Appearing in In The Black magazine, September 2018
The Almighty Dollar
By Dharshini David
Simon & Schuster, $33, 256 pages, ISBN 9781783963768
Despite the best efforts of bitcoin, the euro, and the renmimbi, the US dollar remains the key global currency. It is recognisable around the world, is convertible nearly anywhere, and in times of crisis becomes the flight option of choice. How, says economist David, did this happen, and what is the effect on the world economy? In The Almighty Dollar she explores the phenomenon of what, in economic parlance, is called the “circular flow of income”, following a (hypothetical) dollar spent in a Walmart in Texas as it travels to a Chinese manufacturer, then to Africa, and then on to a German pension fund. After a series of other spending/investment stops it finally ends up back in the hands of the Texan consumer.
This is a contrived device, yes, but it helps to explains the processes involved. And also the scale of the flow of cash: US$1.2 trillion of banknotes are currently in circulation, with half the dollars actually outside the US. David might have spent more time in explaining why other currencies have not supplanted the greenback as the global role of the US has relatively declined but the story she tells is a fascinating one, a good balance of insight and narrative.
Fix Your Team
By Rose Bryant-Smith and Grevis Beard
Wiley, $28, 296 pages, ISBN 9780730354499
A good team is a productive mix of complementary skills; a bad team is a world of hurt for everyone involved. Bryant-Smith and Beard, consultants in solving workplace conflicts, believe that many team leaders fail to realise that their job is not about technical expertise but people management. The authors’ aim is to explain the most common problems and to offer practical, targeted answers to each one.
Some of the issues, such as a lack of certainty in goals and confusion in lines of responsibility, are structural and can be addressed by clear communication from the leader. Others, such as unproductive meetings, need organised training. The hardest problems are clashes between people, and they can range from bullying to manipulation. Counselling can assist but sometimes intervention from specialists is needed. Joint exercises can do much to bind a team together as well as reveal the hidden abilities of members. A weekend retreat, with upskilling, can improve the engagement of employees who are only going through the motions. Most of all, the team leader must be able to develop emotional intelligence and empathy, even if it requires additional training. It is not easy, say Bryant-Smith and Beard, but it is necessary.
By Richard Elsner and Bridget Farrands
Kogan Page, $58, 208 pages, ISBN 9780749466923
There is no shortage of books on leadership but researchers Elsner and Farrands argue that most leaders, when they take up a new position, find a vast gap between the theory and the practice. Success is more likely if the transition is approached as a learning process, especially when coming to terms with the “undiscussables” of a new organisation and its culture. They specifically argue against the idea of a new leader making immediate and radical changes. It is more likely to give an impression of insecurity than strength.
They see effective transitions as composed of three phases. Arrival is the time of encountering unexpected barriers, complications and unknowns. The core task in this phase is to meet and know the organisation. In the Survival phase, the new leader communicates their core values, and then, guided by those values, develops a mandate to lead. The third phase is Thriving. Here, leaders use their experience to decide the priorities and how to move forward.
Along the way, Elsner and Farrands examine the eight critical “tensions” new leaders will encounter and how a balance might be achieved. A leadership transition is always going to be difficult but this book provides sound, well-presented advice.
Contemporary Environmental Accounting
By Stefan Schaltegger and Roger Burritt
Routledge, $48, 462 pages, ISBN 9781351282505
This is a re-release of a seminal 2000 publication and it remains a solid guide on integrating traditional accounting with environmental issues. The book is designed as a textbook but would be equally valuable to working accountants and business leaders. The authors, both academics who specialise in this area, explain how traditional practices and new methods differ, and offer practical examples of how the principles are applied in Europe, North America and Australia. A particularly useful section deals with life-cycle assessment, probably the most common model in use in environmental information management. There is also discussion of issues such as accounting for environmentally induced financial impacts and the kind of environmental management that is compatible with increases in shareholder value, and suggestions on ways to assess and report external environmental events.
Some of this material is daunting in its technical nature but Schaltegger and Burritt manage to keep it accessible for non-specialists. Each chapter concludes with a set of questions for review, which would be good for students. The section dealing with environmental management accounting gives an excellent overview of that field, and the book includes a helpful compendium of terms which allows for easy look-up of needed definitions.