Taking care of business

By Matt Williamson
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Business-themed audio books are more than meets the ear
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As a busy executive, Bill Lampton, PhD, remembers his first reaction to friends who urged him to listen to business-themed audio books when he traveled.

"Stubbornly, I replied that I would get bored," says the president of Championship Communication, a consulting and coaching firm based in Gainesville, Georgia. "Once I tried books on CDs, I found out how wrong I was. My trips became more intriguing than I would have imagined."

"Busy" is the word that personifies the lives of most Americans who work in the business world, and in an age of downsizing, where spread-too-thin employees are forced to take on additional responsibilities to juggle heavy company workloads, discretionary time is at a premium. Who has time to relax?

But savvy businesspeople have learned, often the hard way, that two principles prevail in today's competitive environment:

If you fail to take some time to rest, relax and rejuvenate, you'll burn out quickly. And working a 12-hour day actually makes you less effective, as your brain literally tires out, thereby reducing mental acuity. Staying abreast of business trends and upgrading your skills make you a more valuable, and ultimately irreplaceable, employee.

That's why Dr. Lampton, a professional speaker who delivers keynote presentations and conference seminars around the country, is now one of the converted.

"For one thing, a book on CDs will reach people who prefer audio learning over getting information from the printed page," he says. "They will learn this way, or probably not at all. "In addition, professional people want to maximize their use of time, so listening to an instructional audio CD while they commute back and forth to their offices strikes them as excellent time management. They remain productive even while they are stuck behind an accident or have their vision obscured by an 18-wheeler."

And when it comes to his specialty, communication, Dr. Lampton believes everyone who works in the business world should make an effort to improve this vital skill. Failure to do so can result in career suicide.

"From 23 years of management, I don't just believe, I know, that poor communication permeates the workplace," he says.

Happen to recognize any of the most common offenses he cites?

  • Allowing the rumor mill to spread destructive comments.
  • Management ("the suits") guarding information that should be shared with department heads or the entire workforce.
  • Leaders remaining elusive or sheltered from appointments and phone calls.
  • Staff meetings that serve as one-person shows, with the CEO degrading and embarrassing those who voice their opinions.
  • Supervisors interrupting conversations, flagrantly indicating that an employee's statements are not worth hearing.
  • Memos and emails that overwhelm employees with minutiae.

  • But can you really cure these and other business woes by listening to audio books?

    It depends on how motivated you are, asserts John Baldoni, a leadership communications consultant and president of Baldoni Consulting LLC, headquartered in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

    "The operative lesson is that learners have to want to learn," says Baldoni, author of several business books, including "Great Motivation Secrets of Great Leaders," to be published this year by McGraw-Hill. "Many terrific self-study courses exist. It's a matter of finding the right one for you and sticking with it."

    Where do you start?

    "Focus your listening on what you want to improve or what you want to learn," Baldoni says. "Management is a discipline that focuses on tasks needed to operate the business. Leadership focuses on how to connect with people to enable them to succeed. If you have become a supervisor, select audio books that will help you learn to manage the business, but lead people, including communication, planning, delegating and coaching. If you want to learn more on leadership, select CDs or tapes that provide good stories of leadership in action and provide how-to tips you can follow."

    For Kathleen Macdonald, president of the Ann Arbor-based consulting firm The Macdonald Group, business success relies on familiarity with the books her clients are reading. With a clientele that includes executives from Fortune 100 companies like Jaguar and Volvo, she finds that audio books save her time, providing access to published works she would never have the opportunity to read in print form.

    "There is no way I could cover the amount of material I do without audio books," she says. "They allow me to multitask. I can 'read' while I am doing errands in the car or on the way to a client meeting. I can 'read' while doing the laundry, fixing dinner or walking the dog each morning. I try to point this out to my younger clients, who may already be buried in work from an MBA program they're in. Their success depends on what they know."

    While Macdonald always chooses unabridged audio books on the topics of greatest interest to her, she listens to abridged audio books when she wants to hear just the key highlights of a popular book.

    "Audio books are also a way for individuals in business to cull through much of the material out there that is not worth reading," she explains. "I have purchased abridged versions or audio summaries to 'test' the content of a book before picking it up to read myself or to recommend to a client."

    And like many, Macdonald also depends on audio books to help her survive her daily commute. More than 20 years ago, a friend with a three-hour commute informed her that the secret to maintaining his sanity was to spend the time enjoying a good "listen."

    "That was all it took," Macdonald says. "I was suddenly looking forward to my daily commute as the best thing that happened each day! I began reading everything from 'sleazy' novels and bestsellers, which I never had time to pick up, to the latest business books. I went from being lucky to read half a dozen books a year to averaging over 40 in the same period. An interesting byproduct is that I find myself reading more hard-copy books as a consequence of my listening habit. I still work 50-60 hours a week, but find my escape through the spoken word."

    If you're new to audio books, your best bet is a rental service like, which gives you unlimited rentals of books on CD or tape for a low monthly fee (less than the price of purchasing a single audiobook). You can usually enroll for a free trial period, which lets you preview your top picks and start an audiobook regimen. If you learn one concept a month that improves your work life or advances your career, it's an investment that can't be beat.

    Here are a few hot "must-hear" titles to begin your program:

    Carolyn 101 by Carolyn Kepcher, Donald Trump's books, Getting Things Done by David Allen, How To Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

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