I’ll admit it. I’m a bookworm. I avidly read both fiction and non-fiction. My house is filled with shelves (and boxes) of books. I eagerly await the lists touting the best book of the year, so that I can add to my collection and get a sense of what I’ve missed. I scan them for titles that might be able to populate my Christmas list or save me from having to purchase a lame gift (i.e., socks) for my father.
However, I have slightly different standards when it comes to leadership books. I’m not just looking for an entertaining read. I want to spend my time reading something that could have a big impact on my life and how I choose to exercise leadership.
Over the last year at the Kansas Leadership Center, I’ve found a handful of books that have truly impacted not only how I think, but also how I act. Some of these books, which have been reviewed recently in The Journal‘s Leadership Library section, have been around for awhile. None of them were actually released this year. But they will probably stick with me long after some of this year’s top-rated reads are forgotten.
One of those books, pictured above, is “Immunity to Change” by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey, who provide a framework for us to bridge the gap between our realities and aspirations. I participated in a workshop earlier this year led by Kegan and it’s kept me on the lookout for competing commitments that might be deterring my progress.
Another book that’s been on my mind throughout the year has been “Insanely Simple” by Ken Segall, who recounts the obsessive focus on simplicity employed by Steve Jobs — Apple’s co-founder, president and chief executive officer — to propel his company forward as a revolutionary force in business. Many of us here at KLC discussed the book at length earlier this year during a book club hosted by KLC President and CEO Ed O’Malley.
One thing I learned from the book was about the importance of holding to a clear purpose in leadership. The desire to avoid conflict and choosing among competing priorities can lead to unnecessary complexity and can throw us off track. By choosing to become champions of what’s truly important to us we can put ourselves in the position of achieving the greatest impact in our work and leadership.
It’s hard to get beyond the strain of thought that people are best motivated by earning money or avoiding punishment. But Daniel Pink argues in “Drive” that reward systems that focus on the “carrot-and-stick” actually get in the way of creativity. People work best when they can tap into their desires for autonomy, mastery and purpose. These ideas have informed the approach I take with others who I ask to do work for me. We have even used them to try to improve our work organization-wide by devoting several days of our work time to teaming with others on special projects that we truly cared about.
Storytelling has long been an important part of my life. But it’s only recently that I’ve started to think more carefully about its potential to improve my leadership. Because people tend to be overloaded with information, it’s important to be able to tell them a meaningful, authentic story. In “The Story Factor” by Annette Simmons, the author helps unwrap some of the mysteries behind the art of storytelling and provide some handy guidelines for doing it well. This book has helped me think more consciously about the stories I tell and how instead of pushing my views on others, I can pull them toward me with the power of narrative.
These four books were more than just mere page turners. They’ve challenged my thinking and have helped me experiment with new behaviors.
What have you read this year that has moved you to try something new?