Book Review: Toy Box Leadership

TBL1 I was recently asked by co-author Michael Waddell to review Toy Box Leadership. This new book is definitely worth picking up and I will explain why. (This post contains no affiliate links and I received no compensation of any kind except for a free review copy of the book.)

The premise of the book by Waddell and Ron Hunter, Jr., is that childhood toys taught or exemplified many of the skills necessary to lead well. Some examples are direct correlations (a rocking horse describing lots of work without actually achieving anything) and others are more figurative (LEGOs describing relationships that start with connecting).

Seriously? Toys And Leadership?

The connection between childhood toys and leadership lesson fluctuates from poignant to cheesy to fondly familiar. But the important thing to remember is that this is not the point. The connection between the toy and the particular lesson is secondary to your ability to absorb and recall the idea.

The toys simply provide an easily recognized and easily remembered framework of leadership strategy. The metaphors are certainly stronger than, say, a purple cow or square apple.

Let's Just Say It

We need to own up to a basic fact: every book on leadership will contain some similar fundamental truths. Communicating goals to your employees, for instance, will universally be a positive thing while emotional rages around the office will be regarded as uncouth. Stating this universality is not a knock on this or any other business book - it simply is.

If we admit to some similarity, then one of the differentiators becomes the book's ability to be memorable and to find a place in the reader's life. This is ultimately what makes Toy Box Leadership successful. Toys fit with the intended audience (Lite-Brites rather than Xbox 360s) and flow smoothly into the each particular subject on leadership.

The Importance Of Before And After

Toy Box Leadership ties together common memories from the past and transitions them to fit a future scenario. This smooth flow makes it perfect reading for your summer vacation if you need something a little meatier than the standard fare. Or, sample a tasty nugget from the book before and after work on your commute. The book works equally well taken in all at once or in sections each day.

In A Web 2.0 World

Many of the lessons in the book are amplified or especially relevant in this web 2.0 world. For instance:

  • Reliability and trust of your workers when more and more employees are telecommuting (pg. 10)
  • Emphasis on customer service and businesses' focus on personal interaction with customers (pg. 114)
  • Flatter organizational charts (pg. 131)

The effectiveness of the book's advice is proved by the examples that have surfaced since it went to print. "Shortcuts and efficiency are not synonymous. Likewise, some streamlining may actually reduce the quality that defines your organization or product" (pg. 114). Hunter and Waddell use the positive example of Nordstrom's customer experience, but this passage could easily be applied to Starbuck's turmoil in recent weeks.

The Gist

I thought this book was great and I recommend that you pick it up. It wasn't the heaviest read and there were no ground-breaking insights, but I do not think the authors set out with these goals in mind. Rather, it appears their intent was to relate useful leadership advice with memorable icons from your past. And in this, they succeed.

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