Friday, December 12, 2008

Four random books on work

Protect your job and yourself
Talent isn't always sufficient; it's hard work that usually wins out.


A recruiter pal told me the other day that despite the ongoing waves of layoffs, some
companies are still hiring, though specific skills and other qualifications are more important than ever. That's good news for those of us who seek new challenges. But it's also a cue to develop extra skills, including the ability to survive and thrive in an often-hostile workplace. One may not necessarily gain immunity from unemployment, but whatever can reduce the opportunity for adversity should be considered.

Here are four recent books that can provide those who are working — or ''between opportunities'' — with insights and tools for survival.

Overworked, Overwhelmed and Underpaid: Simple Steps to Go From Stress to Success. Louis Barajas. Thomas Nelson 192 pages.

Barajas's earlier book, The Latino Journey To Financial Greatness, was his effort to convey personal finance principles to a ''Latin'' constituency — as if they were a homogenous group! I didn't think so (and still don't), but fortunately no such ethnic profiling is evident here. Instead, he acts as a coach, attempting to interact with the reader and force consideration of how they approach their jobs, how others perceive them and what their career goals are (or should be). It's pretty basic stuff, though it includes an array of self-assessments that can benefit workers at any stage of their careers. Whether or not they apply the time and attention required is the critical question, though, but if they do, benefits will undoubtedly flow.

There's No Elevator to the Top: A Leading Headhunter Shares the Advancement Strategies of the World's Most Successful Executives. Umesh Ramakrishnan. Portfolio. 256 pages.

Ramakrishnan is a headhunter, and his book is an expansive collection of front-line tales and reflections. His style is breezy and conversational, but the informality belies the seriousness with which he takes his mission. Since Ramakrishnan's narrative is, essentially, a series of visits with corporate executives, he adds an executive summary at the end of each chapter, which works out quite nicely. While there are few head-slapping revelations her
ein, the author's confident prose, abetted by the words of his interview subjects, speak as the voice of experience.

Much of what is discussed falls under the heading of common sense, yet it's always easy to make this assessment after the fact. Armed with the observations of Ramakrishnan and his team of senior executives, though, it may be possible to be more
effective and proactive.

The PITA Principle: How to Work With (and Avoid Becoming) a Pain in the Ass. Robert Orndorff and Dulin Clark. JIST Works. 227 pages.

Someone who once worked for me over-communicated. It was useful at first, then it became annoying. Co-workers and managers said he wasted their time with too many details; too much information. After being advised of ways to provide access to information in a less intrusive way, his reputation changed dramatically, and he actually became the go-to guy on special projects.

Similarly, Orndorff and Clark portray a variety of well-meaning and not-so-well-meaning characters who cause aches in the posterior. They also provide ways to avoid or modify those deleterious behaviors and channel the energy in more productive ways.

Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else. Geoff Colvin. Portfolio. 224 pages.

Colvin says that dedication and hard work always trump talent. But what is ''talent,'' anyway? Is it something mystical? A natural phenomenon? Whatever, its ineffable nature makes it suspect, and the author's sharp observations and apt anecdotes succinctly demonstrate that dedication, preparation and other skills are the key ingredients for success.

published 12/8/08 in The Miami Herald

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