Book Review: Bringing Out the Best in People

I’d been hoping to blog about seeing the always interesting David Brooks at Rotman, but unfortunately The Head Cold That Ate Toronto prevented me from attending. Instead, I denned in and reread a book I’d first read in high school, Alan Loy McGinnis’s Bringing Out the Best in People. The title tends to fall into the “self-help” category in bookstores, which is a mistake because this is a terrific little book about leadership and motivation. Although McGinnis is a family therapist, he often speaks to corporations and draws many of his examples from the business world.

McGinnis believes that “in almost every arena there is a vacuum waiting to be filled by some person who can impart vision and steer people’s energies into the best endeavours.” McGinnis runs through a variety of practical motivation how-tos, outlining 12 basic rules for bringing out the best in people:

  1. Expect the best from people you lead
  2. Make a thorough study of the other person’s needs
  3. Establish high standards for excellence
  4. Create an environment where failure is not fatal
  5. If they are going anywhere near where you want to go, climb on other people’s bandwagons
  6. Employ models to encourage success
  7. Recognize and applaud achievement
  8. Employ a mixture of positive and negative reinforcement
  9. Appeal sparingly to the competitive urge
  10. Place a premium on collaboration
  11. Build into the group an allowance for storms
  12. Take steps to keep your own motivation high
One of my favourite quotes within the book is from newscaster Dan Rather, who defines a good motivator as someone “who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you onto the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called truth.” Being a good leader/teacher/manager/coach means encouraging and supporting people as they grow, while still requiring them to produce excellent results. This is not always an easy balance to maintain and McGinnis offers practical suggestions that can be used in the workplace.
McGinnis has studied psychology, history, and  managerial theory to discover how great leaders have brought out the best in their people. The book is written from a Christian perspective but is in no way heavy-handed in its message. McGinnis espouses a general values-based approach to motivating people that can be found in many secular texts. Whether you are new to a leadership role or simply like to refresh your thinking from time to time, this is helpful book for anyone looking to bring out the best in others.

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