Note: I recently re-read this book while formulating questions for an interview of its author, Gail McMeekin. If anything, her insights offer even greater value now than they did years ago when the book was first published.
This is another of several excellent books in which an author has assembled what she or he has learned from a number of different in-depth interviews. In effect, the reader is given direct access to the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of persons who may otherwise be inaccessible. McMeekin interviewed 45 “highly creative women” whose responses reveal 12 “secrets” which, in fact, are affirmations of basic values which most of us have been encouraged to embrace by caring parents and other relatives, teachers, coaches, clergy, etc. My own opinion is that these same values would also be affirmed by highly creative men.
McMeekin organizes her material within a series of three “Gateways” (ie rights of passage): Engaging Your Creativity, Mastering Your Challenges as a Creative Woman, and Actualizing Creative Results: The Power of Positive Priorities. She suggests that certain lessons can be learned from “a myriad of practices called Challenges.” It takes courage (sometimes great courage) to confront such challenges. Hence the importance of the “lessons.” McMeekin suggests that a “fabulous notebook, a gorgeous notebook” be purchased in which to record responses to all of the Challenges included in her book. She further suggests that the 12 Secrets be applied during each week or each month of the year.
Prior to reading a book, it is my standard procedure first to check out its title and subtitle, its Table of Contents, and then its Introduction or Preface. Frankly, I had some apprehensions after doing so with this book. How does McMeekin define “creative”? Written for and about women, will the book have any relevance to me and other males? Also frankly, by now I have become skeptical (if not cynical) about references to “secrets.” Nonetheless, I began to read her “Note to the Reader” and then the 12 chapters which follow. Those interviewed provide a diverse and abundant range of personal experiences which both suggest and corroborate McMeekin’s key points. Now having read the book, I can add affirmation of my own: This is one of the most thoughtful and thought-provoking books on human fulfillment which I have read in recent years. Who will derive the great benefit from it? My response is: Those (regardless of their gender and circumstance) who are accessible to what the 45 “highly creative women” were willing to share, those who possess the courage to take on the Challenges, and finally, those who are both willing and able to learn from the Secrets and then apply the Lessons.
Centuries ago, John Bunyan’s Pilgrim embarked on a perilous journey. He was sustained by his faith and eventually prevailed. McMeekin seems to be suggesting that, in our own time, an equally perilous journey must be made. There are Gateways through which we must pass, meanwhile overcoming various Challenges. The 45 women whom McMeekin interviewed (most of them unfamiliar to me) were “highly creative” during their own personal and perilous journeys. They are modern-day Pilgrims who prevailed. McMeekin seems totally convinced that each of her readers can do so also if having the same faith and the same courage. I agree. If you share my high regard for this book, I urge you to check out Ellie Wymard’s Conversations with Uncommon Women. Obvious to me, both she and McMeekin are uncommon human beings.
Note: Gail McMeekin’s subsequent books are The Power of Positive Choices: Adding and Subtracting Your Way to a Great Life (2001) and then The 12 Secrets of Highly Successful Women: A Portable Life Coach for Creative Women (2011); her next book, The 12 Secrets of Highly Creative Women Journal, will be published in November, 2011.
“Visionaries usually are. Because some visionaries cannot explain to the rest of us what they see, they have to depend on command.”
–Peter F. Drucker, 1983
How to recruit, hire, onboard, and retain the workers who possess the character, talent, and skills your company needs
This is one of the volumes in a series of anthologies of articles that first appeared in HBR. In this instance, its nine articles focus on one or more components of a process by which to “win the race for talent” and then prevent “your company’s top talent from jumping ship as good replacements become harder to get.”
Having read all of the articles when they were published individually, I can personally attest to the brilliance of their authors’ (or co-authors’) insights and the eloquence with which they are expressed. Two substantial value-added benefits should also be noted: If all of the articles were purchased separately as reprints, the total cost would be at least $60-75; they are now conveniently bound in a single volume for a fraction of that cost.
Here in Dallas, there is a Farmers Market near the down area at which several merchants offer slices of fresh fruit as samples. In that spirit, I now provide a brief excerpt that is indicative of the high quality of all nine articles:
In “How to Keep Your Top Talent,” Jean Martin and Conrad Schmidt review a core set of ten best practices for identifying and managing emerging talent. Here are the first five:
“1. Explicitly test candidates in three dimensions: ability, engagement, and aspiration.
2. Emphasize future competencies needed (derived from enterprise-level growth plans) more heavily than current performance when you’re choosing your own employees for development.”
3. Manage the quantity and quality of high potentials at the corporate level, as a portfolio of scarce growth assets.
4. Forget the rote functional or business-unit rotations; place young leaders in intense assignments with precisely described development challenges.
5. Identify the riskiest, most challenging positions across the company, and assign them directly to rising stars.”
Other articles I especially enjoyed include Tamara J. Erickson and Lynda Gratton’s “What It Means to Work Here,” Timothy Butler and James Waldroop’s “Job Sculpting: The Art of Retaining Your Best People,” and “Let’s Hear It for B Players” co-authored by Thomas J. DeLong and Vineeta Vijayaraghavan.
If asked to select only one book that provides the most valuable material to supplement what is offered in this volume, it would be Bradford D. Smart’s Topgrading: How Leading Companies Win by Hiring, Coaching, and Keeping the Best People, Revised and Updated Edition, published by Portfolio/Penguin.
Here is the latest post by Joseph A. Maciariello featured in the Joe’s Journal series at the Drucker Exchange (Dx) sponsored by the Drucker Institute. The Drucker Exchange (the Dx) is a platform for bettering society through effective management and responsible leadership. It is produced by the Drucker Institute, a think tank and action tank based at Claremont Graduate University that was established to advance the ideas and ideals of Peter F. Drucker, the father of modern management.
To check out a wealth of resources and subscribe to its online newsletter, please click here.
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“Knowledge workers . . . need to develop, preferably while they are still quite young, a noncompetitive life and community of their own, and some serious outside interest. This outside interest will give them the opportunity for personal contribution and achievement beyond the workplace. No one can expect to live very long without experiencing a serious setback in one’s life or in one’s work. There is the competent engineer who at age 42 is being passed over for promotion in the company. The engineer now knows that he has not been very successful in his job. But in his outside activity — for example, as treasurer in his local church — he has achieved success and continues to have success. And, one’s own family may break up, but in that outside activity, there is still a community.”
– Peter F. Drucker
As knowledge workers we are bound to experience failure and serious failure at times. What matters in times of failure is our resolve to pursue, and ultimately accomplish, our mission in life and work. I know of no top executive who experienced more failures in his life than our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, both in office and prior to it.
His failures were especially pronounced in choosing his top generals during the Civil War. Following each battle that the Union lost, Lincoln, after suffering depression, went right to work to try to figure out what had gone wrong. While there were always underlying causes, he could not turn around the course of the war permanently until he found and tested Ulysses S. Grant, whom he ultimately promoted to lieutenant general and put in charge of Union Armies. Before then, the list of his failures in choosing generals was massive: Winfred Scott, George Halleck, Irvin McDowell, George McClellan twice, John Polk, Ambrose Burnside and Joseph Hooker.
Some of these failures simply reflected the superiority of the legendary generals of the Confederacy, including Robert E. Lee. But most failures were failures of strategy and tactics, which ultimately Lincoln had to devise himself and then find generals to successfully implement. Grant became known as “Unconditional Surrender Grant” because of his relentless pursuit of Confederate troops. Grant’s victories came with a tremendous loss of life on both sides, but this was a conflict so deep that it had to be “tried by war” and “decided by victory.” War, as Lincoln found out, is hell. Tragically, there did not seem to be any other way.
President Lincoln, known for his supreme magnanimity, had to join these instincts with discerning judgment that saved him from becoming sentimental. He provides us as knowledge workers with a tremendous lesson — what Peter Drucker called “feedback analysis”: Failure should be followed up by brutal self-evaluation and used as a steppingstone to success.
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Joseph A. Maciariello is the Horton Professor of Management & Director of Research and Education, The Drucker Institute. You can contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.