What Should I Read?

One of the more frequent questions I get from my executive clients is “What should I read?”

The answer may not be what you expect - because it certainly isn’t business books.

The best executives with whom I’ve worked rarely read business books. Even I don’t read them very often - and I’ve written them.

There are a couple of reasons for that.

The first is that too many of the books aren’t implementable. They tell stories about companies that have done this or that - but rarely give you enough of the process to be able to replicate. As a result, they’re like the “Executive Missions” that were (and still are) so popular.

Here’s how it works:

  • You go.

  • You look.

  • You listen.

  • You get jealous.

  • You decide that you’re going to make your company do that [it doesn’t really matter what the “that” is], too.

  • You go home.

  • You tell your executive team that you saw the most amazing thing and that you know that “we can do it, too.”

  • You try.

  • You fail.

The reason you fail - whether executive mission or business book (remember “In Search of Excellence” and “Good to Great”?) is because you’ve seen the outcome. You’ve not learned the process that the companies went through - most importantly, all the good and bad of it.

The books can tell you a story. They can’t solve your problems.

Even truly excellent books like last year’s “Measure What Matters” by John Doerr ultimately don’t work without additional support. That’s why there’s such extensive follow-on for readers that sign up for the ongoing support. It doesn’t cost anything - and it helps - but it’s still a high risk maneuver without more in-depth, real-time guidance.

Which leads me to why the majority of business books really, really don’t work: It’s because all they’re there for is to increase the visibility and market for the consultant who wrote it. Yes, it’s another consultant ploy.

So what do executives read?

History. Mystery. Science Fiction. Physics. Spirituality. Medical Science.

You name it. They read it.

And, for their business reading, they read Biography - including biographies of businesses (like “How Google Works”) and industries (like pretty much every one of Michael Lewis’ books). They also read Executive Autobiographies - with a couple of the favorites being Andy Grove’s “High Output Management” and Ben Horowitz’ “The Hard Thing About Hard Things.”

(Can you tell I don’t bother with getting a fee for my recommendations? You have to find the books yourself if you’re interested enough!)

The important thing isn’t even what you read. It’s that you read.

If you’re interested in travel, read about it. If you want to know what happened in the Spanish Civil War, read about it. If music fascinates you and you think that one day you’d like to compose, read, read and read more. (Then go compose.)

The whole purpose of reading is to broaden your horizons and open you up to new worlds. To be exposed to different thinking than your own. To see the world through someone else’s eyes.

Because the most amazing thing about reading is that you’ll find yourself incorporating those expansive, mind-expanding, sometimes mind-bending experiences into your day-to-day thinking - which will make you better at what you do. And that will make you more likely to get to where you want to go.

Which is really the point, don’t you think? And this way, you’ll enjoy yourself all along the way.

Thinking About a Reorganization? Read This First.

by Leslie L. Kossoff

When I was living in Paris, I went to museums on a regular basis. You kind of couldn’t help it. They were everywhere and always so inviting.

The nicest thing about them is that they make sense. They’re accessible to everyone - from school outings (which I remember as a kid) to the generally-interested-public (the category I put myself in) to the professionals and experts (of which I am definitely not one).

That’s why the article about the recent reorganization of exhibits and works by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) caught my eye.

They’ve done a reorganization that, to the paper’s art critic, not only doesn’t make sense, it makes everything worse.


Evidently, according to Mr. Knight, it’s because it’s trying to be everything to everybody…which makes it, to his way of thinking, nothing.

And that got me thinking about how organizations structure, organize and reorganize themselves.

What a mess.

Executives like to say that their organizations grow “organically.” In fact, not so much. They grow - but, more often, their structure arises and expands because someone has an agenda that necessitates a new function or department to be established. Or a new location. Or division.

Or whatever.

The other option in reorganization-ville is that there are a bunch of competing agendas that lead to a structure that serves the silos* and power bases of the executives rather than the customers - even though more often than not, “serving the customer” or being “customer-centric” is the way it’s positioned.

Again. Not so much.

That’s why the article about LACMA caught my eye…especially when Mr. Knight writes:

Art museums have two audiences — one general, who may or may not have a genuine interest (there’s got to be someplace to take the in-laws over the holidays); the other a dedicated art audience, who range from passionate enthusiasts to committed professionals. “Rome” [ed - the exhibit he’s writing about]throws that dedicated core constituency overboard.

Lose the core and the museum is in trouble. The trick is to serve both publics at once. And a prime service of a great museum is to help transform the general public into an art public.

Change the word “public” to “customer” and you’ll see where I’m going.

People may come to your organization. That’s the hope. The goal, however, is to make them come back forever and stay.

Your organization should, in all functions and at all levels, reflect that focus. Otherwise, like LACMA, you’re going to lose the folks you’re trying to keep. You don’t want that trouble.

The good news is, it’s avoidable.

Just keep asking: Why?

Why are we doing this reorganization?

Why will it serve our customers? Our suppliers? All our stakeholders in and out of the enterprise?

Why will it help our financials?

Why will it make our teams work better?

You get my drift. Also, it’s important to note that I’m not asking “How.” Because “how” gets you into tactics and that’s not where you want to be when you’re structuring your organization.

It’s a strategic decision. So, keep asking “Why,” keep your eye on your customers - internal and external - and you’ll nail it.

* To read the LQ Think Piece about Organizational Silos and what to do about them, subscribe below to our twice monthly XMO newsletter for Executives, Managers and Owners.

Differentiating Yourself from the Crowd

I was recently asked if I had any video of myself doing a presentation. (In a little while I’ll let you know why - but for the moment, stick with me here.)

In looking through footage, I found this presentation I did in London for the UK Horticulture Trades Association. The conference audience consisted of a few hundred senior executives and owners from across the garden retail and horticulture trade industry from throughout the country.

As you’ll see, the topic I was dealing with was how to differentiate yourself from the crowd based on the customer experience. It wasn’t called exactly that - but that’s what it comes down to.

Take a watch and listen - it’s about twenty minutes - and see how you can improve your standing in your industry…and beyond!

LeadershipQuantified - The Personal Origin Story

by Leslie L. Kossoff

There’s one other piece to the LeadershipQuantified Origin Story that’s even more important than my own story. 

It’s my father’s story.

Dad was an entrepreneur and investor. He was the epitome of the American Dream.

Dad, his mom and siblings immigrated from Russia - walking across Europe to sail the Atlantic in steerage to get to the land where the streets were “paved with gold.” America. 

He was seven.

By the time he was ten, with his father having died years before, Dad was working to support his family by delivering illegal liquor during Prohibition to speak-easies in his New York City neighborhood. As a teenager, still supporting his family, he got out of that racket and became a soda jerk - a job I’m not even sure exists today.

After high school, he and his family moved to Los Angeles, where, by the time he was in his early 20s, he owned a liquor store. 

But that wasn’t enough. Expanding his retail activities, he eventually owned or was a partner in three locations. He became the President of both the California and National Retail Liquor Dealers’ Associations and was an active political activist on behalf of small business owners in California and across the United States.

During that time, he also became involved with others who he believed he could trust because they had greater education and broader experience in the various realms in which he was becoming involved - both as entrepreneur and investor. 

What he didn’t realize - because there was no way he could have known - was that those supposedly “trusted advisors” had other agendas in mind...agendas that served their purposes and didn’t care about his at all.

The result was that, when he died at 47, his last words and thoughts were about the mistakes he had made in trusting those others. That, now that he had learned his lesson, he was going to focus on the people he knew he could trust. 

He never had the chance.

I learned from Dad’s experience - both in becoming an ethical, trusted executive advisor and in ensuring that the clients I supported always knew they could trust me with their goals, their dreams and their organizations.

My Dad didn’t have what I, as an advisor, or LeadershipQuantified, the company I founded, provides. He didn’t have professional people on his side.

My goal is to make sure that no one else goes through what my Dad did, simply because they don’t have access to honest and trustworthy coaching and consulting.

Leadership Quantified is my means of ensuring that not just business executives and owners, but every employee in every organization of any size in any sector worldwide, can access the treasures that already exist within themselves and in their enterprises. 

LeadershipQuantified is my way of giving each of you the processes by which you, yourself, can create your own, your organization’s and your people’s success - and know that you can trust the lead-up to and results of your work. Without harming anyone along the way or afterward.

I think Dad would be proud of my advisory career and of what I’ve created with LeadershipQuantified.

I know that I am and my gratitude to those who have helped and supported me along the way knows no bounds.

The LeadershipQuantified mission is:

Everyone deserves a satisfying and productive work life.

Our purpose - our existence - is to help you achieve that mission. Because you deserve it.

LeadershipQuantified - The Evolution Origin Story

by Leslie L. Kossoff

Seven years ago, sitting in my apartment in Paris, looking out on a dark street, wondering about what could be…

Starting up a business venture - no matter the size or scope - isn’t for weenies. I’ve done it twice. First when I started my consulting business. Decades later when I founded LeadershipQuantified.

The reason start-up is not for the weak-hearted is because, whatever you expect and no matter how much experience you have, you’re going to be surprised. A lot. And usually on the downside. Right up until things change.

So, since I’m in Origin Stories mode and I get asked - a lot - about how LeadershipQuantified came to be, I thought I’d take on the developmental twists and turns I experienced as I built this fulfillment of my dream for employees and organizations worldwide.

Thirty Years in the Making

It was during the experience I wrote about in Business Origin Story 1 (the one with the consultants and the team), that LeadershipQuantified was born.

I didn’t know it - and I certainly couldn’t do it. But LeadershipQuantified was born in that consultant meeting.

There were two overarching thoughts that I had as I sat and listened to the consultants:

  1. Employees need the tools to make the cases that management needs to hear. They don’t have them. They’re not being trained in them. And, one day, I’m going to figure out how to provide them.

  2. In the meantime, one day I’m going to be a consultant. This business of being a full-time employee really isn’t for me. 

(As for the second item, for those of you who know me, you’ll also know that I’ve said - for years - that I’m the worst employee…ever. But that, too, is a different story for a different time.)

At that time, start-ups weren’t a thing. It wasn’t even a word. I’m not even sure that “entrepreneur” had come into regular use back then.

So it wasn’t the romance of the start-up world or some dream that I’d one day become a big-time CEO that began my quest. It was an idea. A mission. A promise that I was going to keep - somehow, someday - to all the employees in the world who needed the tools so that, somehow, they wouldn’t get screwed by their management (intentionally or otherwise).

Well before the time that technology leaders would talk about “changing the world” I had already decided I was going to change it. For the better.

Two-plus decades, a world (literally) of fascinating clients and incredible executives, university teaching gigs, three books, innumerable articles and even more speaking engagements later…

…years of others developing personal computers, mobile phones, laptops, the internet, SAAS platforms and apps later…

…and it was finally time. I had the knowledge and experience - and I had the technology.

It was time for the dream to manifest.

That was what I knew could be sitting in my apartment in Paris. It was time for LeadershipQuantified to come to life.

Sharing the Dream

What I also knew was that I wasn’t going to do this alone - and that meant reaching out to those I knew and trusted to share the dream with me.

I contacted friends, colleagues and former clients on a highly selective basis. I told them what I was doing and asked them two questions:

  • Am I nuts? 

and, on an even more selective basis…

  • If they might be interested in participating. If so, I wanted them to share their knowledge and expertise with employees around the world.

I explained what the idea was and where it came from. I got input from them about what they thought was needed and what it would take to make the dream come true.

In the meantime, though, I still had to figure out what “it” was - specifically, how we were going to do what needed to be done: Develop Leaders at Every Level of Every Organization. Everywhere.

Not skills training. Not “leadership development.” We were going to develop leaders.

We would give employees at every level the tools they need to bring a level of personal satisfaction to their work that would spur them on to do and be even more.

We were going to put a particular focus on small- and mid-sized organizations - specifically because they couldn’t afford the likes of me and my high-end consulting brethren and, as a result, were getting screwed by consultants who were charging them too much and giving mediocre (at best) guidance.

Finances, Business Building…and a Move Back to the United States

The discussions continued and I listened and learned…and I read voraciously.

After all, this was my dream - and now, not only did I have those in-the-future employees to help, I had also surrounded myself with people trusting me to do something with this dream that I’d brought them in on.

I got a lot of push to get investors. Venture capital. Seed money. Everyone knew someone who might be interested in putting some money into the business.

I said no. I’d read and heard and learned too much about just how expensive investor money could be…and I wanted to do this my way. I also wasn’t willing to risk anyone else’s money on my dream. This baby was financially on me - all the way.

In the midst of all of this, I moved back to the States. It was emotionally devastating - even as it was the most correct decision for the business.

I’d grown to love Paris and my life there like no where else I’d ever lived. But, at that time (and, happily, no longer the case), the laws, regulations and taxes for small businesses and start-ups were beyond onerous. They were impossible.

If I was going to build this dream, I was going to have to do it in a country that was designed for small businesses to build and grow - and at that time, that was the States.

So I moved back to the San Francisco Bay Area, which is lovely. But, even as I was figuring out and dealing with all the ups and downs, ins and outs of this new business I was building, my external environment wasn’t what I wanted or needed.

Tough. The business had to win and I had to take it - but to say it put a pall on the way I looked at my life is the understatement of the decade…and that led to a fifty-plus pound weight gain that I’m still trying to get rid of.

Like I said: Start-up isn’t for weenies.

Creating our Value Proposition: Targeting, Customization, Measurement

Product-Market Fit.

Oh, those words. Frankly, they can kill you…especially in the early stages.

There I was with an idea. And a market. And a product…sort of…because it’s the development, re-development, re-re-development and re-re-re-development - which doesn’t stop there…and that’s not even getting to the joy of pricing models.

The thing I knew was that whatever we produced, the content needed to be stepwise. With each step, people needed to see progress. And learn. And see their world differently. Measurably differently. Which means that, whatever we did, it had to be measurable. Hard measures. Soft measures.

And we weren’t going to create anything cookie-cutter. I was done with the idea of generalized training. I’d seen how useless and wasteful most of it was. What we were doing was going to have to go beyond “mass customization” to a level of individualization that would personally customize our product for each recipient.

And I wanted them to be able to use the information again and again - which is why the LeadershipQuantified resources are called Resources. Because that’s what they are - to the recipients and their organizations.

And with all that, I was still the lucky one - because I had clients who trusted me who allowed me to use them to beta-test every iteration we generated and gave me real-time feedback on how we were doing.

Product-Market Fit? Oh, yeah. We nailed it.

The Handshake That Started a Business Model

Early on, I had the opportunity to meet with Regina Cash, the (then) Director of Academic and Professional Programs from the (then) College of Continuing and Professional Education at California State University, Long Beach while she was attending a conference in Monterey.

As I’ve previously written, I’ve had a years-long relationship with the University - but this was my first time meeting Regina.

We scheduled the meeting between conference sessions so that we’d have a good-sized block of time to talk about what our respective organizations might do together. I brought collateral materials. I explained what we were doing and why I thought a University partnership would be beneficial.

I told her I wanted to start with Long Beach and wondered if she’d be interested. She was. We shook on it. We’d figure out the details later. And we did.

As a result of that handshake and the intervening years working with the team at what is now the College of Professional and International Education at CSULB, LeadershipQuantified also got the benefit of new technology for academic institutions: Digital Badges and Micro-Credentials.

That handshake was a win - no matter which way you look at it.

And with all that on my side, there was the other bit to live through.

The Down Side / Part 1: The Delays

If ever you decide to do or be part of a start-up, make sure you have people you love and trust around you. You’re going to need them.

LeadershipQuantified began as an idea in 2011, became a reality as a sole proprietorship in 2012 and was incorporated in 2018 with a portfolio of Resources that numbers near to fifty.

I can honestly say that the first couple of years were the most fun - even with the move to the States and the weight gain. In those early years everything seemed possible. Moreover, there’s this fantasy that everything will happen…fast.

It doesn’t work that way. Some things don’t happen - ever. And, no matter how many early wins there may be, they don’t happen fast. Or at least never fast enough…not if you really want to get things right.

One of the executive credos of Facebook is “Move Fast and Break Things.” That’s all well and good if you’re choosing not to worry about the consequences of what your company might be doing.

However, if you’re me and your whole goal is to make things easier and better for people who are spending at least a third of their lives in their jobs and are, generally, unhappy with things where they work, getting things wrong just makes things worse. That wasn’t going to happen.

From getting contracts written and reviewed to the negotiations with the people who would become LQ Experts, to the writes, re-writes, edits and more edits on the materials sent, to, then, putting those materials into what was an ever-evolving proprietary, step-wise methodology and finding the right technologies, and, and, and.

That’s what start-up looks like. Or at least that’s what mine looked like.

Now add in the egos and betrayals - because, of all the surprises I had, those were the biggest and most disheartening of all.

The Down Side / Part 2: Outsized Egos and Outright Betrayals

You know that thing where people you know say, “I’m going to write a book” or “I’m going to be a YouTube Influencer” or “Wow. My phone has the capability for me to - finally - make that movie I’ve always wanted to make. I’m going to do it” or anything else along those lines…and then they never do it?

Yeah. That one.

With too many people who truly surprised me, I found two consistent trends:

  1. They make promises they, ultimately, don’t keep - telling me all the while that they’re on it; they’re working it; it’ll be done soon. They promise.

  2. They were convinced that they knew better than me exactly what the methodology was and that they knew how to write to it.

Wrong. On both counts.

In both cases, the reasons were, ultimately, ego-driven. The first one fell into that “I’m going to write a book” trap…right up until the person realizes just how hard writing really is. Especially when it’s the kind of writing the LeadershipQuantified Resources require.

Promises made. Promises broken.

The second one came because, not only did they not realize how hard it was to write to LQ specifications (and never think we don’t have extensive editing and quality control at every stage) but because they were lazy. If they were going to write, they would write what they wanted the way they wanted - and then tell me that we were getting it wrong.

We weren’t. We aren’t. But it takes a particular kind of expert to be one of the LeadershipQuantified Experts - and that’s a small pool, indeed.

Then there’s the honesty question - and this one really threw me for a loop.

I’m an honest person. Mostly I’m that way because I’m a really terrible liar. Sadly, especially with people I’ve known and learned to trust, I think they’re honest, too.

Too many of them are not - and I wasn’t prepared for just how dishonest and disloyal some people are.

I’m not going to go into detail here, simply because I don’t want to put the energy into reliving all the betrayals I’ve faced over these years.

Instead, suffice it to say that, in that world of not-for-weenies, if you’re doing a start-up be more than careful about who you do business with. More than anything, be prepared to be surprised on the downside by people you never thought would do that…especially to you. Because they will and they do.

And even with all of that, there’s yet one bit more to the Origin Story of LeadershipQuantified - the most personal part of all, because it’s all about my Dad.

We’ll talk about that in Part 3 of the LeadershipQuantified Origin Story - and that’s next.