My all-time favorite book on leadership is Leadership is an Art by Max DePree. Books can reinforce principles we already embrace, and they can stretch our thinking in new directions. To some degree, what we learn in books shapes our lives and impacts the choices we make. In this segment of my blog, I will share my thoughts about books I have read.
April 23, 2020
The current Coronavirus pandemic is one of a series of widespread health disasters our world has experienced, so I recently began reading two historical novels about plagues: A Journal of the Plague Year, by Daniel DeFoe, and The Plague, by Albert Camus.
Defoe was only five when, in 1665, the bubonic plague swept London, killing 100,000 people. The narrator of his story, H.F., offers his observations while he wanders the dirty streets of London. At the time of writing, the origins of “The Great Plague” were unknown, resulting in the exploration of some of the major themes of the period: religion, superstition, and the nature of disease and death. We now know it was usually transmitted through the bite of infected rat fleas. Like all historic novelists, DeFoe blends facts with what he imagines, but it’s still thought to be the best account of this plague.
I could relate to H.F. as a businessperson. His profession was saddlery, working with merchants who traded in the English colonies in America. When his older brother urged him to flee to the country, first his responsibilities kept him in London. Although single, he was responsible for a family of servants, a house, shop, and warehouse. As the number of deaths mounted, he made unsuccessful attempts to leave the city, and finally decided to stay, believing that providence was hindering those efforts. At the end of his account, H.F. observes that the people who survive are starting to be less thankful than they ought to be and are already beginning to practice their evil ways again.
If you’re interested in reading this book online, it’s available as an eBook (for free) through Project Gutenberg at https://www.gutenberg.org/files/376/376-h/376-h.htm.
The Plague, by philosopher and journalist, Albert Camus, is a novel set in Oran, a coastal town in North Africa, about the outbreak of the bubonic plague in North Africa in the 1940s. The setting is a rather otherwise ordinary town, a large port on the Algerian coast. With illness and death afflicting the good and the bad, and society and its institutions breaking down, Camus’ Absurdism philosophy shows the conflict between the human tendency to seek value and meaning in life and the human inability to find it in a chaotic, irrational world. In part, it’s an historical allegory of the German occupation of France during World War II. The narrator is a reporter/historian, bearing witness to the plague-ridden people to memorialize them. One of the websites where you can find the full text of this book is https://archive.org/details/plague02camu/page/n11/mode/2up.
These are both thought-provoking books as we consider how the countries afflicted by the coronavirus epidemic have responded, what lifestyle changes we have made to cope with it, and what our new “normal” might look like when it is no longer a threat. What changes do you think will have long-lasting impact on the choices we make moving forward? Please let me know what you think.
December 23, 2019
After reading It’s Not What You Sell, It’s What You Stand For: Why Every Extraordinary Business Is Driven by Purpose, I invited Roy M. Spence, Jr., who wrote the book with Haley Rushing, to present his vision of a purpose-inspired business to me and my colleagues. Roy is the cofounder, chairman, and CEO of a national advertising agency, GSD&M, and cofounder (with Haley) & CEO of The Purpose Institute, founded to help organizations discover their purposes.
His book encourages organizations to identify their purposes (beyond making money) and become purpose inspired. He says this is particularly attractive to workers of two generations, baby boomers and millennials. He gives examples of organizations stewarding their purposes—among them, Southwest Airlines, Wal-Mart, AARP, and American Red Cross. In his presentation, he said that when a business is inspired by its purpose, it makes decision-making and organization alignment easier, and employees are more innovative. “Purpose-driven organizations tend to have values-based cultures built on love and commitment to shared purpose. They often become legendary as great places to work,” he said. That’s what we want to be!
The book is a good read, and I recommend it particularly for those in leadership positions in businesses and nonprofits. When you’ve read it, tell me about what you learned.
November 15, 2019
I was familiar with much of the information found in the book written by healthcare journalist, Mary Otto, Teeth:The Story of Beauty, Inequality, and the Struggle for Oral Health in America, because of our business and our partnership with other Delta Dental member companies nation-wide. Even so, its author did an excellent job presenting the context in which our current national oral health crisis exists.
In documenting the inequities of access to dental treatment, she tells stories of actresses whose sparkling teeth help them to become screen legends, while less fortunate people suffer with dental-related pain affecting the quality and longevity of their lives. She recounts the history of dentistry and how it diverged from general medicine. The recent trend toward treating a patient by considering issues relating to teeth and gums in the context of whole-body health and wellness is a beneficial one.
I encourage everyone interested in health and American’s healthcare system to read this, because our current oral health care delivery system is a public health tragedy. It will take the involvement of well-informed, concerned people to prompt national leaders to remedy the many complex issues involved. If you read it, please tell me your reaction.
May 30, 2018
How we communicate with each other impacts business, community relationships, goals, and the sustenance of clarity. Author Sherry Turkle, is the Abby Rockefeller Mauze’ Professor of Social Studies and Technology at MIT. She has conducted various studies and interviews regarding the way people communicate through technology and her view of an increasing lack of human interaction and use of robot technology.
Although electronic communications and popular technology may seem to take over your day, many Northeast Delta Dental colleagues attend various events, meetings and communicate in person. It is important to us that we make a conscious effort to have in-person communication. This develops trust, camaraderie, and respect, maintains integrity, produces quality results and activates teamwork within our organization; all of which are part of our mission and core values.
Technology serves our business well, however, integrating a balance of communication methods keeps us motivated to achieve honest and responsive performance committed to our short-term and long-term goals; ultimately delivering the best of ourselves for an industry that consistently demands more.
Perhaps you will find another avenue of communication that intrigues you after reading ALONE Together.
May 16, 2018
I recently attended a discussion with other CEOs at the New Hampshire Business for Social Responsibility’s (NHBSR) annual conference. Many attendees came from companies that are Certified B Corporations. Author, Ryan Honeyman said it well in his introduction of The B Corp Handbook; “the B stands for “benefit”, and as a community, B Corporations want to build a new sector of the economy in which the race to the top isn’t to be the best in the world but to be the best for the world”.
This book provides testaments of Certified B Corp companies who make a long-term commitment for positive social impact that benefits everyone. I had the pleasure of listening to Senator Jean Shaheen’s short address to a crowd of 300 attendees. Afterwards, a panel of Certified B Corp CEOs answered various questions about their actions of social responsibility and leadership in their communities, explaining how they are making changes.
Various efforts made by Certified B Corporations have already been implemented by all of us here, at Northeast Delta Dental. We have installed energy efficient lights inside of our buildings and in our parking lots, our purchase of the Angwin Property behind our One Delta Drive location preserves the nearby ecosystem reminding us of the geese that find refuge on Horseshoe Pond every spring along with the duck population throughout the summer, and provides our employees with Nordic ski trails in the winter months to continue promoting health and wellness. My colleagues take part in assisting disadvantaged individuals by having regular volunteer presence at The Friendly Kitchen in our neighborhood, and save money by implementing electronic claims submissions making processing faster and easier.
Much like Certified B Corporations, my leadership role with Northeast Delta Dental has been a long-term vision as a business stakeholder invested in cultivating “the best for the world”. I encourage you to read The B Corp Handbook to see how your business can take part in The Certified B Corp Global Movement.
April 16, 2018
I enjoy serving as Chair of the New Hampshire Coalition for Business and Education leading critical educational efforts such as 65×25, which aims to have 65% of New Hampshire’s 25 to 64 year old population hold a post-secondary degree or relevant credential by 2025. This is very important to the future of New Hampshire’s workforce.
Ted Dintersmith, a former venture capitalist and a generous educational philanthropist, invested the entire academic year from 2015 to 2016 traveling the country to learn more about what our nation’s schools are doing. He documented his travels in his new book, What School Could Be. During his journey, Ted visited more than 200 schools. His original mission was to increase awareness for the need for innovation in education to position students for a successful future in the fast-paced, competitive, workforce. Instead, he was inspired by teachers everywhere who are already helping their students through innovative and unique lessons.
When Ted visited New Hampshire, I had the pleasure of speaking with him and sharing my experience. One of my personal goals during my time as Chair of the NH State Board of Education was to improve student engagement and to this day one of my favorite components of my leadership in the education of our state’s young minds is learning from teachers and sharing best practices.
If you would like to be inspired by the important work of our country’s teachers, I highly recommend reading Ted’s book. You can find the section on New Hampshire on page 186.
February 21, 2018
I am reading four books, but each one mindfully (based on my own new book on Mindfulness), capturing my passions:
The first book is So You Think You’re A Boston Red Sox fan, by Bill Nowlin. This book is a nice read for any Boston sports fan as it is filled with fun facts about the Red Sox and it definitely tests your Sox history and trivia.
The second book is Race Everything, by Bart Yasso, which explains how to complete any race regardless of the distance, in any environment and, most importantly, how to have fun while running! I have found that Yasso’s latter point (having fun) is truly the key to sustained long term running.
The third book, Aged Healthy + Wise, by Coventry Edwards-Pitt which features lessons from qualitative research with inspirational elders regarding how they arranged their lives in their golden years. As I’m getting up there, I need to learn these lessons.
And, finally, I have been enjoying Not Without Peril, 150 years of Misadventure on the Presidential Range of New Hampshire, by Nicholas Howe. Climbing is fun, and I enjoy hiking as it is very effective cross-training for running; however, it can be dangerous. Some of Howe’s stories, make you a bit more cautious about tackling a mountain. Preparation is key!
April 13, 2016
I recently attended City Year New Hampshire’s Starry Starry Night gala with my employee colleagues. At the event, Robert D. Putnam, New Hampshire resident, and Malkim Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University, was honored with the Lifetime of Service Award in recognition of his work across the country to examine the growing opportunity gap between the children of the wealthiest and poorest in our society. Putnam describes this program in Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, and this is what City Year Corp Members witness every day while working with students in one of six public schools in Manchester, New Hampshire.
Unfortunately, this story is not unique. Fifty or sixty years ago when communities were talking about “our kids” they meant every child in the community. Now, more and more, when a person says “our kids” they really mean my own children. The focus has shifted from wanting every child to succeed to wanting only the best for THEIR children. Putnam’s work is critical and I hope that it continues to have a positive impact on a growing problem. I encourage all of you to read Putman’s book. While it is disheartening what has happened to many communities in the United States, I think we can slowly move things in the right direction to make sure all of “our kids” have access to extracurricular activities, responsible mentors, and, most importantly, a bright future.
October 21, 2015
Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of participating in a special conference, Transforming Tomorrow’s Workforce Today: A First in the Early Learning Nation. The conference focused on early learning in relation to workforce development. I have been volunteering and working towards change in the education realm in New Hampshire for more than 15 years and while there is still more that needs to be done, I was happy to see so many education, business, early childhood, community leaders, and political leaders such as Senator Shaheen and former Secretary of State Clinton, come together in support of this important initiative. I believe the proper investment in the zero to four years takes care of most, if not all, longer term issues.
One of the speakers at the conference, Ellen Galinsky, of the Families and Work Institute, wrote a book titled “Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs.” I picked-up a copy and her book is most certainly on-par with the abilities every child needs to become a successful adult. I have paraphrased these seven life skills below.
1 – Focus and Self Control: In today’s world, we are faced with distractions 24 hours, seven days a week, 365 days a year. A child must learn to avoid these distractions to help them pay attention, remember rules, and free-up their mind to think at their own pace and in their own way.
2 – Perspective Taking: It is important for children to be empathetic and be able to anticipate and react appropriately to their peers. This includes their friends, teachers, and parents.
3 – Communicating: This skill is what many educators and employers feel is most absent today. This skill involves more than simply understanding language, speaking, reading, and writing, it is to determine what one wants to communicate and knowing how this communication might be understood by others.
4 – Making Connections: Instead of simply knowing information, an individual who is able to use this information well will be more successful. This skill involves the ability to interpret information, notice connections between information, and sort this information into categories.
5 – Critical Thinking: This skill involves one’s ability to question the validity of information and a hunger to understand why and how certain things happen
6 – Taking on Challenges: We live in a challenging world. When a child learns to see a challenge as an opportunity and not a hindrance, this will prepare them to be more successful in life.
7 – Self-Directed, Engaged Learning: Our potential is realized through learning and the world is constantly changing. If a child is able to be present and enjoys learning, it will greatly benefit them.
As a father, I have seen my four children navigate through life, and I am proud that they are all successful, thriving adults. As I mentioned above, more needs to be done to move the needle in the right direction for the early years which will improve high school graduation rates, and ensure New Hampshire’s future workforce is prepared and able to meet the staffing needs of our state.
November 14, 2014
One of my employee colleagues attended a Public Relations Society of America conference in sunny Florida earlier this year and brought back Paid to Think written by David Goldsmith, one of the keynote speakers. The book discusses Enterprise Thinking, a revolutionary, research-based approach to leadership that explains how successful leaders perform a dozen important activities on a daily basis in the areas of strategizing, learning, performing, and forecasting.
Goldsmith also mentions the idea of taking a 50,000 feet approach to running a company. For example, it is my responsibility to make sure Northeast Delta Dental meets our annual Smart Goals and while I do worry about the little things occasionally, I know that we hire capable employees who know how to do their jobs right the first time. At Northeast Delta Dental we focus on attracting and retaining skilled employees and require all job applicant finalists to complete a Predictive Index® assessment and a critical thinking assessment before they are hired. We serve a number of different audiences including our customers, participating dentists, and producers and we require these tests to help make sure our employees communicate and solve problems effectively and efficiently.
Paid to Think provides leaders with the necessary tools to “keep the trains running” and serves as a reminder that while the little things are important, if you have capable staff in place and a strategic plan, it’s okay to relax a bit. I recommend all corporate leaders pick-up a copy.
June 20, 2014
Saving Bernie Carbo is one of the most compelling stories about personal recovery and overcoming adversity that I have ever read. The book tells the story of former MLB outfielder, Bernie Carbo, his admission to drug use, and explains how he pulled himself out of a life of addiction and repressed anger from his childhood. In the early 90s, after being hospitalized for an anxiety attack, Carbo’s hospital roommate dramatically changed his life simply by listening and then introducing him to spiritual life.
This book reminds me how important it is to put the technology away and engage with those who surround you. Listen and pay attention to the details. If you notice that someone is struggling; offer to help and don’t be a bystander.
January 20, 2013
April 1865: The Month That Saved America, by Jay Winick
We learn from history, or at least we hope to try. Having recently seen the movie “Lincoln” currently playing in theaters, I felt compelled to learn more and so picked up a copy of Jay Winick’s book, April 1865: The Month That Saved America. Amazing, with the complexity of all the pieces that were converging at that point in time in our history, the outcome could have been one of many. But Abraham Lincoln with a quiet brilliance helped mold the ending days of a civil war into one of the most epic events in our history, and what emerged from those tumultuous times was a new start for the greatest nation on earth. The book takes poetic license in some sections of the story, but all the more riveting as the reader attempts to put him or herself into Lincoln’s shoes and of those all around him and almost live and breath those moments in time. This book brings the past alive in a way I’ve never experienced in reading a book of a historical nature ever did before. When they say today is the first day of the rest of your life, it is true, you never will know which day in your life may be the pivotal moment that changes your life course forever. Only in retrospect can you know for sure, and so the hope is that each thing you do every day, no matter how big or small, is something of such value that will make a positive difference in the universe. I’d love to hear your story of a moment that changed your life; please write me a comment.
June 6, 2011
John Tschohl’s Empowerment, A Way of Life is the most significant work on genuine employee empowerment that I have ever read. John explains true empowerment in clear terms, with pragmatic advice on how to create the corporate culture so genuine employee empowerment thrives, with examples that all can understand. John not only explains what employee empowerment is, but he also outlines the boundaries of empowerment. This is a must read for any leader of a company, large or small, who wants to improve customer service and enhance employee morale at the same time. Have you read this book? Share your thoughts in a comment.
May 7, 2010 I just finished reading Creating Competitive Advantage by Jaynie L. Smith. What a great book to cause business leaders to think back to basics. It’s so simple: to be successful you need to be able to convince your market to do business with you instead of with your competitors. The key is to know what your competitive advantage is and then making sure your customers know what it is and build your strategy around it. Northeast Delta Dental’s competitive edge has been called the “Delta Difference” – a commitment to excellence and extraordinary customer service. Because we know that retaining our existing customers is less expensive than marketing to new customers, we work to build our success on their trust. Our customers value our stellar service and are willing to pay more for this most distinguishing attribute of our company. To remain competitive, one must constantly analyze one’s position to determine when new measures of success may emerge, always striving to know what it is that your customers want.
April 26, 2010 I just finished reading Wired to Care by Dev Patnaik and strongly encourage you to pick up a copy. The definition of empathy is to be able to project yourself into another’s position to better understand and share in their emotions, thoughts or feelings. Work-life balance is critical to healthy human beings and I’ve always believed in the golden rule. The challenge is to practice this when life is throwing curve balls. Success can take on a life of its own but the secret is to remain grounded in your core beliefs. If we could all live a little softer and a little gentler the world would be a better place. You have a new opportunity every day to make that difference; grab hold and don’t let go.
February 17, 2010 Daniel Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us is a great read for business leaders or any leader responsible for motivating and energizing people to be the best they can be. No longer is the carrot or the stick the appropriate means, rather, think back to Maslow’s self-actualization, the pinnacle place in the hierarchy of needs, the place where you want to be as a growing human being. Autonomy, mastery and purpose — Mr. Pink outlines several approaches to put these into action, so that people with whom you work or play will be at their best. Please let me know what you think. Thank you.
January 4, 2010 When I’ve had a few moments in between negotiation sessions with Fort Dearborn Life (re: Northeast Delta Dental’s acquisition of Combined Services LLC, a general agency), I’ve been poking through three books on running: 1) How to Train for and Run Your Best Marathon (Gordon Bakoulis Bloch); 2) Once a Runner (John Parker) and 3) Born to Run (Christopher McDougall). The How to Train book is a primer with some good tips while the other two books are more inspirational. All three books are worth the read. Even non runners very much enjoy the Born to Run book. Please let me know what you think if you have an opportunity to read one or more of these books. Thank you. Tom
December 19, 2009
Ken Auletta’s Googled, The End of the World as We Know It, is over 335 pages, but worth the read, because the author succeeds in two respects — 1) he not only profiles the principles of a successful and transforming company (Google), with inside insights on culture and leadership but 2) Auletta also gets into Google’s dramatic impact on the media in general, and where media is heading.
The other book I was reading simultaneously to Googled is Malcolm Gladwell’s What the Dog Saw, a collection of Gladwell’s most interesting pieces from The New Yorker. You will read about inventors, entrepreneurs, ultimate sales people; discussions about plagiarism, profiling, and the talent myth. A really cool collection of essays, on a variety of topics. You can skip around if you wish; great for a Sunday afternoon.
If you’ve read one or both of these books, what do you think?
November 8, 2009 Over this weekend I read Rosabeth Moss Kanter’s new book, Super Corp — How Vanguard Companies Create Innovation, Profits, Growth and Social Good. The basic theme of the book is that corporations can serve society as well as the corporate bottom line. I am personally, and the Northeast Delta Dental enterprise, are big believers in this “doing well, by doing good” philosophy. Ms. Kanter’s research corroborates that businesses that have customer focus, stay ahead of the curve in terms of market changes, and are financially sound, are also the businesses that are socially responsible, good corporate citizens. As I have described in prior blogs, in all the best company panels that I’ve participated, this theme is universal for these best companies, regardless of industry.
October 5, 2009 Based on a recommendation from my Delta Dental Plan of Vermont Board Chair, Mr. David Anderson, I recently read a very lengthy book on the epic life of Cornelius Vanderbilt, called “The First Tycoon” by T. J. Stiles. This biography is well documented by Stiles, and there are some great historical pictures included in the book. Stiles believes that Vanderbilt is one of the major players responsible for shaping the development of the U.S. Economy. It’s relevance for today: even though Vanderbilt lived centuries ago, it is clear that the issues which caused our recent collapse of the financial markets, and ethical issues in business, are not new; and we keep repeating many of the same mistakes and cycles. On the other hand, Vanderbilt’s story makes it clear that if one is brilliant and works hard, one can be very successful even without a formal education. I’ve also believed that working hard and communication skills are the keys to a successful career in business.