Time and again, I’m asked to recommend books on leadership and related topics—especially after (1) someone gets a peek at my library and topic designated bookcases spread throughout my office and home, or (2) I’ve given a speech or presentation. As a result, I’m compiling a series of reading list handouts. In today’s post, I share a few of my faves, and offer a link to access a longer list.
The genius of “wish list”
Before I share any recommendations, lets solve a key problem of learning leaders everywhere. I hear about good books when conversing with colleagues, listening to the radio in the car, engaging at mastermind groups, attending conference sessions, within webinars, etc.—you get the idea, right? I used to take a note on anything at hand: Post-its, my planner, an event notebook, gum wrappers, business cards, and so forth. But what happens with this process? We lose track, because it’s not a single source discipline.
Then, I discovered Amazon Wish List. Now, each time I capture a new book title (even if it’s on a gum wrapper), I transfer the title as soon as possible right into my Amazon account wish list. When I’m ready to place my next order, I scan the list for any books where the topic or author is “ripe” for immediate reading. And, bonus: you can add products to the wish list as well—a pretty awesome method to collect future gift ideas.
Five “must haves”
As an executive coach, I work with senior leaders who are highly motivated and successful. These men and women embrace learning and development. To model leadership excellence for their teams and organizations, they pursue opportunities to continuously elevate their leadership, effectiveness, and impact. Like most successful leaders, these individuals occasionally find themselves over saturated, facing adaptive challenges (issues requiring new strategies, behaviors, or innovative thinking to solve), or discovering an unexpected sense of dissatisfaction. Additionally, top leaders often experience filtered messaging from their organizations. They need a means of surfacing truths to support sound decisions and actions.
The following five books address three critical categories for leaders. The first involves tapping into integrated leadership by employing an essentialist’s mindset. Integrated leadership acknowledges we are not solely our role or work; our leadership affects our selves, our families, our organizations, and our communities. Next, the books explore cognition—how we think and the contextual intelligence required to excel in complex and changing environments. The final category examines how we can successfully change in meaningful and lasting ways.
- Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less – Greg McKeown
If you could only read and implement actions from one book in 2016, this is the title I’d suggest. Author Greg McKeown introduces the paradox of success:
- 1: True clarity of purpose enables success.
- 2: Demonstrating success enhances reputation and we’re presented with increased options and opportunities.
- 3: Increased options and opportunities—code for demands on our time and energies—leads to diffused effort. We get spread thinner and thinner.
- 4: The abundance of commitments distracts us from what would otherwise be our highest level of contribution. The effect of our success has been to undermine the very clarity that lead to our success in the first place. (Revised from Essentialism Offsite materials)
Adopting an essentialist’s mindset, however, allows leaders to use purpose as a filter. We examine a multitude of opportunities, learn to say “no” to even “good” ones in order to reserve our “yes” for commitments that best leverage our leadership, talents, and highest contribution. We become disciplined against the over saturated, out of balance life and work and invest our significant energy where it matters most.
- Thinking, Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahneman (winner of the Nobel Prize in economics)
Of the five books, this is the densest reading. Chunk the text by reading a chapter here and there. Leaders need to understand and recognize when we, as humans, rely on faulty thinking. The function of our brain tricks us, regardless of how smart we are (or think we are). The best leaders learn how to surface and challenge assumptions and bias, in order to form a solid foundation for decisions.
- Contextual Intelligence: Smart Leadership for a Constantly Changing World – Matthew R. Kutz
I love the Marshall Goldsmith quote, on the front cover: “One part leadership “bible,” two parts executive workbook, Contextual Intelligence is a necessary tool in every manager’s arsenal. Brilliant!” This slim book offers key behaviors and a framework that leads to greater leadership effectiveness and organizational performance. At the conclusion of each easy to digest chapter, readers are invited to capture notes from learning and exercises.
- The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business – Charles Duhigg
The author shares the critical science underlying our habitual behavior: cue-routine-reward. To create change to impact our lives, our health, our communication, our organization, we must recognize the cycle and substitute a more effective routine. Leaders do not have to be driven by behaviors that do not serve. We have the power to change.
- Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts—Becoming the Person You Want to Be – Marshall Goldsmith
Documenting priorities and desiring change isn’t enough. Data shows that behavioral change accompanied by consistent, appropriate measurement and accountability is much more likely to “stick.” Asking if I “did” x or y today doesn’t go far enough. Rating my level of effort—did I do my best to accomplish or work towards x or y?—every day offers much more significant clarity regarding my commitment to objectives and ongoing performance. Goldsmith provides his usual wisdom, drawn from years of success in coaching the world’s top executives.
As a leadership scholar, identifying only five texts means I’ve left a number of stellar books off this list. Likewise, many more topics and categories of learning exist beyond the initial three presented. These five, for the most part, both realistically fit a busy executive’s schedule and offer valuable insight and actionable ideas.
For access to a broader list of leadership themed books, complete this quick form. Not only will you be able to download the Leadership Essentials Workshop books and resources list, but you’ll be automatically notified of updates!
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