Alan M. Patterson’s book is one of those things where you think on the one hand it’s hardly original. But on the other, once you get past the cover, you realize this is no ordinary self-help, business or leadership advice tome. Patterson is able to mix and match the best of both worlds – regarding the old guard’s view of the corporate jungle, and the postmodernist, millennial-enforced sense of irreverence currently dominating workplace hierarchies. The result is the aptly titled Burn Ladders. Build Bridges.: Pursuing Work, with Meaning + Purpose, a sort of revisionist philosophy on achieving success in a 2020 set of workplace vistas. “People begin their professional careers by looking up at a ladder, hoping to see endless possibilities.

Some people like the chase for more money, bigger titles, more territory, and the status and prestige that come with it. But it’s not uncommon that, sooner or later, people begin to question what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. And if Laurence Peter is right, you can always look forward to getting promoted to your level of incompetence. People get stuck,” Patterson states. “…Maybe you’re in a job that’s not motivating you.

Maybe you took a position and realize it’s not for you. Maybe you feel like Emma, that you didn’t get the promotion you thought you deserved. Maybe you’re working for a boss who’s technically bright and lacks emotional intelligence. Maybe your organization just merged—again—and you don’t know if your role will survive. Maybe you see people with mediocre capabilities moving up, which means you could be working for them one day. That’s a lot of maybes to consider. At one time, the money and the title looked good; now, they lack the power to get your juices flowing.”


The book feels like equal parts communication techniques guide, as it does an overall meditation on revolutionizing the black-and-white, cold nature of the business hierarchy relationships sphere. “Listening is a skill with maximum benefit. It is essential for building credibility, creating trust, and fostering relationships. Listening is active when it’s focused without distractions such as multitasking or thinking ahead to your answer,” Patterson states in this vein. “…Influence is the primary skill set for impact. People have different views about influence—that it’s manipulative and coercive, or motivating and inspiring. It depends on how it’s used.

We’re talking about the good stuff here, the ability to motivate others to take decisive and responsible action…What if you must sell an idea—like implementing a new process—and need the buy-in from different people and different organizations. This requires understanding a range of people and their perspectives…You don’t have to be a pro at selling your ideas, but you do need to be good, and you must prepare. Marian Sheridan calls it ‘preparing the soil.’ It’s all part of creating impact and making a difference. Practice. Practice some more. If you think selling your ideas and getting buy-in sounds political, it is. So is pretty much every important decision. Selling never ends, even when the fat lady sings.”

Garth Thomas