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Please Don't Just Do What I Tell You! Do What Needs To Be Done

They say the best things come in small packages. So it is with Bob Nelson’s absorbing little management handbook, subtitled “Every Employee’s Guide to Making Work More Rewarding”. Crammed full of specific, practical advice for young managers, the book’s central philosophy is this: your employer has one Ultimate Expectation, albeit one that’s seldom stated explicitly-that you will always do what needs to be done most, without waiting to be asked. It may be common sense, but a quick flip through Nelson’s witty collection of workplace anecdotes and personal experiences soon convinced me how easy it is to miss the big picture when we get too tied up with the exact roles and responsibilities of our own jobs.

The core of the book is the chapter on simple strategies and techniques for seizing the initiative and positioning yourself as someone who gets things done whatever the circumstances. His advice is grouped into punchy 200-word mini chapters, like “Volunteer for Difficult Assignments”, “Collect Your Own Data”, “Regroup When Your Ideas Meet Resistance” and “Learn to Enjoy Those Things That Others Hate to Do”. Sprinkled throughout are entertaining asides on common pitfalls – don’t play the blame game, take responsibility for your own actions and ideas, and don’t be a complainer.

The author is perceptive enough to anticipate and address common concerns that hold us back on the path to greater self-empowerment and individual initiative. Categorizing the main difficulties as fear, frustration and failure, he tackles the reader’s nagging worries head on with the zeal of a true believer. Take this excerpt from the mini-chapter entitled, “I’m Afraid of Being Fired”:

“What can be more scary…is the possibility that you may lose control of your life and feel stuck in a job you hate. Be more afraid of not being alive, of being complacent, and of living your life on someone else’s terms…If you’re not constantly learning, growing, and pushing to do your best, a job loss is likely in your future anyway.”

Which gets to the book’s ultimate message – ultimately we all work for ourselves, not our employers, and we alone are the masters of our fate. Nelson exhorts us to assert ourselves in our personal and professional lives, to tap into the well of unused energy that lies dormant in many of us, and to find the courage and imagination to be one step ahead of the game irrespective of our job title.

The informal, straight-to-the-point style keeps the reader engrossed throughout. Indeed, at only 100 pages, this is one of these books you’ll likely pick up, read from cover to cover, and set down in one sitting. So it is an NPV-positive investment at $17.95? You bet. Never was Nelson’s message of initiative and self-empowerment more important than in today’s professional world of fuzzy organizational boundaries and rapid change. Read it, then make sure your future employees do the same. This may be a slim volume, but its theme could just be big enough to change your life.

November 12, 2001
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