Book Review: 5 Gears

"Relational intelligence is the future competitive advantage for leaders."Jeremie Kubichek

Created with love from Petra Burger -
Created with love from Petra Burger -

I was on an airplane, sitting by the window reading, when BOTH people next to me interrupted my quiet with a question, “Are you reading a book about cars?”

Not quite.

Unless you notice the subtitle (How to be Present & Productive When There's Never Enough Time)  “5 Gearsdoes sound like a car book.

In practicality, the book by Jeremie Kubichek and Steve Cockram is a word picture which leverages the common image of a manual car transmission.

The analogy goes like this: Like a car, we all move and operate in a gear. To operate effectively you must do two essential things:

1) Know what gear you’re in, and 2) Make sure the gear is appropriate to the situation.

You can recognize a good word picture when the images take something complex and make it understandable and sticky. However, a GREAT word picture is when the ideas aren’t just digested by an individual, but can be easily transferred from person to person. You know when this happens because suddenly everyone is using the same vocabulary.

Strangely enough, when I started explaining the gear model to my fellow travelers, not only did they immediately latch onto the language, they started discussing whether they were using their gears properly.

It was like having a mini-5 gears -focus group in row 12 at 30,000 ft.

I had to laugh because just as I was experiencing testimonial fatigue (there are lots and lots and lots of testimonies), I found myself living one!

The word picture definitely qualifies as great.

Kubichek/Cockram set up the scenario beautifully with a couple of pages where they lead the reader through a reality check of powerful questions:

When do you tend to run over people? What are you afraid of losing? Where has your influence declined?

And they are just getting started.  The exercise is pretty typical of what this book does, namely challenging you to become more self-aware. They practically guarantee a painful process:

"Pain can be a good thing...pain itself is meant to bring attention to an issue in the body...if you are feeling pain in an area, run toward it because it might be the area that needs some focus."

After going through the inventory, they get on with describing the 5 gears. There are chapters on each gear, which are far more eloquent than I can describe, but like a car they compare our running gears as gradually picking up speed as we become more engaged in the external world of relationships and/or tasks. I think of the gears in terms of my favorite/highest performance days and then apply the warm up process accordingly.

1st Gear - personal time - for me this means writing morning pages when I first wake up. 2nd Gear - making tea and grabbing breakfast with Billy before kids get up. 3rd Gear - chatting with the kids and then colleagues before the day gets rolling. 4th Gear - multi-tasking work/social life/chores and feeling super productive. 5th Gear - in my old world this was when I would proof contracts and bring my best heads-down focus.

If I wind up the day in reverse order then - presto! - Life is beautiful!

On Amazon, the publisher was kind enough to include the 5 gears diagram so you can see the outline for yourself.


The goal of the book isn't about judging our gears; there are no “bad” gears. In fact Kubichek/Cockram argue we need to access every gear. Instead, the goal of this book is to create a common language to raise our awareness of how we use our time and to give an easy way to communicate with others about whether our gear works in the given situation.

In my own life I am pretty terrible at second gear.  I am a "putzer," which I think is German for "can't sit down if there's something out of place in the kitchen."  This isn't something I naturally pay attention to, but should my family decide to use 5 gear language, they would be able to call out this tendency.

Did I say you should share this language with others?  Hmmmm.  I suppose that's only true if you really want to grow.

It's easy to see that this book's impact can only go so far if you’re reading it by yourself. While self-improvement is great, the real potential for this material is leveraging it with a team, group, or family. I can imagine how a team would be impacted when they recognize their own gears and when they have the language (and permission) to help each other shift well.

In the meantime, I'll be working on developing my skills on the road (or, perhaps, in the air!).