinction between thinking partners and executive coaches. Joni uses an analogy from the biological world to explain the relationship: an executive coach is one species within the genus of thinking partner. Executive coaches are, typically, a specialized group with expertise in interpersonal dynamics, communications, and organizational development, and most top executive coaches work with leaders on issues within these areas. Executive coaches also tend to work in the area of personal leadership (the philosophical and psychological aspects of leadership) rather than in results-driven strategy. Joni summarizes the distinction between executive coaches and thinking partner well when she asks readers, “Would you turn to a psychologist when what you really need is a Jack Welch?”

There are no set formulas. How leaders develop and calls upon their networks will reflect their own style and unique leadership. Perhaps it is this intangible quality that may present a challenge in creating an inner circle for many leaders not currently utilizing outside insight. The questions that Joni provides (which are as specific as possible while remaining applicable to all types of businesses and industries) for readers’ consideration will, however, are an aid in establishing leadership circles.

A circle is an appropriate metaphor to describe how to use outside insight for superior results. Beginning with the development of exponential thinking, a coil-like spiral develops to include Habit of Mind, which is linked to Habit of Relationship, which is then linked to Habit of Focus. Joni has observed that, “An underlying characteristic of exponential thinking is that insight shifts occur when problems are reframed and then explored at a higher level of context and complexity,” an observation that builds upon Donald Schön and Chris Argyris’ 1970s concept of “double loop learning.” In today’s world, “we are faced with multiple levels of potentially interdependent ‘double loops.’ Economics forms a loop with geopolitical realities. Markets loop with structural realignment, with discontinuities in science and technology, and with regulatory and oversight changes. Work-force issues loop with breakthroughs in communication infrastructure . . . Every leader faces these kind of interdependent loops. The successful ones know how to embrace them and find the connection.”


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