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January 2012


Is This Seat Taken?


by Kristin S. Kaufman (Brown Books Publishing Group, 2011).


What are the big take-aways?


Kristin Kaufman (who – I must disclose from the outset – is a friend and classmate of mine from our participation together in the Georgetown Leadership Coaching Program) is extraordinarily sensitive to the lived experience of others. In Is This Seat Taken? she describes her journey of self-discovery as a former jet-setting high-powered corporate executive who has nonetheless always taken the time to learn everything she can from her chance encounters with other human beings.


Kristin’s simple yet profound message is that “Ideally our individual lives become perfectly integrated between what we love to do, what we are good at doing, and what gives us our greatest fulfillment” (p. xi). A few years ago Kristin decided to “jump off the hamster wheel” of corporate life in order to explore how to live in greater alignment with her purpose as an organizational coach and consultant. This lovely book – a tribute to her learning about alignment from other people – is one of the by-products of that positive, life-affirming choice.


Why did I like it?


Kristin is a gifted story-teller, and this book is a series of twenty-five stories describing “random encounters that change your life,” as the subtitle says. Is This Seat Taken? is full of rich examples of the effect it can have on our self-awareness, our presence, and the evolution of our own “inner voice” when we take the time to listen deeply to the voices of others – especially people whose lives are very different from ours. Kristin demonstrates that there are important lessons to be learned in even the most unexpected interactions. Despite an incredibly busy work and travel schedule as a successful corporate executive (Hewlett-Packard, Vignette Corporation, United Health Group), Kristen developed greater self-awareness by practicing the essential leadership skill of being present in the moment.


In what situations would this be useful?


I would recommend this inspiring book to any busy corporate executive who is sensing that something is “off” in her work life, or if she is asking herself questions like, “Is this all there is for me?” or “What’s missing?” One of the strategies I recommend to my own leadership coaching clients for sorting through the answers to such questions is to slow down and attend more mindfully to life as it unfolds. Recognizing that not everyone knows how to live in the present, Kristin has penned a series of short narratives which give the reader a clear, extended example of what it looks like and feels like to reside in the moment. Each story concludes with “questions to consider” that ask the reader to reflect on similar experiences and apply Kristin’s lessons about alignment to his or her own chance encounters.


What other resources might “pair” well with it?


Kevin Cashman’s workbook, Leadership from the Inside Out: Becoming a Leader for Life (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2008), places a lot of emphasis on the concept of mastery in several personal and professional areas that promote the state-of-being that Kristen refers to as “alignment,” such as authenticity, awareness, and purpose. Leadership from the Inside Out would be a good choice for a corporate executive wishing to take Kristin’s advice to the next level. Other workbooks that would be similarly useful include Bill George et al.’s Finding Your True North (previously reviewed in the Leadership Library) and Becoming a Resonant Leader by Boyatzis, McKee and Johnston (Harvard Business Press, 2008).


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