Wally Bock on Leadership, Blogging and Books
Wally Bock is one of my favorite ‘virtual colleagues’ (we’ve never actually met in person). I find him unfailingly thoughtful, kind, and supportive – and his insights about leadership always strike me as both practical and aspirational.
I recently interviewed Wally via email (of course!); I wanted to share his coolness and wisdom with those of you who haven’t yet had the pleasure of his company, as well as those who have.
Q: “Three Star Leadership” has been a top-rated leadership blog for a number of years. How did you start writing it – and where did you get the name?
Writing has always been part of my business and life. I wrote my first book in 1972. Over the years I’ve done articles, marketing copy, web copy, audio and video scripts and columns. I thought that blogging would be a perfect vehicle for me and the kind of value I deliver, so I started the blog as a trial and continued it when it worked. Two thousand plus posts later, it’s still working.
The name comes from some research I did on the difference between top-performing supervisors and other supervisors. When I asked senior management to identify their best supervisors, they didn’t always choose those who were good, let alone the best. Eventually I discovered that I needed to study people who were rated as excellent by three groups: their bosses, their peers, and their subordinates. The great ones got star ratings from all three groups, hence, “Three Star Leadership.”
Q: I know that you’re largely focused, at this point, on helping people write great business books. It seems like a valuable service, since so many people want to write books. Can you tell us how you approach the process?
Most of the people who contact me are thinking about writing a book, but, since they’ve never done it, they have lots and lots and lots of questions. They have very different wants and wildly different preferences. That’s why I developed what I call an Options Review Session; a free, no-obligation one-hour session where you can ask all the questions you’ve got about writing and publishing a book that will help you achieve your goals. I answer as well as I can. Some of the people who have an Options Review Session decide that I can help them with their project, either as a ghostwriter or a coach. I only work with people in situations where I think we can produce a great book.
If I’m the ghostwriter, then I’m the one with the fingers on the keys. I’m the kind of ghostwriter who’s a writing partner, not a transcriber or editor. I work on projects where I can bring some expertise to the party beyond the ability to string subjects and predicates together.
Coaching varies a lot according to what my client needs. I’m a good idea sharpener so I can help structure the project. I know the market, so I can suggest ways to add value to the book. And I’ve written (by most standards) a lot of books, so I know some things that work and some that lead to trouble. The client picks the amount of contact that he or she wants. Some want regular sessions. Others prefer to schedule a session when they need one.
Q: In order to be excited about this work, you clearly have to like business books. What do you see as the value business books bring?
Great business books deliver value on both sides of the process. Readers get their thinking challenged and pick up new ideas, insights, and inspiration. But there’s value for the author, too. Authors gain expertise and confidence by working with their material in new ways and in depth.
Q: Everything we’re talking about has to do with information: how it gets shared, what we do with it. I’d love to hear your thoughts about how things are changing in this area, and why it’s important.
Information is now readily available at any hour of the day or night no matter where you are in the world. When I was starting out in business, you spent most of your time finding information and less of your time figuring out how to use it or present it. Now, finding the information is the easy part and you can spend more time on use and presentation.
Just because information is available doesn’t mean it’s accurate or complete. The information we get today is often not filtered or vetted. We have to become our own editors and researchers, figuring out what’s true and what isn’t.
I think that within the next 10 years the majority of the information that we use for business purposes, including books, will be accessed digitally. Business books will get shorter and shorter.
For decades, the “standard” business book has been about 200 – 250 pages, more than 60,000 words most of the time. In most of those books, the core ideas could be expressed in much less space, so too many books are mostly padding. Look for more business ‘books” to come in between 10,000 and 25,000 words, offering readers more value and more choice.
Q: Finally, when you think about your life as a professional, what’s one way in which you believe you’ve had a strong positive influence on the world?
I think the greatest contribution I’ve made so far is that I have helped hundreds of men and women do a better job as a boss. I’ve affected their lives, the lives of the people on their teams, and the lives of their families and friends. I think that’s pretty great stuff. A lot of what I write today continues that work.
As you mentioned, a lot of my work today is helping people produce great business books. I want to make a difference in the lives of the people I work with and also in the lives and careers of the people who read their books.