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Building Better Business Book Club 

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Soft Skills Hard Results by Anne Taylor

Anne Taylor’s book comes well recommended, having won its category in the Business Book Awards for business self-development books in 2021. It has a subtitle that reads “A practical guide to people skills for analytical leaders”.

The book outlines 10 principles in four areas: Inside (about you, the leader); Outside (about others); Between (about where they overlap); and Beyond (about your whole life). 

On the whole, I was personally disappointed by this book. Firstly, I found the book failed to discuss analytical leaders in any detail, nor did it provide context as to why the advice it offers was aimed at that demographic. I was left wondering if the advice was general or specific. Secondly, I found much of the advice to be rather simplistic, and without sufficient detail of when, how, or sometimes even why to apply it. Some aspects of neuroscience were presented in populist form, such as reference to the differences between the left and right brain, which aren’t strictly aligned to the current science. Perhaps in the context of providing simple to understand principles this is less important. Personally, I’d have found a statement that the descriptions were simplified to aid application a useful clarification. 

All that said, this book probably wasn’t aimed at me. I’ve done a lot of work over the years on leadership and team dynamics, so my understanding of the needs of people may be more advanced than this book’s target. If you are new to leadership, a Novice learning about leadership, rather than a Practitioner or Expert, then many, perhaps all, of the principles will have value and merit. 

In the section on ‘Inside’, Anne addresses two principles – both about understanding yourself. Firstly to gather data, and secondly to use that data to become more self-aware and drive more conscious choices. In my own work, I’ve seen that a focus on self is critical to Mastery of any topic; we clearly agree on the priorities here.

The section on ‘Outside’ covers three principles. Giving and soliciting more valuable feedback, listening (coaching) more than telling, and using stories, all of which I agree with. The style of the book often presents lists and established models as ways of working. For example, lists of benefits to an approach one might adopt, or descriptions of the GROW model for coaching. I didn’t feel there was much new material here, more a collection of useful ideas from others, brought together in this book for reference, rather than to highlight new thinking on how to apply them. 

The section on ‘Between’ brings three principles. Adapting your approach, balancing needs, and being vulnerable. Again, I found nothing to disagree with here and some good reminders, but little insight.

The section on ‘Beyond’ brought the final two principles. Living without regret, and living a life of gratitude. Her reference to the loss of parents brought memories of my own to life, which is not a bad outcome. I was reminded how their loss does change one’s outlook on the rest of life. 

In conclusion, I think this is a useful work if you are very new to leadership, and in need of the signposts to develop your capabilities and knowledge. Through applying the principles within its pages, you will be able to become a reasonable leadership Practitioner. That’s true whether you are analytical, or not, or leading analysts, or others. Yet, to be a great leader, an Expert or Master, then further work will be needed. When you are ready to do that, you will need to find a mentor, be honest with them, and work strategically to develop the skills and principles you need in your context.