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102 of 105 people found the following review helpful
I read an advance copy of The Progress Principle several months back, and I just went back and read the book again. I am even more impressed this time than the last. Four things struck me in particular:

1. While most management books are based on anecdotes, the biased recollections of some famous executives, or on research that is presented as rigorous (but are not... Good to Great is a perfect example), the Progress Principle is based on the most rigorous field study ever done of creative work. And it draws on other rigorous work as well. As a result, the overall advice about the importance of small wins may be known to many people, but once you start digging into the smaller bits of advice about how to keep work moving along, the evidence behind those is very strong. In my view, the Progress Principle is the best example of an evidence-based management book I have ever seen.

2. The authors didn't drown in their rigor and the details of their work. They worked absurdly hard to write a book that is quite engaging to read and chock full with one implication after another about what you can do right now to do more effective work and to motivate it in the people around you.

3. Finally, the main point of this book may seem obvious to some readers, but if you listen to most management gurus and fancy consulting firms, the approach that the authors suggest is actually radically different. The broad sweep of strategy and radical change and big hairy goals is where much of modern management advice focuses, yet the finding from this book that it is relentless attention to the little things and the seemingly trivial moments in organizational life that real makes for greatness is not something that most leaders and their advisers get, yet it is the hallmark of our most creative companies like Pixar, Apple, Google, IDEO and the like. The implication of The Progress Principle, for example, that management training should focus on how to deal with the little interactions and smallest decisions -- and that is what makes for great leaders and organizations -- would, if taken seriously, mean completely revamping the way that management is taught throughout the world.

This book isn't a bag of breathless hype, it doesn't make grand and shocking claims, and it doesn't promise instant results. But it is fun and easy to read, it is as strongly grounded in evidence as any business book ever written, and it is relentlessly useful because it points to little things that managers, team members, and everyone else can do day after day to spark creativity and well-being. And it shows how those little things add-up to big victories in the end. I believe it is one of the most important business books ever written.

In the name of full disclosure, I am friends with the authors and did endorse the book. But I am friends with a lot of authors, but when they write bad books, I decline endorsement requests, and as I did very recently, let them know that I think their books aren't very good. Yes, I am biased, but I believe that this book deserves to be a #1 bestseller.
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41 of 42 people found the following review helpful
The researchers themselves never saw it coming. When Teresa Amabile of the Harvard Business School and her husband developmental psychologist Steven Kramer decided to collaborate on a study exploring worker creativity through the eyes of those in the trenches who actually perform the work they simply had no idea of the secrets they were about to unlock. Typically, studies are done exploring topics like employee productivity and creativity from the point of view of upper management. The methodology that Amabile and Kramer chose to employ for this project would prove to be a bit unconventional to say the least. The authors were primarily interested in determining exactly what it is that motivates top performers. They were able to recruit 238 people from 26 project teams in 7 companies in 3 different industries. The participants were professionals whose work required them to solve complex problems creatively. What made this study truly unique was that at the end of each workday the participants were e-mailed a diary form that included several questions about their work experiences on that particular day. Much to the authors' surprise an overwhelming majority of the participants responded on a daily basis. Furthermore, they recorded their experiences and impressions in a far more candid way than expected. Amabile and Kramer had unwittingly stumbled upon a previously unexplored world. The insights that they gained from this remarkable undertaking is the subject of their new book "The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work". Many business books can be rather dry and a chore to read. But much to my surprise this book was different. I simply could not put it down.

If you are a manager or team leader seeking optimum performance from the people you oversee then listen up. Conventional wisdom would have you believe that it is primarily things like salaries and benefits, bonuses and recognition programs that motivate individuals. While these are certainly important the authors unearthed the fact that what matters most to employees is what they dub the "inner work life". Amabile and Kramer define inner work life as "the confluence of perceptions, emotions, and motivations that individuals experience as they react to and make sense of the events of their workday". In the 12,000 diary reports submitted for this study the authors discovered that they possessed a veritable goldmine of information. They had real-time access to the workday experiences of lots of people in a variety of different departments and organizations over an extended period of time. In "The Progress Principle" you will be able to experience the ruminations of these workers first-hand and in the process you will discover the secrets that motivate people to be the best that they can be. Furthermore, you will be able to compare and contrast the experiences of those who were employed by truly great organizations and managers who encouraged autonomy, set clear goals and furnished the resources necessary to succeed with companies whose managers and team leaders stifled creativity, constantly put obstacles in the way and were generally apathetic towards members of their team. As the title of the book suggests what truly motivates today's sophisticated and highly trained workers are those "small wins" that indicate that progress is actually being made on a problem or project being worked on. Managers and team leaders need to adjust to this new reality if they expect to achieve the kinds of positive results they are looking for.

One of the major reasons that I found "The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work" to be so darn compelling is that along the way I have worked for both types of organizations. Chances are that you have too. The clues are unmistakable and once you have the basic precepts of the book down the reactions of these employees become highly predictable. It is precisely why certain organizations thrive even in difficult economic times while others wither away on the vine. "The Progress Principle" is chock full of useful tips and strategies that managers and team leaders can implement right away. Furthermore the authors include a simple daily diary that managers and leaders can employ to assess how they are doing. Utilizing this tool just might turn out to be the most important five or ten minutes a leader can spend each day. "The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work" just might be the best business book that I have ever read. This book will challenge much of what you think you know about managing people while offering interesting alternatives to the way you have been doing things. A totally engaging read from cover to cover. Very highly recommended!
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34 of 37 people found the following review helpful
When I was an academic engaged in research, I was familiar with Teresa Amabile's work. She was and is a respected researcher who studies creativity in organizational settings. So I was eager to read this book and intrigued by the notion of small wins.

The book shows the author and her team conducted impeccable research. They found that people who were fortunate to engage in work they found meaningful, and who were appreciated and valued for their work, also were productive and creative. They noted the importance of emotions during the day. They emphasized that organizations will, often unintentionally, kill creativity and create a workplace where people flee.

My biggest question about the book was, "Who should read it?" The authors observe that an organizational environment is created by a confluence of forces coming together. It's rarely the case that one person can change the culture, although the CEO can make a huge difference, as shown by the story of Xerox's Anne Mulcahy. Yet will company CEOs and divisional VPs actually read the book and, if they do, will they have the skills and resources to make changes? Does the book provide enough direction to make change?

In any company there are so many ways a company can create negativity; if nothing else, success can make a workplace stressful. I've met people who say the culture of Microsoft has become more like established business than a start-up. I once worked for a company where a new CEO wanted to create more employee involvement, yet many employees saw the new activities as intrusive; they wanted to do their work and go home and "bonding" was not important. The lesson is that desiring to create a culture of positivity isn't enough; there are many places to slip in the design of change as well as the implementation of any program.

It seems that employees have to figure out how to survive and thrive in a variety of cultures and/or become more skilled at assessing a culture before joining an organization. The authors say they tested personality traits of the subjects they studied, but I kept wondering whether some people were just naturally positive and happy and therefore more creative. I know a few people who never met a job or a boss they didn't like. They didn't let things get to them. I always envied those people and wondered how the rest of us can learn their adaptation styles. I'd also wonder whether there's a way to balance a stressful job situation with positive activities off the job, or whether those outside activities just made the job seem worse in contrast.

Finally, while I think the book makes a contribution due to the extensiveness and quality of the research, I am not sure what's new here. As the authors say themselves, Alice Isen and others have studied the impact of mood extensively. We know that happy people perform better in a number of ways. Arlie Hochschild's studies of emotional labor have also contributed to our understanding of workplace emotion.

The book jacket refers to the importance of small events, and indeed subjects in the study were asked to describe events in their day that were mostly small. But some examples were huge, such as Mulcahy's turn-around at Xerox. The authors give examples of companies known as great places to work; it's unclear how the overall culture is based on small things. Meaningful work doesn't seem small. I'd have liked to see more discussion of incremental effects and how employees as well as front-line managers can influence them.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon October 23, 2011
The authors surveyed 100's of managers around the world and asked what motivated employees. They were startled to find that 95% of these leaders fundamentally misunderstood the most important source of employee motivation. It's not about getting the right people on the bus. Or about higher incentives. Or about athletic facilities and free child care. Their research has found that the best way to motivate people is by facilitating progress, even small wins. Yet managers surveyed, had ranked "supporting progress" as dead last as a work motivator.

The authors conducted a rigorous analysis of nearly 12,000 daily diary entries provided by 200+ employees in 7 companies. They found that the best managers create a high quality of "inner work life" for their employees. Inner work life is about favorable and unfavorable perceptions employees have about their managers, the organization, the team, the work and even oneself. A positive inner work life determines whether the employee has the motivation to their best work - it determines their attention to tasks, the level of their engagement and their intention to deliver their best work.

The authors found that there are 3 types of events that are particularly important in creating a positive inner work life:

1) Progress in meaningful work (e.g. small wins, breakthroughs, forward movement, goal completion),

2) Catalysts that directly help work (setting clear goals, allowing autonomy, providing resources, providing sufficient time, helping with the work, learning from problems and successes, allows ideas to flow),

3) Nourishers/interpersonal events (e.g. respect, encouragement, emotional support, affiliation/bonds of mutual trust & appreciation) that uplift people doing the work.

Research found that #1, progress in meaningful work, was the most important event in creating a positive inner work life.
People's inner work lives seemed to lift or drag depending on whether or not their projects moved forward, even by small increments. Small wins often had a surprisingly strong positive effect, and small losses a surprisingly negative one. So, small actions to try to reduce daily hassles can make a big difference for inner work life and for overall performance.

It's also important to note that small losses or setbacks were found to overwhelm small wins. Small everyday hassles hold more sway than small everyday supporting activities.

Be sure that you are not the source of the obstacles. Negative team leader behaviors affect inner work life more broadly than positive team leader behaviors. And employees recall more negative team leader actions than positive events and do so more intensely and in more detail.

Chapter 8 includes a Daily Progress Checklist which is worth the price of the book. A self assessment asking questions on Catalysts/Inhibitors, Nourishers/Toxins, the state of the Inner Work lives of your team and Action steps. e.g., Did the team have clear short term and long term goals for meaningful work or was there confusion? Did I give help when they needed it or did I fail to provide help? Did I show respect to team recognizing their contributions to progress or did I disrespect any team members? Did I encourage team members who have difficult challenges or discourage a member of the team in any way?)

Bottom line, to harness the powerful force of the quality of your employees' inner work lives, you must ensure that consistent forward movement in meaningful work is a regular occurrence in your employees ` work lives, despite the inevitable setbacks.

The book was laborious to wade through but it has important findings, conclusions and recommendations which merit it being required reading for managers at all levels.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on August 27, 2011
"The Progress Principle", by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer, qualifies as a must read for anyone involved with knowledge work and especially for those who lead, manage or facilitate knowledge work.

Every knowledge worker would benefit from a better understanding of the components and dynamics of their "Inner Work Life" - i.e. gaining insights into how certain "Emotions", "Motivations" and "Perceptions" interact.

People managers can apply the Progress Principle to accomplish more, with higher certainty, and less friction - i.e. "... to make productive the specific strengths and knowledge of each individual", as the authors aptly quoted Peter Drucker. "The daily progress checklist, TABLE 8 - 1", gives managers an excellent reference for studiously avoiding "Setbacks", "Inhibitors" and "Toxins", while orchestrating "Progress" and managing the "Catalyst" and "Nourishment" factors. The relationships between front line managers and their direct reports constitute the points of maximum focus and leverage for talent management. Moreover, these same points are where the responsibility for progress and results already resides - i.e. affording tremendous potential for thoughtful and purposeful talent management initiatives, born of enlightened self-interest.

Business leaders should internalize The Progress Principle and the implications of both the positive and negative forms of The Progress Loop. Great leaders routinely make substantial and universally positive contributions to what the authors call the "main climate forces" of "Consideration", "Coordination" and "Communication".

Upper-middle managers should become subject matter experts in the knowhow of The Progress Principle, in order capably mentor front-line managers and insightfully advise business leaders. This notion borrows from Ikujiro Nonoka's Middle-Up-Down management concepts.

HR Professionals should embrace The Progress Principle insights to help shape organizational policies, procedures and practices in directions that foster positive Progress Loop forms and curtail negative forms.

The Progress Principle complements other thought leaders' talent management contributions, superbly, and adds special value with its direct linkage to in-depth empirical research. Moreover, The Progress Principle evidences the simplicity, transparency and accountability that successful talent management initiatives demand, while leaving ample room for individual people managers to apply their specific strengths and knowledge to the orchestration of progress.

Well done Teresa and Steven!
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on June 21, 2014
This book is a waste of time. It's a collection of common sense. Here's the book:

Meaningful work is important to people
Making progress is good. Setbacks are bad
Progress elicit positive emotions and accelerates progress
Setbacks elicit negative emotions and hinders progress
Perception of their work environment matters to people.
People don't like completing a project and the company changing direction and making their work meaningless
Arbitrary work is bad
Humans are emotional. They want their work to matter and feel important
People like having clear direction and support from fellow employees
Humans like encouragement

And then there's 150 pages of studies to support common sense.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
THE PROGRESS PRINCIPLE (Harvard Business Review Press) by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer has a great premise that's best summarized in the book's subtitle: USING SMALL WINS TO IGNITE JOY, ENGAGEMENT AND CREATIVITY AT WORK.

Wouldn't this be great if this could be the norm at all places of employment?

The authors contend that this well could be the case, provided that the progress principle is followed . . . they define it as follows:

* This pattern is what we call the progress principle: of all the positive events that influence inner work life, the single most powerful is meaningful work; of all the negative events, the single most powerful is the opposite of progress--setbacks in the work. We consider this to be a fundamental management principle: facilitating progress is when progress happens in small steps, a person's sense of steady forward movement toward an important goal can make all the difference between a great day and a terrible one.

Amabile and Kramer base this belief on an analysis of 12,000 diaries provided by hundreds of employees in several different organizations . . . but rather than just present their research in a dry fashion, they make it come alive with both real-life examples and usable advice that can easily be put into effect.

Perhaps the tidbit that most struck me was this one, citing Apple Computer:

* That's because, in order for the progress principle to operate, the work must be meaningful to the person doing it. In 1983, when Apple Computer was trying to hire John Sculley away from PepsiCo to be its new CEO, Steve Jobs asked him, "Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want a chance to change the world?" In making his pitch, Jobs leveraged his potent psychological force and was able to entice Sculley to leave a wildly successful career at PepsiCo.

And I also liked this advice that could be utilized by anybody--starting even today:

* If you have ever kept a daily journal or even a diary listing of each day's main happenings, you may have experienced some of the powerful effects afforded by this practice. Over the past 15 years, psychologists have discovered that people in many different situations can benefit from writing regularly about events in their lives. In one experiment, people who wrote briefly about their envisioned "best possible self" for four days in a row reported significantly higher levels of well-being by the end, compared with people who did no such writing. Other experiments have revealed that writing about traumatic or stressful events in one's life results in stronger immune function and physical health, better adjustment to college, a greater sense of well-being, and an ability to find employment more quickly after being laid off.

If you're a leader at a company or organization and you would like to crank up your enthusiasm of your employees, reading THE PROGRESS PRINCIPLE will be a real good first step to help you in that direction.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on September 15, 2011
Subtitled Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work, this book is an excellent example of what I like to call "uncommon sense," insights that seem to be patently obvious but are simply not observed. Describing the powerful impact of what the authors call Inner Work Life, they quote - "Managers can't help but influence subordinate's inner work lives; the only question is how."

The authors' research involved reading and analyzing 11,637 diaries from 238 individuals in 26 teams across a wide spectrum of businesses and industries. The results are shared in comparison of a number of companies (all disguised by pseudonyms) and are supported with a number of articles first published in the Harvard Business Review.

Rich with practical insights, some of the key findings include:
* Inner Work Life is a combination of one's perceptions, emotions and motivation.
* These issues are constantly impacted by workday events, impacting individual performance.
* Positive emotions have been shown to be directly related to better creative problem-solving.
* The Progress Principle (identifying small wins) can create the Progress Loop, a self-reinforcing process where progress and inner work life fuel each other.
* Progress in meaningful work was the most powerful in enhancing inner work life, while setbacks were the strongest negative factor.
* Research showed that the vast majority of managers rated support for making meaningful progress dead last as a motivator (!?),
* The impact of negative effects of any size far outweighed the impact of the effect of something positive. Individuals spent more time in their diaries describing these negative events and recalled them more intensely than positive events.
* The key catalysts for positive inner work life were identified as 1) setting clear goals, 2) allowing autonomy, 3) providing resources, 4)giving enough time - but not too much, 5), help with the work, 6) learning from problems and successes, and 7) allowing ideas to flow.
* Catalysts and/or Inhibitors are shaped by the positive or negative side of 1) consideration for people and their ideas, 2) coordination and 3) communication.
* The "local" sources of catalyst factors (team leaders and co-workers) have a much stronger impact on inner work life than the "broad" sources (top level managers and organizational systems).
* The four major nourishers for inner work life are 1) respect, 2) encouragement, 3) emotional support and 4) affiliation.

This excellent resource closes with some do/don't lists for Team Leaders as well as a check list (in the chapter At the End of the Day) to aid in reviewing daily progress in relation to Catalysts/Inhibitors, Nourishers/Toxins, as well as evaluating Inner Work Life and any Action Plans for the next day.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on October 20, 2011
I first heard of "The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins To Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work" by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer at Bob Sutton's blog, where he called it "a masterpiece every manager should own." I got my copy of the book free from the publicist. I don't think it is a masterpiece, but I do think it is the most important evidence-based management book I've read this year; consequently, I do think every manager should strongly consider moving this book to the top of their reading list.

The book focuses on something the authors call the inner work life effect: "people do better work when they are happy, have positive views of the organization and its people, and are motivated primarily by the work itself." (p, 47). They go so far as to claim their research shows "as inner work life goes, so goes the company." (p. 3). That's a bold claim that I'm not sure is supported by the data in their one study; however, I do believe it is supported numerous related studies on employee attitudes, emotions, motivation, and performance published in leading peer-reviewed journals over the last 30 years.

The book also highlights the power of events that are part of every workday. The power of events is great news for us as managers, because we can take planned, systemic action to control events that impact the inner work lives of our employees. Here are the main points that the book explains in detail (pp 8-9):

1. The types of events - what we call the key three - stand out as particularly potent forces supporting inner work life, in this order: progress in meaningful work; catalysts (events that directly help people work); and nourishers (interpersonal events that uplift people doing the work).

2. The primacy of progress among the key three influences on inner work life is that we call the progress principle: of all the positive events that influence inner work life, the single most powerful is progress in meaningful work.

3. The negative forms - or absence of - the key three events powerfully undermine inner work life: setbacks in the work, inhibitors (events that directly hinder project work); and toxins (interpersonal events that undermine the people doing the work).

4. Negative events are more powerful than positive events, all else being equal.

5. Even seemingly mundane events - such as small wins and minor setbacks - can exert potent influence on inner work life.

The authors admit that their research does not establish causality - which is very difficult to accomplish. "Were all of these inner work life changes caused by daily progress and setbacks, or might some of them have caused progress or setbacks in the first place? There is no way of knowing from the numerical data alone." (p. 79).

I love the concept of catalysts: events that support progress and positive inner work life. The authors identified seven consistently effective catalysts (pp 104-105): 1) Set clear goals; 2) Allow autonomy; 3) Provide resources; 4) Give enough time, but not too much; 5) Help with the work; 6) Learn from problems and successes; and 7) Allow ideas to flow. Please note these ideas are not new - they can be found in one form or another in most contemporary approaches to leadership and are evidence-based.

The book also provides a very helpful daily progress checklist that you can use to review your daily managerial actions and plan for the next day. I think it is brilliant. I concur with the authors when they state:

The aim of the checklist is managing for meaningful progress, because that is your real job inside the organization. This may require a significant mind-shift. Business schools, business books, and managers themselves usually conceptualize management as managing organizations or managing people. But if you focus on daily progress in meaningful work, managing people and the entire organization will become much more feasible. (pp. 174-175).

This book is packed with both sound philosophy and evidence-based advice. Anyone and everyone can benefit by reading this book, because "whatever your level in your organization, even if you lead only by your work as a good colleague, you bear some responsibility for the inner work lives of the people around you...you can become a better contributor to the climate and success of your organization. (p. 181).
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
The information, insights, and recommendations that Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer provide in this book are research-driven -- based on real people in real-world situations -- and thus have a legitimacy that would not otherwise be credible. The authors collected data from 238 professionals on 26 project teams who reported their day-to-day workplace experiences in seven companies. Analyzing the 12,000 daily electronic diaries they gathered, the authors obtained answers to two "burning" questions: "How do positive and negative work environments arise?" and "How do they affect people's creative problem solving?" The revelations are shared in this book. Here are three that were of greatest interest to me.

First, what Amabile and Kramer characterize as "Inner Work Life" is the confluence of perceptions, emotions, and motivations that individuals experience as they react to and make sense of the events of their workday. "Inner work life is inner because it goes on inside each person...It is work because that is both where it arises - at the office - and what it is about - what people do...[and it is life] because it is an ongoing, inevitable part of the human experience at work every day." The challenge for leaders is to determine how to create and then sustain workplace conditions -- at all levels and in all areas -- that will foster positive emotions, strong internal motivation, and favorable perceptions of colleagues and the work itself. "Great inner work life is about the work, not the accoutrements...As inner work life goes, so goes the company...Work-related psychological benefits for employees translate into performance benefits for the company...and the best way to motivate people, day in and day out, is by facilitating progress - even small wins."

By now, those who are reading this brief commentary are no doubt curious to know what The Progress Principle is. (I certainly was when I began to read the book.) Its nature has already been suggested in the previous paragraph: The single most important event supporting inner work life is making progress in meaningful work. The book guides and informs efforts to facilitate progress, "even small wins." All organizations need leadership at all levels and in all areas. Therefore, what Amabile and Kramer characterize as "the power of meaningful accomplishment" must be generated throughout the given enterprise. Setbacks are to be expected. In fact, if viewed and (key point) if taken full advantage of as precious learning opportunities, setbacks can be invaluable allies to progress, whatever its nature and scale may be. The three primary influences are events that signify progress (e.g. goal completion), events that support the work (e.g. setting clear goals that everyone understands), and events that support the individual worker (e.g. continuous indications of being appreciated). Progress offers evidence of achievement; setbacks offer evidence of what has yet to be achieved.

I was also keenly interested in know what the unique leadership challenges are for those who attempt to establish and sustain an "Inner Work Life Culture." Almost immediately, in the Introduction, Amabile and Kramer share startling results from the research: "95 percent of the leaders [surveyed] fundamentally misunderstood the most important source of motivation [when ranking] `supporting progress' dead last as a work motivator." Amabile and Kramer provide a wealth of invaluable advice throughout their narrative about effective leadership, much of it in Chapter 6 ("The Catalyst Factor: The Power of Project Support") and Chapter 7 ("The Nourishment Factor: The Power of Interpersonal Support"). In brief, the defining characteristics of effective supervisors and team leaders include: (1) Showing that they respect people and the work they do; (2) Recognizing and rewarding the accomplishments of those for whom they are directly responsible and also praising other associates; (3) When needed, provide emotional support to those who report to them; and (4) create opportunities for the development of friendship and camaraderie between and among team members.

Before concluding this commentary, I presume to note that during exit interviews of hundreds of thousands of highly-valued employees who are leaving to pursue their career elsewhere, the one reason cited more often than all others combined is their supervisor. More specifically, what they perceive to be an insufficiency of one or more of these from their "boss": respect, encouragement, emotional support, and affiliation. It is no coincidence that these four fundamental human needs serve as the foundation of the Inner Work Life Culture.
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