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Fierce Leadership: A Bold Alternative to the Worst "Best" Practices of Business Today Hardcover – September 15, 2009

4.0 out of 5 stars 82 customer reviews

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A Q&A with Susan Scott

Question: The title of your book is Fierce Leadership. Can you tell us what you mean by "fierce"?

Susan Scott: In the dictionary there are several definitions for almost every word and when I ask people to put a positive spin on the word "fierce," people suggest: passionate, bold, robust, unbridled, strong, intense, powerful. That’s why I use the word "fierce"--it wakes me up, it’s exciting, it sounds bold, it sounds passionate. It doesn’t sound boring or careful or dull or controlled.

That’s what I mean by the word "fierce"--and "fierce leadership," of course, is all of those things. In martial arts, senseis have a saying, "You are always practicing something; the question is, What are you practicing?" Fierce leadership is a practice, a way of life, a way of thinking and behaving that a leader can bring into his or her life everyday. In Fierce Leadership we are pointing out some so-called "best practices" of leaders today and showing that they are actually far more problematic than they are positive and providing an alternative.

Question: So if some of today’s most widely accepted business practices are wrong-headed and ineffective, why do we insist on clinging to them?

Susan Scott: Well, we are very used to the over-parsed, acronym riddled corporate way and somewhere along the line someone suggested these as best practices. "Best Practices" is a widely used term to describe the best techniques or the best methods that are in use in a company, a field, or an industry. Unfortunately, companies often confuse the latest or the trendiest with the best and lock onto these practices. The best practices of one era are often superceded by the even more ludicrous fads of the next.

There is a direct link between leadership practices and results. We need to develop the ability to spot the "tells" that let us know that our practices aren’t working and, in fact, are getting us the opposite results from what we want. A fierce leader is someone who had acquired Squid Eye.

Question: What is Squid Eye exactly?

Susan Scott: It’s the ability to see the Squid while he is blending into his natural environment. The ability to see him just being himself, even when he doesn’t want you to see him, even when he is hiding. Having Squid Eye means you see many things others cannot and do not see. It’s like having sight in the presence of the blind, you are a selective and efficient information gatherer. This is what Squid Eye really means. So for a fierce leader, with Squid Eye, they begin to spot the tells that let us know that these "best practices" aren’t working.

Question: Another thing you stress is the value of relationships and conversations in business. Why are relationships so important for our careers and our bottom line?

Susan Scott: There is a bold and, I feel, compelling line between leadership and fierce leadership. You cross that line once you begin to understand and act on the central premise of everything fierce, which is If you want to become a great leader you must gain the capacity to connect with your colleagues and customers at a deep level, or lower your aim. So, whether your goal is to improve workplace relations or gain market share, your most valuable currency is not IQ, it’s not the ability to build a really cool power point deck, or analyze a case study or write a white paper. Your most valuable currency is emotional capital. And this is far from a naive, feel good notion; it is really good business sense. In fact, I am proposing that human connectivity, as opposed to strategy and tactics, is the next frontier for exponential growth and the only sustainable competitive edge.


"Susan's new book has serious style, in its best sense, and is a must-read for anyone even remotely thinking about influencing situations and organizations. It's a jammed-packed compilation of truths and approaches for grounding all those "business how-to's" in real substance that makes them work. Marrying how you are with who you are is ultimately the winning formula, and Fierce Leadership makes that accessible and exciting in its practical suggestions for implementing the powerful principles of making positive change. This is on my very short list of books to digest and assimilate. " - David Allen, author of Getting Things Done and Making it all Work

“Fierce and chock full of fresh ideas! A great read for anyone who leads… and that’s just about all of us.”
-Lois P. Frankel, Ph.D., author of See Jane Lead

"Susan Scott answers one of the most compelling questions in business today: “why are healthy companies so sick”. For executives leading their organizations through a global economic crisis of this magnitude, Fierce Leadership provides a critical new roadmap.”
-Cos La Porta, senior vice president, International Operations, Starbucks

“Scott’s unique combination of business expertise and bold imagination will re-energize leaders, employees, and managers alike.”
Professor Stewart D. Friedman, Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, and author of Total Leadership

“You can start using these ideas tomorrow. Hell, you can start using them today.  Susan Scott shows why the received wisdom is wrong, and how we can get it right.”
-Doug Stone, co-author of the international best-seller Difficult Conversations and Lecturer at Harvard Law School

“Susan Scott cuts through a lot of jargon and commonly accepted ideas and offers up specific, actionable steps to achieve better results. Pick one or two and get started today."
-Bill Ayer, President and CEO, Alaska Air Group

“Fierce Leadership has distilled valuable real life experiences and provides a clear roadmap for leaders, managers, employees, or any group of people working together to make positive change.”
-Geri D. Palast, Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Labor and Executive Director, Campaign For Fiscal Equity

“Susan Scott nails it again with Fierce Leadership. Her powerful imagery and gift for stylish communication lend her message a stickiness and freshness that makes it impossible to forget. As an author, communicator, and leader Susan is peerless. Once again I'm wowed!!!"
-Mark Willis, CEO, Keller Williams

“Fierce Leadership is a refreshingly honest and candid book. The author takes a critical look at how our careers and businesses have been held back by so-called ‘best practices,’ then gives actionable suggestions for revitalizing work and accelerating your success. Read this book for new ideas and to inspire a proactive transition strategy.”
-Michael D. Watkins, bestselling author of The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels

“Of all the worst, best practices in Fierce Leadership, ‘customer-centricity’ provoked the most thought. I truly believe that when the dust settles after this recession, the companies left standing will be those who know how to connect with their customers human being to human being. If this economic downturn has a silver lining it may be, as Susan suggests, that we will learn to ask, ‘how are you?’ and be willing to wait for the real answer."
-Jackie P. Bayer, Director, Organizational Development, America's People Team Ernst & Young, LLP

“Fierce Leadership is the next best thing to having a word-class management guru like Susan Scott on your board–or as your personal adviser.”
-Steve Farber, Wall Street Journal bestselling author of Greater Than Yourself: The Ultimate Lesson of True Leadership and The Radical Leap

“Looking for a take on leadership that will stretch your perspective and your comfort zone? If that’s what you need (and what leader doesn’t?), then Fierce Leadership is for you. In her trademark style of “tough love” coaching and advice, Susan Scott shoots straight to provide the tips and insights you really need to take your team and yourself to new heights.”
-Scott Eblin, author, The Next Level: What Insiders Know About Executive Success.

“Wow! I wish I’d had Susan Scott’s candid and refreshing advice earlier in my career as an executive. You’ll never think about management, performance, or professional relationships in the same way again.”
-Timothy Keiningham, EVP/Global Chief Strategy Officer at IPSOS Loyalty and author of Why Loyalty Matters

“Many of these best practices are anything but. Having applied the principles of Fierce Conversations to our organization, I can truly recommend ‘Fierce’ as a best practice, fundamental to all leadership. Fierce Leadership expands these principles by debunking traditional, but misguided notions. After reading the chapter on accountability, I am amazed at the amount of time I spend in “victim” mode. Scott strips bare the self-serving excuses for accepting external influences and the behavior of others as an escape from the pain of not getting the results we desire. For any leader who wants to learn how to move beyond holding people ‘accountable’ to the rich and rewarding behavior of holding people ‘able’, this book is a must read.”
- David R. Nielsen, MD, Executive Vice President and CEO American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery

“Fierce Leadership is not for those who want to become shadows in the crowd; it is for those who are willing to tackle the biggest challenges in their lives, toss out the “old” corporate way of thinking, and execute at a higher level of integrity, both personally and professionally.”
-Faith Green, Co-Founder of ARC - A Resource Community for Women

“Susan Scott is clearly one of the sages of the ages! This is a book to move the head and the heart. And it can make a huge difference in the success of your business. She fiercely cuts through the slogans and fads that pass for ‘best practices’ in business today and shows us what it really takes to get where we need to go. This is authentic, original, and powerful -- as only Susan can provide!”
-Tom Morris, author of If Aristotle Ran General Motors and If Harry Potter Ran General Electric

“I had to laugh when I read Susan’s words......”what you and I are talking about is so fundamental that if I wrote another book, it would have to be titled The Complete Guide to the Fricking Obvious.” And yet reading Fierce Leadership has instilled in me a new energy! It gives language and support to what has been for me simply ‘an instinct’ as it relates to leadership, and encourages me to ‘come out from behind myself’ and put authenticity and the capacity to connect at the heart of the culture, ‘the way we do things around here,’ in our District.....well, in ALL my relationships. It gives me the courage to make it an absolute reality and not just an idea vaguely emerging.”
-Elaine C. Cash, Superintendent, Riverdale Joint Unified School District

-“I laughed out loud at Scott’s memo to leaders. Humor and the enjoyment of reading for reading’ s sake in a business book…what a concept. I think I’m seeing a new workshop.” Mardig Sheridan Beyond Boundaries Learning

“I loved the book---wrote all over it and used my highlighter and made lot and lots of footnotes. My staff is already hearing all about it.”
-Juan Gonzalez, VP Student Affairs, University of Texas, Austin


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Crown Business; 1 edition (September 15, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385529007
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385529006
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (82 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #801,276 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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By J. Avellanet VINE VOICE on September 28, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
If you are fan of previous books in this type of "go against the grain" leadership genre - books like "First, Break All the Rules," "Made to Stick," "Predictably Irrational," "Slack," "The Starfish and the Spider," "Leaders," or "Stewardship," or even "Working with Emotional Intelligence" - you will not find much new here. Or at least I didn't.

If you are a big fan of benchmarking and going out to find "best practices" and then figuring out your strategy, basing your plans on what everyone else is doing versus what of that you can afford, this is THE book for you. Unfortunately, I'm not so sure you're going to be reading this review as another "best practices" book probably came out while I was writing this review and like moths to the flame, you've headed away to that glittering, glowing jewel....

For there rest of us, here is the ground that Susan Scott covers:

1. Moving away from 360-degree anonymous feedback to "365" days a year of face-to-face feedback

2. Hiring for smarts and emotional intelligence rather than just smarts

3. Modeling accountability and responsibility, not just putting them in a corporate ethics "agreement" required of all employees to sign

4. Moving away from employee "team-building" to actually being involved and supportive with your colleagues and your teams

5. Focusing on collaborating with your customers to create new products, better service, and better profits

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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I assumed this book would talk about common company initiatives that are ineffective, irritating or fail to ameliorate the admittedly mercenary attitude of the everyday employee.

For example I expected her to tackle common HR methods of interviewing or specific, sometimes lame, employee incentives. She does begin by pulling in the practice of anonymous feedback but later that appears to be just a cover for the author to discuss the practice of authenticity. Authenticity is a much needed commodity but it is not a company process exactly. It is an individual attribute which cannot be company mandated such as the processes of how you are going to go about hiring and firing. Cultivating the self-reflection to delve into one's own heart, acknowledging the truth of one's motivations, emotions and observations, then bringing those insights back into relationships through telling the truth in love - this is the practice of years, decades even. This is not a subject for which a few pointers can correct us if we go off course. I don't believe a company can create any form or method that is beyond the human ability to deceive. Either we have the desire for truth to pervade all aspects of our lives or we don't. Honesty is a measure of character and I think that this practice of authenticity is better seen through that lens of integrity than through the lens of how to get ahead at work.

Because you may be involved in a group where authenticity does not serve you well. If I am part of a group whose power structure is built upon denial, B.S. or outright deceit, then my practice of authenticity will not make my work life better. It just may make it hell. Folks who are into denial fight like tigers when their safe and secure modes of thinking are challenged.
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I'm a big fan of Susan Scott and Fierce Conversations. When I heard that Susan was writing another book, and that it would cover so-called best practices in business today, I was intrigued. When I read an excerpt from one of the chapters earlier this summer, I laughed out loud at how deftly she pointed out the problems caused by 360 degree reviews (which had been a source of much dysfunction at companies I had worked for). I couldn't wait to real more.

The rest of the book did not disappoint. Once again, Susan's fresh perspective and keen insight provide business leaders and managers everywhere with what they need to propel themselves into a new way of thinking and leading. Have the courage to read this book with an open mind and to fly in the face of commonly accepted business wisdom that's really anything but. Fierce Leadership should be required reading for MBA students and people in executive development programs.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Ms. Scott touches on many basic points well, but this book comes across as more of a pitch for her consulting business than as a 'stand-alone' work.

I rather looked forward to this book, as I've been in both predominantly male, and predominantly female organizations, and had good and bad female and male bosses, but I hadn't read much on leadership by women.

I didn't see much that was particularly brilliant, but a lot that was competent and well packaged. Ms. Scott turns a nice phrase and uses vivid imagery, but in the end, it boils down to "deal with people (superiors, subordinates, and customers) openly and honestly, don't tolerate stupid, put the customer first". Several times, she stresses the need for 'after action reviews'; going through the 'what was the plan, what happened, what do we do again, what do we avoid, how do we do better' drills. This is a powerful tool in a healthy organization, and seldom gets as much attention as Ms. Scott gives it. However, I'm not certain the aggressive, confrontational attitude she preaches would work well for middle-managers who want to retain their positions. A boss advocating this book as a model might go looking for a new model in short order, if she or he gets feed up with having every decision challenged. This is more a reflection of disfunctional people and organizations than a criticism of the book itself.

My reservations about this book came to a head when Ms. Scott recommended doing away with jargon and buzzwords. This from a author whose book uses "fierce", "squid eye", "mokitas", radical transparency", and "customer centricity" with gay abandon. All these words an expressions are the sort of things that poor managers (bad leaders) latch onto and parrot until it becomes a cruel joke on the employees.
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