Leadership Reading List-Why Every Book is Different

What’s on your leadership reading list?

No thanks, I read a book on leadership already. What else do you recommend?

Someone dropped that comment in a conversation recently, and I wanted to take some time today to dispel this notion about leadership books, courses, content, etc. The concept?

Once you’ve learned about leadership, you don’t need to know any more.

leadership book reading listIf it sounds silly to you to see it spelled out like that, I’d have to agree. Learning about this stuff isn’t a one-time thing. It’s like the great Zig always said: People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing. That’s why we recommend it daily.

Different Readers and Different Leaders

Last year I put together a book club to help some local HR leaders by exposing them to good resources and adding in a networking opportunity. One of the neat things I learned was that even if ten of us read the same book, everyone walks away with different ideas that speak to them and their own situations.

In a similar vein, every leadership book is different, because they are all authored by leaders with different experiences, backgrounds, and beliefs. A book on my leadership reading list this month was authored by a former police officer who is now the CEO of a health organization. The insights and ideas I get from his writing are different from those that I get from John Maxwell, Napoleon Hill, and other authors.

Those two perspectives (both the reader and the leader) offer an exciting opportunity: virtually unlimited options for learning and growing as leaders! Continue reading

Why You Should Force Your Employees to Read Books

This topic is a bit controversial, but it’s something that I believe and stand by. Why? Because I’m a fan of reading, for one, but also because I have personally seen this work as a tool in the world of work.

  • I’ve used books within performance discussions, both positive (succession/development oriented) and negative (performance improvement/problem-focused) with varying degrees of results.
  • I have helped to establish a library for employees to help them have access to some of the books that mattered not only to our industry, but also to the type of culture we wanted to have.
  • I have read books that have made me better at work in a variety of ways. Knowledge really is powerful stuff.

Last week I was quoted in the Chicago Tribune talking about this very topic. The article is a good one and worth a read. Here’s a snipped:

It dawned on me recently that reading is not an activity that’s often associated with work. It’s more of a leisure-time endeavor, which is fine — but if it’s so darn good for us to read, why shouldn’t reading be a part of the working world?

I’m not talking about co-workers starting a book club, but rather companies encouraging all employees to read certain books. Maybe even launching discussions about those books or using them to drive home aspects of the company’s culture.

“I think it really applies to the workplace and the kind of environments we want to create,” said Ben Eubanks, a human resources analyst at Brandon Hall Group and an advocate for workplace reading. “One of the things that I like best is when you read it and I read it, and then we get together and talk about it. The discussion that happens afterward. If you’re sitting in a PowerPoint presentation, I’m telling you things and you’re taking things in but there’s really no discussion.”

He thinks reading should be an expected part of any employee’s performance. It could range from books that management picks for all workers to read — ones that get at the company’s core philosophies — to books that managers suggest for specific employees, with an eye toward helping make the employee better.

“I’ve worked with managers in the past to assign them a book that we think will help them learn the things they need to learn or develop a skill they’re not being exposed to,” Eubanks said. “People who are successful are often crazy about reading. They make time for that because they understand how important it is, and it’s kind of like a secret weapon.”

Instant replay

Let’s replay that last part again:

People who are successful are often crazy about reading. They make time for that because they understand how important it is, and it’s kind of like a secret weapon.

Simply put, leaders read. And people at all levels of our organizations can be extraordinary leaders, if we help give them the keys to learn and grow.

I can’t determine causation without some hefty research, so I can’t speak to whether reading makes us successful, or successful people naturally read more. What I can say is that there is correlation there and we can certainly attempt to exploit that for the betterment of our employees and their families.

The big picture

As I have shared numerous times in the past, reading is something I believe we all could stand to do more of. If you’re trying to read a book per week, learn how to set up a structured reading program within your company, or set up a book club in your local area to connect with other folks who want to get smarter, those are all worthwhile goals.

That’s why I have published dozens of book reviews over the years. That’s why I continue to accept the ridiculous number of pitches from publishers trying to get me to read and review books about HR, leadership, talent, learning, etc. I want to get better, but I also want to share with you so you can get better, too.

I can still remember the first book review I ever did. As I read The Pursuit of Something Better something changed and I really saw how the ideas I picked up from the book could impact my day to day HR practices. This is powerful stuff, and if you learn only one idea from a book that you can use on a regular basis, then it’s worth your time and money to invest.

Thanks for letting me rant a bit. Some of you will take this to heart, pick up a book (maybe one I have suggested), and commit to being better at this HR thing. Others will finish reading this article and move on, making no changes to their own professional growth. I hope I’ve reached you, dear reader, as one of the former.

The Culture Engine (Book Review)

The Culture Engine by Chris Edmonds

culture engine book reviewOne of the topics I love to discuss is culture. I think it’s a powerful, yet underutilized, tool for driving business performance. I recently read The Culture Engine (on Amazon here) and wanted to share a few insights that particularly spoke to me.

Highlights

  • What is the cost of high performing, low fit employees? When you think about your workforce, you know that some people can really get the job done, but they might not fit with the core values of your organization. In other words, they can do the “what,” but they miss the mark on the “how.” Figuring out how to actually put a cost on retaining those folks is the first step in getting rid of them. Companies are reluctant to drop high performing staff, but if they are damaging the culture, driving higher team turnover, or having other negative results, it’s important to define and measure those sorts of impacts against the “positive” inputs.
  • Stop the “don’t” messages. Instead of solely talking about what NOT to do, give your staff values and targets to aspire to. This is something I’ve said for years, but this is great validation for that concept. If you only talk about the bottom, minimally acceptable standards, how do you expect to help staff reach higher goals?
  • Define your values in behavioral terms. Yeah, you have values like “integrity” and “customers first” on your list of values, but what do they really mean? Take the time to list examples (real ones are better!) and the actual behaviors that you want to see. As with the previous bullet point, the more you can define what you DO want to see, the more likely you’ll actually see it.

Conclusion

If you also are interested in culture, values, and how those can drive actual business results, then I think this is a book you’ll enjoy. You can get your copy here.  If you’re not quite convinced that culture is a tool that organizations can use to increase revenues and become more competitive, then this might also be a good opportunity for you to learn about how some companies are doing just that with measurable results. It’s a great book!

How High Will You Climb (Book Review)

For some, attitude presents a difficulty in every opportunity; for others, it presents an opportunity in every difficulty. -John Maxwell

Recently I received a copy of How High Will You Climb: Determine Your Success by Cultivating the Right Attitude by John Maxwell to review, and I had to stop for a second. I’ve heard many great things about John Maxwell, but I have never really read one of his books cover to cover. I’m a big believer in attitude determining results, so this seemed like the right book to jump into. Below you’ll find some of my notes and highlights as well as a recommendation on whether or not you should invest in your own copy.

Notes from How High Will You Climb

how high will you climb book coverThe premise of the book is that your attitude determines your altitude. If your attitude is excellent, your altitude (results) will be as well. If your attitude stinks, you can expect similar results.

  • Testing… Testing… Not sure where you stand right now? Here’s how you do a quick attitude check: do you feel the world is treating you well? How you perceive the rest of the world will affect the ultimate results you receive. Note: this is very similar to the locus of control theory post I did previously. Good stuff.
  • 88% of success is… The Stanford Research Institute says that the money you make in any endeavor (which I translate as a measure of success) is determined only 12.5% by knowledge and 87.5% by your ability to deal with people. Those interactions with people aren’t a “nice to have” addition to the deal–they are the deal. Make them worthwhile and it will pay off for you in the long run. In a word: serve. Be willing to serve others with no expectation that it will come back around. And then if/when it does, you’ll appreciate it that much more.
  • Stop hugging the trunk and get out there where the fruit is. There was a great analogy about risk aversion and a lack of success. If you want to have/be/do something worthwhile, you’ll have to inject some risk into your life. Try that class you’ve been considering. Take up that hobby you left behind. Try something new and exciting. Get away from the trunk and get to the fruit. It’s waiting for you.
  • Proclaimer… (Hint: it’s like a disclaimer, but I’m proud enough to make it a proclaimer instead. Yeah, I’m nerdy.) This book is faith-based, but that faith is what makes people like us (the author, me, and millions of others) tick. Some people are motivated purely by relationships, others by money, fame, etc. I’m motivated to do my best because it’s what I’m supposed to do. And that service thing I mentioned earlier in the post? That’s a big part of it. I’m not a great guy. I’m just a guy. But because of my faith, I have the opportunities to do great things to make the world a better place. ‘Nuf said.

Closing Thoughts

So, if any of the thoughts, notes, and ideas above appeal to you on some level, this is probably a book you’d enjoy. It’s quite short. Not quite enough to finish in one sitting, but within a day or two you can walk away with your own key takeaways.

Anyone else read it? What are your thoughts? Any thoughts on John Maxwell in general? 

The Idea Driven Organization (Book Review)

The Idea Driven Organization by Alan Robinson and Dean Schroeder

I recently finished this new book, and it was an excellent read. I’ve been on the hunt for a good book on innovation and generating new ideas in the workplace, and this is exactly what I was looking for. Check out the video review below for my thoughts on the book.

Video notes

  • Management driven vs front line driven ideas
  • “Successful” managers vs effective managers
  • Resourcing for time: how to have time to innovate
  • Being problem-sensitive versus problem averse (also known as “that’s not my problem” syndrome in the corporate world)

Should you get it?

I’d recommend this for anyone looking to drive more innovation in the workplace. HR always talks about strategy and impacting the business, and this is a great way to make that happen by harnessing the power of your people. Click below to grab your copy!

The Talent Mandate Book Review

The Talent Mandate: Why Smart Companies Put People First by Andrew Benett

I have learned that based on my own interests and daily work, I am eager to consume just about anything I can find related to talent management. When I got this review copy, I dove in and while it’s been a while coming, I finally had time to put together a review of this excellent resource.

Things I liked

  • Show, don’t just tell. the talent mandate andrew benetStop saying, “People are our greatest asset!” and actually demonstrate how it’s true. Actions speak louder than words.
  • Make culture a priority. “There is something strangely intangible about culture, something that can be felt but not always articulated.” In other words, culture is what happens when you are not looking. So how do you embed that into your organization? Codify what is important. Form a “Culture Corps” to define why people like working for the organization, what the organization and people aspire to be/achieve over time, and reinforce both.
  • Always be asking three critical questions: is the culture grounded in values, does the culture promote cohesion, does the CEO make culture a top priority? If the answer to any of those is “no,” then you’re going to face difficulties in maintaining the best culture for the organization.
  • Consider a “manager detox.” New managers at Rackspace are required to undergo a three day training to “un-learn” outside thinking to avoid polluting the new environment. We’ve all run into “that’s how we did it at my last job” situations, and many of those with questionable results. This process helps to overcome those potential conflicts.
  • “Be comfortable with what you don’t know.” The best ideas come from a team, not just from a single executive. Every employee wants to make an impact, so give them a chance!
  • Hiring for agility as a competency. This means looking for strong thinkers who can apply their knowledge to different types of business problems. Agile leaders focus first on big picture and then on how their piece will contribute to that. Dave Ulrich provides a model describing four types of agility: learning (curious, finds simplicity in complexity), people (self-aware, makes other succeed), change (likes to experiment), results (flexible in ideas, works well in teams). The bottom line: find someone with those traits and you’ll have an excellent example of an agile leader on your hands.

Final thoughts

If you’re also looking for ideas and tips on talent management, then I encourage you to check this book out. I think you’ll learn a few things, see some old concepts in a new light, and challenge yourself and your organization to be better at managing talent overall. The Talent Mandate is a great book. Click here if you would like your own copy.

I Have a Strategy, No You Don’t (Book Review Video)

I Have a Strategy, No You Don’t by Howell J Malham, Jr.

Recently I received this book to review. Honestly I picked it because of the title–it sounded unique and I was interested in checking it out. Once I got into the book (it’s a quick read), I was sucked into the funny dialogue and unique illustrations of what a strategy looks like.

The book was written because the author realized that we as a society have begun to “strategy” every little thing around us. Everyone has a strategy for everything.

And most of the time, it’s not actually a strategy at all!

With that in mind, check out the video book review below. I enjoyed the book, and if you’re in a role where you are trying to define what a strategy is (or help others with that task) I think you would enjoy it. The book has occasional illustrations, witty dialogue, and a great message to help us all remember what a strategy really is, and more importantly, what it is not.

Subscribers click here to view the video.

Interested in getting the book? Here’s a link to that.

Click here to read other HR book reviews.