Category Archives: Books

The Hands-Off Manager Reviewed in the Shanghai Daily

The book I wrote about in this post was co-authored by my uncle, Duane Black.

It was reviewed Oct. 27 in Shanghai Daily at this link.

Shanghai Daily is one of two English newspapers in Shanghai. The other is the China Daily.

The writer gives the book a positive review, and elucidates many of the points from the book quite accurately.

Unfortunately, the reporter didn’t get the title right (she calls the book The Hands-Off Management), but we’ll take the review anyway.

This book really should be translated into simplified and traditional Mandarin and sold throughout greater China. Managers here need it–the younger, talented generation simply won’t put up with dogmatic, authoritarian manager types anymore. They walk.

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Books on Doing Business with the Chinese

As a dedicated bibliophile, if I’m near a large bookstore anywhere in the world, I can’t resist stopping in for a quick browse. I usually start with the business section, looking for books dealing with China business. Over the past few years, the number of new titles dealing with China business have multiplied faster than a warren of horny rabbits.

I’ve bought a dozen or so of them, browsed through many more. I know it may seem strange for a guy who presents himself as a Greater China cross cultural communications expert to have only purchased a few books on doing business in China.  The trouble is, most of these books aren’t helpful in any practical sense*. They are either too focused on theory, not written by people who have actually battled it out in the China business milieu, or contain very little that is useful to the typical Westerner doing business in China (i.e. owner of a small business, engineer, or purchasing director at a small or medium sized firm).

I suspect that sales of these books are driven by last-minute, I’m-on-the-next-flight-to-China-and-I-don’t-know-what-I’m-doing airport bookstore purchases.

If you’re planning to do business in China, you really ought to get yourself involved in a cross cultural training seminar taught by someone who’s done the kind of business you’re planning to do. Don’t fuss with learning Mandarin, but do spend the time and money it takes to get a competent person to brief you on what you can expect.

Still, if you’re of a mind to read up on doing business in China before you get to the airport, I can recommend a few tomes that are worth your while to read through:

Chinese Business Etiquette: A Guide to Protocol, Manners, and Culture in the People’s Republic of China, by Scott D. Seligman: Though it was last updated in 1999 (Mr. Seligman, where’s the update, sir?), this is still the best book out there on the often-ignored matter of business and social etiquette in greater China. Chinese and Western cultures are vastly different, and Mr. Seligman offers quite a lot of practical advice in this book, though you can probably skip the sections on banquet seating arrangements and hosting delegations. They aren’t really relevant anymore.

The Search for Modern China, by Jonathan D. Spence. Dr. Spence is a Yale historian and the foremost living China historian (I once made a vain attempt to visit him in his office once about ten years ago, and he was in Taiwan last year but I was unable to attend his lecture).  Be warned: this is a big book. I know; I’ve read it three times. But if you’re serious about figuring China out, you should at least check it out from the library and brush up on Chinese history from the 1930s. The most recent edition was also published in 1999, so you’ll need to do some checking on to fill in the spaces between then and now. Dr. Spence’s smaller work, To Change China, is also worth checking out. 

As always, if you have a specific question about what to read, or about some aspect of doing buiness with the Chinese, feel free to e-mail me at truettblack at yahoo dot com. I’ll do my best to get back to you.

*Fun anecdote: A few months ago, I was reading through a section on Chinese values and cross-cultural communication in a China business handbook published by a certain Ivy League university. I brought the book to a Taiwanese client of mine who works for a large U.S. corporation here in Taipei because I thought he might enjoy seeing what the Americans are writing about the Chinese. When we met a week later for a training session, he handed me the book back and said, “I could only get through half of the chapter you highlighted. I don’t think the writers have ever been to China, because most of what they’ve written is either inaccurate or so shallow as to be useless.”


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The Hands-Off Manager in Greater China

My uncle, Duane Black, and his co-author, success coach Steve Chandler, released a book in March 2007 entitled The Hands-Off Manager: How to Mentor People and Allow Them to be Successful. My uncle sent me a copy of the book in early April, and I read through it immediately. The book is only 207 pages long, but packed with life-changing wisdom.

Yeah, I know. “Packed with life-changing wisdom” sounds like a trite sales pitch. Well, beginning in late April, in one of my presentation skills courses at a large multinational north of Taipei, I asked the participants to prepare presentations on effective leadership. After several practice and coaching sessions, I delivered my own presentation on the same topic, mainly as a way of demonstrating effective presentation techniques. I centered my presentation around what the book teaches about leadership.

What I thought would be a half hour demonstration turned into two full sessions devoted to discussing the content of The Hands-Off Manager. I have since used material from the book in other training courses, and am now preparing proposals for leadership training courses based on the book.

The Hands-Off Manager teaches managers to lead by coaching and mentoring, rather than judging and criticizing. In the courses where I discussed the book, I ended up applying several of its concepts to relationships with suppliers, with customers, and with relatives and friends.

Managers in Taiwan are eating it up.

I’m sure that my uncle and Steve Chandler wrote this book for an American target audience, but it is interesting that groups of managers in Taiwan are so energized by its teachings. The book’s treatment of vision, its encouragement to approach relationships without judgment and to face problems with neutrality, and the advice to fit a job to person rather than try to force a person to do a job he’ll never be great at has really hit home with the people who manage the Taiwan divisions of the multinationals who are my clients.

It’s a small world after all.

The book is not totally devoid of Chinese philosophy. The section on neutrality fits very well with Taoist ideas about Yin and Yang, the two symbiotic life forces whose interaction is believed to have a major impact on health and spiritual and mental well-being.

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